Holidays – still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

As just about everyone I know appears to be taking August off on holiday, it’s worth considering Alain de Botton‘s quote about holidays: “From the office, we tend to fantasise about two weeks in which we will no longer be quite ourselves; we picture ourselves as an implausibly other-worldly creature, unbothered by issues in relationships, fear of humiliation and longings. And yet the one person we can never leave behind is ourself and everything that makes us challenging to live with. We will therefore – even on the sunlounger – be grumpy, exhausted and worried about money”.

Gloomily, true enough.But – apart from the regular 10 hours’ sleep and the peach bellinis – holidays can also be an opportunity to test out ideas about how we want our lives to be. Life and wealth planning guru George Kinder trains financial advisers to ask three questions:

1) Imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything?

2) Imagine your doctor tells you that you have only 5-10 years to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel unwell. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live? Will you change your life and how will you do it?

3) Imagine your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did I miss?, Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?

I am (SO) not an IFA, but at some point in coaching, I often ask clients similar questions. Yet people invariably find it near impossible to answer them. In particular, even though money is a huge driver for many of my clients, they often find it really hard to describe the life they would live if money genuinely wasn’t an issue. (Not infrequently, people say that they just need to work for another five years and then they will be free. Yet they still find it hard to describe that freedom).

To help them get clearer, I ask people to talk about times in their lives when they were happy and fulfilled, and they often talk about being holiday or on maternity leave. Times when there was some structure to their day and some small tasks to be done. And mostly they talk wistfully, not about the specifics of the experience, but about the way that they had time and space fully to inhabit their lives.

One of my clients, recently returned from Myanmar, talked about a visit to a temple in the jungle in the North of the country. The temple made of red clay, was largely overgrown, thick, green, banyan trees surrounded it; there was a river alongside and hordes of monkeys leaped gleefully through the fallen statues of deities, several still tended with flowers and incense by nearby villagers.As she talked, I could almost hear the sounds of the jungle and smell the incense. For her, this image gave her a more powerful sense than words could convey that her mind and her life were so overstuffed with thoughts, ideas, box sets of Killing Eve and To Do lists that she had lost sight of who she was and who she wanted to be.

Without intending to, she had reconnected with the original ‘holy days’ that prefigure our current ‘holidays’. A time when people traveled for months to touch the bones of saints. To shuffle slowly on their knees around labyrinths carved into the stone before the altars of the great medieval cathedrals. To reconnect with some deeper truths and commit to turning over new leaves as they returned – slowly – to their day to day lives.

At this time of year, the newspapers and websites are full of articles about places to holiday and things to do to hold onto the holiday feeling. As ever, the best advice is the simplest. Before you log on and certainly before you get back on the Tube, take time to reflect on the high days of the holidays. And what you were re-minded was important in your life. Commit to doing one thing regularly – or to making one change – to stay connected to that feeling – without having to log back onto Expedia. Happy Summer.