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This has been my greatest teaching over the past 21 years: Life is never about things.

Milestones are important. They matter because they help to orientate us. Not to the rear view, but rather to the road ahead and, most importantly, to the road underfoot. To the place and the purpose and the people of right now. This month, I am celebrating one such milestone. It has been exactly 21 years since I first embarked on the crazy, tumultuous and exhilarating journey that has culminated in The Performance Agency, and all that we do. Twenty-one years of learning, risking, trusting and becoming. Twenty-one years of daring greatly and leaning boldly into possibility. Twenty-one years of tackling every challenge full throttle, often with eyes shut tightly but always intentionally, always wholehearted, always whole-heartedly. And always with a humbling sense of trust – trust that our purpose lies within us, even during those moments when it’s hard to grasp. And trust that the journey, its many twists and turns notwithstanding, always leads to our destiny.

To who we are meant to be. As anyone who has spent any time with me will know, Muhammad Ali is one of my greatest heroes. In fact, if not for my mother’s enduring sensibility, my father, who shared my adoration of Ali, would have named me after him. Nat’Alie, (the “e” shrewdly snuck onto my birth certificate) was the compromise. In many ways, I have found Ali’s strength, resolve and, ultimately, his spiritual journey, a lifelong inspiration. Apart from being a phenomenal athlete and the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Ali was an incredibly insightful man who, especially later in life, had come to a place of great wisdom and perspective. Not just about his own life and accomplishments, but about what really matters. And about what does not. “Don’t count the days,” Ali famously said. “Make the days count.”

As I reflect on the past 21 years, I am thrilled to realise that I have taken my hero’s advice keenly to heart.

This has been my greatest teaching over the past 21 years: Life is never about things.

It is about the footprints we leave on the hearts of those we love and on the people we draw into our circle, who trust us with their livelihoods, their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations. And it epitomises what, for me, has revealed itself as the essence of leadership: The privilege of being able to make a positive difference in the lives of the people who have chosen to be by your side, who have gifted you the privilege of their followership. Being the catalyst and the coach and the cheerleader who dares people to be their bravest, most daring, most brilliant selves. Pushing them to dream big. Challenging them to risk even bigger. And all the while being the safety net that encourages them to fly but also allows them to fall. My tribe has ebbed and flowed over the past 21 years.

But none of this would have been possible without the trust and support of our clients and sponsors – our extended tribe. Extraordinary, visionary leaders who found us – and stayed with us – because they recognise in us the same passion and commitment to excellence that also drives them.

Leaders who believed in our ability to give flight to their most ambitious aspirations, realise their most audacious goals, and solve their most daunting performance challenges. Leaders who believed in better and allowed us the freedom and creativity to partner with them on the journey to better. And who, in doing so, created the space and runway for us to innovate, execute, and grow and dream and dare more greatly than we had ever imagined.

The past 21 years have been marked by extraordinary journeys with passionate, visionary organisations around the world who entrusted us with the gift of partnership. We exist because of you. And to say that I am grateful to each and every one of you is a grave understatement. Earlier this month, South Africa celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable Charlotte Maxeke. Multi-talented and widely accomplished, Maxeke made a tremendous impact on our society because she believed, passionately, in the limitless possibility of all people to live fully and powerfully into their potential. Long before we had the terminology to claim it, Charlotte Maxeke was a champion of leaning in, showing up, and taking up space. Most importantly, she was a feet-to-the-fire firebrand with an unwavering sense of our collective social and moral obligation.

“This work is not for yourselves,” she rallied. “If you can rise, bring someone with you.”

This has been my philosophy and my privilege over the past 21 years, and will continue to be my highest purpose for what, hopefully, will be at least another 21. To rally my tribe. To make the days count. To create the context and the environment that allows us to rise, together. And to continue earning the trust and partnership of those who share the philosophy that ours is a sacred duty to leave the world better than we found it.

© Natalie Maroun


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