When The Cheese Keeps Moving

I visited a large rummage sale today with no particular idea of what I was looking for. One section had lots of books, and I just couldn’t help myself. I only got a few this time, but I ran across a title that I hadn’t seen for many years. It was a parable by Spencer Johnson called “Who Moved My Cheese?” a tale about four tiny characters in a maze, mice and little people, who, after searching diligently, found a nice, reliable source of cheese. They went back every day, and like magic, it was always there.

One day they arrived and the cheese was gone. The mice decided right away that they would venture out into the maze and try to find more. The little people stayed, analyzing the situation from all different angles. They chiseled through the walls at the cheese station but found nothing. They complained that it wasn’t fair that their cheese wasn’t there any more. Someone took it. They decided it was too big a risk to venture into the maze, and day after day the situation was the same. No cheese.

The two mice, in the meantime had been searching and found an even bigger supply of fresh cheese. Eventually the two little people gave up and ventured into the unknown of the maze. The finally were reunited with the mice, who had been feasting for days.

The lesson is that life is full of surprises, some of them very unsettling. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, your cheese gets moved. It is important to recognize it and move on in search for the new instead of waiting for someone to restore your old cheese.

While it is an old story, the lesson is even more applicable today. Your cheese is going to continue to move. The jobs that were secure for decades might not be there next year. The business opportunities of ten years ago are gone. The education that you spent so much time, effort and money on might be obsolete in the not-too-distant future. It all seems so unfair. It is not your fault. You did the things you were supposed to do to find success and comfort and stability.

One of the benefits of living in a time such as the present is that rapid, significant change has become an expected part of life. If you still do things like you have always done them, someone is going to move your cheese and you will be left bewildered, wondering what happened, frustrated and discouraged. If your organization, business, civic, religious, or otherwise, doesn’t embrace change and prepare for new markets, new people, and new approaches, you will be left behind by those who do.

The two mice didn’t demand that their old cheese be returned. They didn’t worry about it, they didn’t analyze it, they didn’t complain about it. They just set off to find the new cheese. For them, it wasn’t scary, it wasn’t confusing, it wasn’t an overwhelming intellectual battle. It was just something that had to be done and they did it.

The story itself is simplistic, like a children’s tale, but like all good parables, the simplicity highlights a deeper truth. Complaining about a bad situation doesn’t do anything to change it. Refusing to take responsibility and blaming everyone else for your bad luck doesn’t give you a ticket to easy street. Your cheese has been moved. The reason doesn’t matter. What matters is how quickly you recognize it and take action and venture out into the maze, into the unknown, and search for your next pile of cheese. The sooner you do, the happier you’ll be and the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.

Dan McLaughlin is the author of “Compassion and Truth-Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results.” Follow him at daniel-mclaughlin.com.