I recently read the book “Who moved my cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. It had been a present by one of my former bosses, who gave it to me on my last day working for the company. I hadn’t looked at it in years, I am unsure why I never picked it up and read it. At the beginning of this year, in a moment of severe sleep deprivation and feelings of anxiety and dread of what the future might hold, I grabbed the slim paperback and started reading. “Who moved my cheese?” is a short read; I finished it in under an hour, and it really resonated with and encouraged me. Whilst I would highly recommend the book to anyone, for those of you who don’t want to read it, here is a short summary: In a fictional or some may also call it a metaphorical maze, there are stations of cheese (also metaphorical) where someone places cheese to be enjoyed every day (we don’t know who puts it there, it is irrelevant to the story). Also in the maze are two mice, Sniff and Scurry, as well as two people, called the Littlepeople, individually named “Hem” and “Haw”, all of who are running to the cheese station each morning to eat cheese. One day, there is no more cheese at the station they had been going to. The mice scurry out into the maze in search for more cheese, disregarding their former, now empty cheese station. The Littlepeople, scared what lies in the maze, keep returning to this empty station every day, waiting and hoping that, at some point, more cheese will appear. When it doesn’t, Haw takes a leap of faith and runs into the maze, searching for more cheese. He doesn’t find any at first but he carries on regardless, feeling empowered through the process and taking action. Hem remains where he is, miserable and grumpy. In the end, Haw finds more cheese he could ever have wished for. He also finds the two mice again (who found the same cheese station, a lot earlier, obviously). Nevertheless, Haw doesn’t grow complacent this time. He enjoys the cheese but ensures he regularly “sniffs” it to ensure that it is not going off and he isn’t faced with a sudden cheese-less situation again. He is ready for the cheese to be moved, and it doesn’t scare him anymore.
The story is obviously about change and how we can all fall into the category of one of the four characters, or, maybe, find we are a combination of two or more of them. I certainly recognise Hem in myself when faced with change, however, I have never been Hem, as I adapt and move on more or less quickly, whether I like it or not. Sniff and Scurry adapt to change most naturally, as if instinctively – not a quality I would attribute to myself. I probably see myself most in “Haw”, initially sceptical but quickly realising that the only way to move forward is to move with the change unless you want to remain rigid and stuck, avoiding growth and new experiences.
I have come across situations of change often, be it within organisations I worked for or in my personal life. I don’t know which is more stressful; I guess it depends on the kind of change. One of the biggest changes for the whole world has certainly been Covid-19, turning all our lives upside down. We all have had to adapt, rework and rethink, some of us quicker and better than others, and some may still be working out how to best cope with this as yet indefinitely continuing situation. I know of people who have jumped at new opportunities, thought outside the box and found a way to make life in isolation work for themselves. I see them as the mice in the maze. They instinctively know what to do and go for it. I have also heard of and seen people who just carry on as normal. They are the Hems of the story. Reluctant to adapt, carrying on stubbornly. Either ignoring warnings and new measures or just in denial of the severity of the virus. Whichever social scenario you want to apply Dr Johnson’s story, I believe that there is truth in it may fit all of us. My personal view on the matter is, as a result of experience and having lived through so much change myself, that it’s advisable to embrace the change and move with it, or jump into action and change your own behaviour and that of those around you.
Change can be an unwelcome aspect of our lives, but if we learn to accept it as a natural process that can also open doors for us or show us different paths to navigate on, then it is something to be embraced and cherished, as well as a possibility for personal growth and maybe even new ventures and success. I am not suggesting lockdown and isolation are easy. Far from it. But we can change how we view it and accept the challenge to live through this experience and make the most of it. What would Haw and the mice do?