Looking for New Cheese

cheeseSo, I’m learning to embrace “Change”. It’s been a long road–longer than it should have been, because I’ve been resentful and resistant to the changes I’ve been forced to acknowledge and accept. In other words, things haven’t been going the way i want so I’ve been sitting in the corner pouting and having a tantrum, figuratively speaking. Not unlike a couple of the characters in the book “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson.

The book starts off with a group of friends getting together to catch up with each other after just attending a high school reunion. Inevitably, they start talking about how life hasn’t turned out quite like they expected and about all the changes they’ve had to endure, both personally and professionally. One of the friends offers to share a little story with them that has helped him learn to embrace change, and his friends are receptive. Thus, the story begins.

The story is about four main characters–two mice and two littlepeople (“beings who were as small as mice but who looked and acted a lot like people today.” pg.25) –who have Change thrust upon them and their subsequent reactions to that change. The mice are named Sniff and Scurry and the littlepeople are named Hem and Haw. They live in a maze (of course), which serves as a metaphor for Life, looking for Cheese. Johnson uses Cheese as a metaphor for things we desire in our lives, such as material things, career success, good health, satisfying relationships, etc.

They all find a Cheese Station at the same time and begin enjoying their preferred “Cheese.” Each morning thereafter, they make their way to that Cheese Station. After awhile, the two little people begin to get comfortable. They take off their shoes and hang up their coats. They eventually move their houses to be closer to the Cheese Station and begin to bring their friends by to show off “their” Cheese, maybe sharing it, maybe not. They begin to sleep in each morning and take their time coming to the Cheese station. Most importantly, they begin to feel entitled and start taking it for granted. After all, they worked hard to find it and they deserve it. And as a result, they assume it will always be there for them. This leads to laziness. And this leads to them not noticing the warning signs that the Cheese is gradually disappearing. 

The mice, on the other hand, hurry to the Cheese Station each morning and take off their shoes, tie them together and hang them around their necks. This is so “they could get to them quickly whenever they needed them again.” (p.28). They would sniff and scurry around the cheese pile to see if there had been any changes from the day before. Then they would sit down and nibble the cheese. 

One day, the mice arrived at the Cheese Station only to find there was no Cheese. But this did not surprise them, because they had been noticing that the cheese supply had been dwindling each day. So, rather than fret and worry (like humans), they immediately put their shoes back on, sniffed the air for the scent of New Cheese, and scurried out into the Maze in search of it. In other words, they knew change was coming and they were prepared for it!

Compare that to the reaction of Hem and Haw, who were NOT prepared. They got to the Cheese Station and were shocked to discover that there was no Cheese! Hem started yelling and getting angry. He even screamed “It’s not fair!” at the top of his lungs. Johnson then goes on in detail about what Cheese meant to the littlepeople and how important it was to them. He talks about the security they had in it and the future plans they had that were dependent on the Cheese. And because they felt entitled to it, they blamed other people for their plight. they felt wronged and disrespected and discouraged. In other words, they refused to accept the change and became bitter.

Can you relate? I sure could! It’s a little humorous to envision these little mice-size people arguing about Cheese and using the same arguments we hear all the time from people going through Change. At the same time, it’s a little sobering to see myself in the book as Hem or Haw using those same arguments in my own life about the changes that have been thrust upon me, primarily in my work situation. I, too, have felt entitled to certain things from my employers over the years and have taken a lot of it for granted. I’ve played nice and done what was asked of me and still didn’t get the Cheese I was promised, or that I expected. And I’ve hemmed and hawed through all the emotions and shouted all the angry questions about unfairness and injustice that the littlepeople go through in the story. And NONE of that produced any of the Cheese that I wanted. In short, I refused to accept the changes, and more importantly–and sadly–I refused to change.

Change can be hard. And scary. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a matter of perspective. And perspective is a choice. This is the choice that Hem and Haw faced. It’s the choice we all have when faced with Change. I’m now in search of New Cheese. And it’s actually been quite fun. I’ll talk more about that in my next Post. Don’t get caught off guard–give yourself an advantage by preparing for Change both mentally and emotionally.

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