When Life Doesn’t Go As You’d Hoped

Holland with tulips and windmills in traditional village

I recently read a short essay by Emily Perl Kingsley about her experience of raising a child with Down syndrome. Although the essay is widely shared among parents of special needs children, the message is for all of us.  It’s about having your expectations turned upside down.

Welcome to Holland

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo. David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

Consider Your Life

How can you identify with this message? What twists and turns has your life taken that you did not anticipate?

Most of us need not search hard to recognize unfulfilled dreams, disillusionment with institutions (or people) you once counted on, unplanned relationship breakdowns, ways in which life has been unfair, even cruel.

Furthermore, it’s easy to get lost in the bitterness and sorrow of our unfilled hopes, the fact that we never got to experience the Coliseum, incredible artwork of Italy or the gondolas of Venice.

Then we get down on ourselves, thinking we’re “bad” for feeling this way.

But I’ve learned that we have to start with honesty before we can appreciate Holland. If we try to repress our negative thoughts and feelings about not being in Italy, we will remain stuck in our regret.

The beginning of transformation is allowing ourselves to be where we are.  As we honestly acknowledge our thoughts and feelings we begin to move and to grow. By recognizing and talking about them we find our way through them.

For some this journey is short. For others it is long. There is a lot to be felt and spoken. More important than the length of the journey is our authenticity in the journey. It is so nice to find a safe place to process the truth about what it feels like to be on this journey. To tell the truth courageously and compassionately.

And then something begins to shift as we realize that the goal of the journey isn’t getting back to Italy but feeling welcome in Holland—to enjoy the tulips and windmills in a place we never signed up to go.


1 Comment

  1. Diann Saari

    How true! I was in Holland for a very long time, but now I find myself in Italy trying to find connections to my time in Holland. I realize that I shouldn’t compare. I found many opportunities in Holland and I can continue to serve those around me in Italy. It is all about finding joy in the journey. Thank you so much for your positive articles. Reading them helps me to have a positive perspective.


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