This spring, we traveled to the Netherlands. The timing our trip, around the school vacation calendar, enabled us to check one big item off of our bucket lists: to experience the tulip booms of Keukenhof Gardens. The effect of seeing millions upon millions of gorgeous tulips in full bloom was palpable; the joy we felt seeing so much beauty will stay with us for the rest of our days.
But our trip also became an important exploration of a country and culture that, for centuries, has been at war with climate change. In dealing with climate crisis, the Netherlands has become a thriving meaningful work society.
So much of The Netherlands is built upon land reclaimed from the sea. As the rate of climate change has increased exponentially, the Dutch people have responded magnificently; in the north, workers are building new seawalls many meters higher than current ones, to keep the nation dry and thriving.
We got to see how Dutch companies and workers lead their counterparts in other industrialized nations addressing resource sustainability and climate mitigation. One brilliant Netherlands-headquartered company, Sempergreen, helps shrink urban heat zones and reduce wastewater runoff by designing, growing, and installing so-called green roofs and walls on businesses, schools, hospitals, transit stops, and other structures. The living structures created by Sempergreen’s people use extreme heat tolerant plants like Sedum to significantly reduce [HVAC] energy loads in summer and capture rain water to support rooftop pollinator gardens.
Every day, Dutch communities do much that American communities should adopt as practice, like ditching single-occupant gasoline powered cars for mass transit and bicycles—and there are more bikes in the Netherlands than people. Witnessing hundreds of Amsterdammers in rush hour, riding city streets on their bikes to go to school and work, is just magical. That experience is like watching a happy hive of honeybees live and support one another.
My exploration got me to the realization that the Dutch, as a whole, do meaningful work well. People there work hard, but they also play hard. They live well, but they also live within their means. They are highly entrepreneurial, but they are also imbued with decency and noble purpose. That spirit is embodied by Paul Polman, the Dutch former CEO of consumer products manufacturer Unilever, who is leading the charge to embrace as key business stakeholders people doing meaningful work.
Each year in the United States, hard-working people often forego millions of hours of unused vacation time. We delude ourselves in thinking that giving up well-earned time off is what is required of us to earn promotions, recognition, and workplace longevity. Actually, when we ditch vacation time—and vacation travel—we deprive ourselves of the kind of exploration that clears our heads, opens our minds, and heals our bodies and souls. If more of us spend less of our savings on stuff and more on the wonderful experience of vacation travel we would help to make our work more meaningful.
The Netherlands showed us what is possible in a nation that must combat climate change. And they inspired me to do everything that I can to bring their best practices for meaningful work to our shores.
If you need vacation inspiration to get out of a work rut, then do reach out to one of our favorite podcast guests, Eva Grodberg, who runs Epic Experiences, an experiential travel company that creates profound vacation experiences for people eager to explore the world and make it a better place. You can learn more, and connect with Epic Experiences, here.
You can also hear Eva explain the importance of seeking epic travel experiences on an earlier run episode of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast.
Our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Photo credits: Keukenhof Gardens, Dan Smolen; Sempergreen Bus Stop Pollinator Garden in Utrecht, the Netherlands; EcoWatch.