Biarritz – what better place to learn to roam?Katie Guest

Do you pride yourself on starting the day with a clear idea of what you want to achieve? Or do you long to be better at prioritising? No matter which end of the scale you’re on, stop what you are doing right now – you could just be ruining your life.

This article is going to be hard to swallow for the majority of readers, but trust me, as someone who takes self-organisation to such an extreme that it borders on obsession, I can appreciate your scepticism. If someone had told me six months ago that spending a day without foreplaning was a good idea, I would have said they were mad. However, that’s because I had just finished a two-month internship in Germany’s buzzing capital, Berlin, where the plethora of activities on offer make it nonsensical not to plan how to make the most of your time there. Yet, upon arriving in the bucolic seaside town of Biarritz in November 2017, in the South of France’s off-season, I soon realised that I was going to have to adapt to a slower pace of life and see how the other half lives.

I feared the prospect of putting in all that hard work only to fail

Being a self-confessed compulsive itinerary-maker, I spent my first few weeks in Biarritz tearing my hair out, at a loss how to fill my days. Eventually, I took to idly roaming the streets and beaches, and remarkably found that by searching for nothing, I was unexpectedly able to see everything! Wandering off the beaten track enabled me to notice sights, sounds, and smells, from which I may otherwise have felt disconnected. It was like returning to infancy, when all sensory stimulation was a wonder.

I must admit, however, that as I write of the benefits of aimless roaming, there are alarm bells ringing in my head, as I recall my second-year French lectures on Flaubert’s famous anti-hero, Frédéric Moreau of Sentimental Education. He is said to have “endured the idleness of his intellect and the inertia of his heart.” Certainly, those of us accustomed to living with a crystal-clear sense of direction fear living such a mindless, empty existence. But is such an existence any less hollow than one in which you supress your creativity and spontaneity under the pressure of a goal-driven mind-set?

Like Berlin, our lives are often jam-packed with things to do, see and to organiseKatie Guest

Going with the flow doesn’t necessarily entail fading into apathy. To let oneself be guided solely by the senses and emotions can be a real life-affirming experience, and while I freely admit that having goals does give your existence a sense of vitality and momentum – it is certainly one of the reasons that I am studying at Cambridge today – we must ask ourselves at what point an excessive fixation upon academic or professional goals becomes detrimental to our existence. How do we know when we’ve gone too far in one direction? How did we get there in the first place? And what is truly at stake?

Now, of course being busy is not always a bad thing. That is the nature of our culture of achieving objectives. The problem with these objectives, however, is that we never seem happy or fulfilled even when we do achieve them – all we feel is relief. During my school days, receiving the results of my piano exams always filled me with dread because, like most of us, I feared the prospect of putting in all that hard work only to fail. I never did fail, but never savoured my achievements either. The moment the results were in, it was on to the next grade, and I was once again suppressed under the strain and stress of striving for success. This is not a mark of true success, nor is it a sign of truly living. What ever happened to enjoying the journey?

"Taking the time to relax and recharge in Biarritz really has given me a more positive outlook on life"Katie Guest

Ironically, the things we tend to push aside to prioritise our work are the ones that are most likely to bring us a sense of nourishment and fulfilment. We stop singing, playing music, going for drinks with friends. We tell ourselves “it’s OK, I can do that next month”, but next month always remains just that – next month. It’s high time to start living in the moment.

Easier said than done, I know. By all means start the day with a set of priorities, but don’t set anything in stone. Adapt to situations, but stay focussed enough so that you don’t endorse mind-numbing tasks. For example, don’t decide to send that email you’d been meaning to send, and then end up responding to the pile of new emails waiting in your inbox instead. Outside of work, make time to enjoy yourself. Try brunching with buddies, playing a new sport, or taking a serene stroll to Grantchester.


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Remember, just because we spend a day when we don’t tick many tasks off our to-do list, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been a day well spent. Taking the time to relax and recharge in Biarritz really has given me a more positive outlook on life. By ceasing to obsess over goal-driven organisation, I have relieved myself of the soul-sapping insecurities that would otherwise force me to revert to my default setting of feeling stressed. Too often, we believe that self-suppression is a sign of working hard, when in reality such comportment is futile because so much of life is beyond our control. Embrace freedom instead. It enables us to act for the greater good of the self, which can promote self-belief and maybe even permit further success.

Better still, begin your day without a to-do list, roam free, and just see where life’s unexpected twists and turns take you.

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