In his book “Who Moved My Cheese?”, Spencer Johnson uses mice and mazes and cheese as metaphors to cleverly relate the realities and fears of life’s changes. I’ve been like the mouse-sized people, Hem and Haw, in my attitude towards change. I’ve experienced the whole range of emotions: from sadness and anger to excitement and hope. In the book, Hem and Haw stay stuck in their ruts waiting for Cheese to reappear. (Cheese is the metaphor for whatever we need or want to feel fulfilled, satisfied, happy, etc.) They’re mad that it’s gone because they feel entitled to it. They worked hard to get where they are and built their lives around it. But circumstances changed and the Cheese they had come to rely on was no longer available. As I am writing this, it occurred to me that they didn’t do anything wrong to cause it to be moved. It just happened. Things changed. But by the same token, they weren’t doing anything special to keep it coming. It just showed up. Their error was in the fact that it was there consistently for so long, that they became dependent on it, began to take it for granted, and neglected to pay attention to (and acknowledge) the subtle changes (i.e. warning signs) that should have alerted them a lot sooner that it was disappearing. I, too, have been caught in that trap (no pun intended). Shaking my fists and pointing my fingers, expecting something that I felt I deserved, but having no power to control anything differently. But worse, I felt unprepared and as a result, I felt helpless and powerless. I couldn’t create the Cheese I wanted, and I also felt fearful and unable to find New Cheese.
Fortunately, Haw eventually comes to the realization that it’s not coming back and he’s going to need to go back out into the maze to find more Cheese. He comes to the realization that change has occurred–for whatever reason(s) and through no fault of his own–and that if he ever wants to have Cheese again, he’s going to have to change too. As I have been confronted with unexpected and uncomfortable change, I too have been resistant. But with Haw as my inspiration, I’ve gone back into the maze–even if tentatively–and discovered that it isn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, I have been making some of the same discoveries as Haw, such as “why he had always thought that a change would lead to something worse. Now he realized that change could lead to something better.” (p.59) And he “realized that what you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.” (p.63) And finally, “Old beliefs do not lead you to New Cheese. He knew when you change what you believe, you change what you do. You can believe that a change will harm you and resist it. Or you can believe that finding New Cheese will help you, and embrace the change.” (pp.64-65)
I need to reread this book at least once per month, especially now with everything going on, not only in my own organization, but even in this country (economy, health care, etc.). It’s a very refreshing and quick read, and has excellent reminders that Change will happen, regardless of whether we deserve it, regardless of whether we cause it. I can resist it and flounder, or I can embrace it and flourish. But regardless of the Change, I know, with God’s help, I can handle it.