I’ve not written here much about leaving Helpful, the company I set up in 2010 and left in the early summer of 2021. I think I’m still processing it, to be honest.

But one thing I have been meaning to share is something I stumbled into around March last year which had quite an impact on me and helped me as I went through a big career, and life, transition.

Here’s how I described it in a goodbye message to my colleagues:

A few weeks ago, I was sorting through some old files from Helpful’s early days.

It triggered an avalanche of memories of people, of places, of projects which I started to put on a timeline to remind myself of the journey I’ve been on with you, and the rest of the team past and present.

It’s been like doing a jigsaw, slotting things together, realising what I’d forgotten, amazing myself at what we got through as a team, unpicking the empty stretches between events. It helped me understand why certain years felt especially enjoyable, and what was going on during the rough patches.

Overall, it gave me a sense of enormous pride – in all of us. There are so many happy memories, lucky coincidences, bold leaps, good calls and so much to show for the time and creativity we’ve all invested. We’ve done so many interesting things over the last eleven years, and I know you will do many more in the future.

Maybe it’s an obvious point, but my timeline is of course just my timeline, my experiences of the bits of Helpful’s journey that I’ve seen first hand. I’m sure you have your own memories of the ups and downs, of fun trips, memorable clients, big presentations and the things you learned the hard way.

A drawn timeline of Helpful events
My Helpful timeline, 2010-21

Making my timeline

I put two large flipchart sheets up on the wall near my desk at home, and drew a big curvy line between 2010 and 2021.

Then, as I came across a memorable file I was clearing out, I jumped up and slotted it roughly onto the timeline. Sometimes I’d look back at the sheets and remember something – when one of the team joined or left, or a painful memory (making someone redundant, saying goodbye after a probation period, that Christmas nightmare when I accidentally racked up a £22k bill in Google Maps API billings…)

The colours don’t have meaning (I just grabbed whatever felt tip pen was to hand). Sometimes things are slightly out of order. It doesn’t matter. I could have done it using post its and organised the space better, or prioritised things or starred the highlights, but that wasn’t what this process was really about.

Most of the things I added to the timeline were projects and trips. I added some of the team and office moves too. For some reason I didn’t add much financial stuff like turnover milestones – perhaps that sort of thing went a bit unnoticed at the time, and seems a bit abstract looking back. For me, the Helpful journey was about the people, the places, and the experience of memorable work.

How the timeline helped

Like looking back down a path when you’re on a country walk, remembering what happened and when helped me to think about the journey as a whole and see it in overview.

It helped make sense of a journey I never really planned to make (back in 2010 I rather hoped someone would just offer me a job).

It also made clear to me how important some people were on that journey who were never formally part of the Helpful team: associates, special clients and friends. I didn’t realise how important or how constant some of them had been as their contribution had been low-key and modest – but nevertheless, absolutely crucial. I spent a bit of time over the summer sending messages and catching up with some of them, to try and say thank you (I may still be trying to get to you!).

For me, I went on my Helpful journey alongside being a partner, and a parent to two small people, and looking back over the timeline helped me make sense of more of the ups and downs in my life as a whole.

Timelining as a way of reminding yourself to feel pride

Something I became more aware of in the last few years was how as things grew and matured, I’d drifted away a bit from the pleasure and pain of new business wins and losses, project launches and nightmares.

I was reading this interesting article on how to feel more pride recently which helped put in context why the timeline-making process may have helped me:

I bet that the you of a year ago would have been amazed at the you of today, and the you of today will likely be amazed at the you of one year hence. Additionally, when your life is conceived of as a process rather than a destination, you won’t be as eager to arrive at its magical end; in fact, you’ll likely be in awe of its development.

I’d recommend the process of building a timeline if you’re feeling a bit burned out or if the last few years feel a bit of a blur to you for whatever reason.

I’m sure that for you, like me, you will find reasons in there to feel authentically proud. Chances are, it will bring out interesting realisations and connections you can make and people to follow up with before the good memories fade completely.

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Good to see the public reading stage make an appearance. Government really needs to rekindle that.