Sunday, April 1, 2012

My best leaving present

I found it when I was spring cleaning.
A card - hidden in a drawer, buried under years of accumulated papers. You know, the papers that seem too important to throw away at the time, but aren’t, and you never pick them up again.

The card did not look familiar. Its edges were still sharp, not worn smooth by fingertips. On its cover was a colourful cartoon of some strange muppet-like creatures, one was waving, one was weeping, one was conducting some kind of survey. The tagline read: “We took a poll and 90% of us are sorry you’re leaving...”

Who was leaving? I opened it curiously. Oh.
I was leaving.

Inside, every spare space had been filled with handwritten comments from my former workmates. I began to read what they’d written, yes - I’d remember that name, I’d pause and think, trying to picture their face. And I’d smile at what they’d scribbled.

I had stumbled across a memento of a voyage we’d shared. And here was I, about to disembark. It was written in April 2002, exactly 10 years ago, this week.

Our voyage had started in late 1999. I was moving to London to join a hot new startup - one so new it didn’t even have a name yet. I was employee number 5. We adopted the name Servista, we were going to change the world - if we could launch our product before our money ran out. So we worked into the night, 6 days a week, racing to build and launch our product before our richer corporate competitors.

You get close to people when you work that intensively. We socialised, we celebrated birthdays, we formed a football team, we became friends. And we we felt sad when a familiar face decided to move on. In April 2002, it was my turn, I was leaving, swapping my computer screen for a backpack, I was off to see the world.

Generously, my colleagues also bought me a leaving present - an electronic gadget now obsolete and recycled. But I kept the card. I’m glad I did. It cost a fraction of their gift, but has become much more valuable.

My card and a few press cuttings are the only souvenirs I still have from the great Servista adventure. The company I’d helped build continued on without me for another 8 years, growing, before dwindling out of existence. The software I’d crafted was long gone. All my labours washed away, like footsteps on a beach.

I hadn’t really realised it at the time, but one day we all look back on our lives with great nostalgia. The individual episodes that make up our lives can be over before we realise it. Shunted aside by the vivid experiences of the here and now, they fade from memory to become half-remembered dreams. It’s a shame leaving cards are so easily forgotten, I’ve always thought books make better repositories for memories.

My card is a reminder of some great times shared. I’ve drifted out of touch with many of my former colleagues, some live and work far away now; but I can still hear their voices, scribbled and preserved in blue and black ballpoint ink, by whatever pen happened to lying on their desk when the card circulated the office, 10 years ago.

So, fellow Servista folk, if you ever happen to stumble across this, thank you again for your lovely messages. I did indeed have a wonderful journey. I did indeed enjoy the best of luck, and life has been good to me. And the memory of what we shared together still makes me smile, even after all this time.

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