MarkLives is running five extracts from Joe Public United founding partner Pepe Marais‘s first book, “Growing Greatness — A Journey Towards Personal and Business Mastery”, over the next few weeks. Here’s the fourth, “The worst thing that can happen is the best thing that can happen.”

Growing Greatness book coverby Pepe Marais (@pepemarais) Steve Jobs, in his famous Stanford speech, made mention of being able to connect the dots only when looking back on your life. No truer words could ever have been spoken by the man who set out to make a dent in the Universe. On the day of his death, I remember myself tweeting: iCame. iSaw. iConquered. He truly did.

However, long before having to look back on my journey, I became aware of the truest insight available to anyone willing to see it. A way in which this organism we live within, our Universe, works in its very own mysterious and, at times, miraculous ways. It is an understanding so true, that it gives me hope every day and enables me to look forward to whatever life may throw at me. Because the worst thing that can happen, is the best thing that can happen.

At the end of Standard Nine I lost my heart to the very same girl I had followed around our schoolyard for two years before the day that she finally took notice of me. The clincher to our affair would be a piece of art created by me — a drawing on the shell of a chicken egg. And although I was far too chicken to come out and vocalise my undying love for her, my artistic act of affection would be the tipping point — because, within a month, she would finally hand me her heart in return.

Less than 12 months later, she broke mine. And anyone who has ever experienced true heartbreak will attest to the heartache it can cause. It was a pain so excruciating that the brunt was borne by my room when every gift from her, every single picture, every piece of evidence of our one-year affair, was reduced to tiny pieces in a final fit of rage.

She left me for an Englishman named Roel. Her reasoning was that he could play guitar, and thus my obsession during my two-year period of conscription would be to learn how to play the guitar. To the frustration of my fellow troops, I would practise for endless hours at the end of painful days of basic training in order to string together a few basic chords. First came D. Then A. A minor, E, E minor and C would follow soon thereafter. F took a while. And once my left hand managed to stumble from one chord to the next, like a child learning to walk for the very first time, I started to focus on my right hand in order to strum to the beat of a very rudimentary version of one of Rodriguez’s songs. I was part of an old South African system, following instructions like a sheep, but deep within me a little flame of anarchy, of rebellion against the accepted norm, was starting to burn, ignited by a newly inspired passion for music.

By the end of my two years in the army, I could play guitar and sing. Not only would this lead to the start of a two-decade-long love affair with music, but it would also enable me once again to win back the heart of my love.

For the next 20 years, I was part of various bands and eventually formed my own, playing gigs to audiences from as small as two people to crowds as large as 2 000. The memories and experiences were not only countless, but priceless. The creativity in writing my own lyrics, constructing and originating a piece of music to it, rehearsing it to perfection through hours and hours of practice with a band of brothers, would never, ever be matched by any number of zeros on a spreadsheet.

The physical experience, going from zero to hero while performing our own creation in front of a 500-strong, full house at the Roxy Rhythm Bar in the mid-nineties, remained one of the top snippets from the B-side of the record of my life. The gorgeous groupie in the front row of the thumping crowd, swinging her long hair rhythmically to our music, screaming in absolute adoration at the top of her lungs while the last note was still hanging in the air, “That was fucking beautiful!” would leave my heart at the opposite end of the emotional scale to what it had been less than 10 years before when it was shattered to pieces.

And so, very early in my life I learned to see the miracle behind each grievance, that without my heart being crushed by the love of my life, I would never, ever, ever have discovered the magnificence of music. The depth of experience and richness that it has brought me throughout my journey remains an infinite source of inspiration to this day.

Looking back, I see more and more such examples unfold. Like losing half our business in 2006.

See also


Pepe Marais August 2018Pepe Marais (@pepemarais), founding partner of Joe Public United, officially launched his first book, “Growing Greatness — A Journey Towards Personal and Business Mastery”, on 27 August 2018 in Cape Town and on 29 August in Johannesburg. Filled with scribbles from the mind of an adman, the book inspires innovation, creativity and showcases the entrepreneurial spirit. Through his growing awareness of what purpose means in both business and personal terms, Pepe points the way to growing your own greatness. Published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, “Growing Greatness” is available in print and electronic format from leading bookstores.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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