Welcome to Holland: A New Perspective

What if you could be happy today? What if you were content with what you have?  That doesn’t mean you stop striving or learning. But what if you could be happy along the way?

This is where Holland comes in. “Welcome to Holland” is an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley. Kingsley, the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, writes about her experience of pregnancy and parenting. She equates pregnancy with planning the trip-of-a-lifetime to Italy, with all the excitement of planning, guidebooks and even learning a little Italian. But when the plane lands at the long-awaited destination, the flight attendant says “Welcome to Holland.” 

Wait, what? Holland? 

“There’s been a change in the flight plan.”

There’s nothing to be done.

Holland is permanent.

But this wasn’t the plan!

This isn’t the way it’s “supposed” to be.

No!

But it is.

The metaphor is perfect for so many situations: the relationship that didn’t work out, the job you didn’t get, the illness you didn’t see coming. There are plenty of phrases that remind us that there is always a silver lining.  The trick is, how do you see the silver lining?

In Kingsley’s essay, the shift starts from recognizing that “Holland” is just a different place. And in her world, it’s not “a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease.” In Holland you can buy a new guidebook and learn a new language, and you’ll meet people you’d never have met otherwise.

Kingsley’s lesson-learned is that “if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.” The parallels are obvious — that we can’t see the lovely things in our lives, unless we stop yearning about what was or what could have been.

But what I like best about Kingsley’s essay is that she goes on. It’s more than just “get over it — see the silver lining” — there’s an acknowledgement of the loss:

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…

because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss

Not recognizing the loss is often what blocks us from moving on. And it can be complicated by an inner critic who tells you that it’s your fault — who tells you what you “should” have done instead. If only you had done “X” then you’d be in Italy. But, if you can quiet your inner critic, accept the lost dream or plan, then it might be easier to find the silver lining of “Holland,” And along the way, you might even find that you’re a little happier.