I recently re-discovered a great little book called Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, and I was reminded of its many lessons about how to deal with unexpected change. The book has received incredible reviews, and even though it's very small (I read it in one sitting), it's very inspirational and true. I believe you should go get it and read it, and I'll tell you why.

Who Moved My Cheese illustrates the simple fact that change will happen, whether we choose to accept it or not. The defining factor is how we deal with it; whether we allow ourselves to change or insist on staying the same. The story follows four characters, all living together in a maze. Sniff and Scurry are mice, and Hem and Haw are "little people". The traits displayed by these four characters are traits that, no doubt, many of us can identify with. Because Sniff and Scurry are only mice, they are described as having simple brains, "but good instincts." Sniff and Scurry are much more attuned to changing with a situation, since they are used to employing trial and error. Hem and Haw, on the other hand, with their complex brains, are inspired by beliefs and emotions. They are not accustomed to anticipating or adjusting to change.

For a time, all is going well in the maze for the four characters. They have found "Cheese Sation C", a huge source of their favorite food: cheese. While the cheese represents a source of food for Sniff and Scurry, it represents much more for Hem and Haw. The cheese is everything the little people need to be happy. Cheese Station C becomes the center of their lives. Before long, Hem and Haw are taking the cheese for granted. They become lazy and believe that there will always be cheese. Unlike Sniff and Scurry, who are observant of the dwindling cheese and know they may have to find more soon, Hem and Haw do not notice that the stash of cheese is depleting. One morning, they arrive at Cheese Station C, just as they have done every morning, and notice that the cheese is gone. How could this be?

Sniff and Scurry quickly accept the loss of the cheese and go off into the maze in search of other sources of cheese. For them, the solution is simple: the situation has changed, so they must change.

The little people, however, who have built their lives around this singular source of cheese, are confused and afraid. They feel they are the victims of some kind of fraud or theft. They continue to return to Cheese Station C each day, desperately hoping that the cheese will miraculously appear again. Rather than changing with the situation, they yearn for things to be the way they were. Meanwhile, the mice move on and find new cheese.

This story effectively captures experiences we are all familiar with: that moment after we are faced with an unexpected change, when we lose a job, or end a relationship, when we believe our world is ending. We feel that it must be somebody's joke to take away what is rightfully ours. We found comfort and security in the previous situation, and all the future holds is fear and uncertainty.

We've all been robbed of our "cheese" at some point in our lives, and it can be traumatizing. We feel betrayed and alone. At first, both Hem and Haw react this way. They are angry and fearful at the change they are faced with. But, eventually, Haw begins to see things differently. He says to Hem, "Life moves on, and so should we." He gathers his courage and enters the maze in search of new cheese.

Along the way, he realizes how he'd allowed himself to get stuck doing the same thing, not paying attention to the small changes going on around him, so that he was unprepared when the big change came along. It feels good to be back in the maze, even though he doesn't have any cheese and doesn't know where he'll find any. He's enjoying the hunt, and learning more about himself along the way. He writes on the wall of the maze "When you move beyond your fear, you'll feel free." Eventually, Haw joins the mice, Sniff and Scurry, at their new cheese station. He vows to never allow himself to get stuck in his comfort zone again, to learn to adapt to change, and to explore often.

A year ago, I was laid off from my job. It was hard, and I was afraid of what would come next. Like Hem and Haw, I'd been robbed of the cheese I'd become accustomed to: comfort, and the security of a monthly paycheck. It took me a little while, but I eventually stopped thinking of the old cheese and started looking for new cheese. These days, I'm creating new cheese with my own consulting business. And I'm doing well, too. Once you start believing in your ability to create opportunities for yourself, you'll know that you'll be OK, and you'll be able to move on from old cheese.

Who Moved My Cheese, and my own experiences with unexpected change, taught me that we need to always be prepared for changes in our lives. Change is normal. It's how we grow and evolve as humans. Change will happen whether we like it or not, and so will fear. How we choose to react is up to us.

Exceptional ideas shared in the book:

  1. When You Move Beyond Your Fear, You Feel Free
  2. The Quicker You Let Go of Old Cheese, the Sooner You Find New Cheese
  3. It is Safer to Search in the Maze Than Remain in a Cheeseless Situation
  4. Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese
  5. Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt to the Bigger Changes That Are to Come
  6. And my favorite quote from the book: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"