GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
An ironic fact of life is that one of the few unchanging constants is things change. All around us, things are constantly changing, be it from human influence or the forces of nature; whether we grow or shrink from change is ultimately up to us. When thinking about change, I am reminded of the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
The book is a kind of fable about two mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two “little people” named Hem and Haw, who live in a maze in a constant search for cheese. At first, life is quite simple, as the cheese they all seek is consistently in the same location, day after day, seemingly without fail. All that changes one day, much to their surprise, when they find that the cheese is missing. After the initial shock of losing their beloved cheese, the audience begins to see the differences between the mice and the people. Sniff and Scurry, undeterred, head further into the maze, confident it had not vanished into thin air, but was somehow moved. Hem and Haw, on the other hand, immediately collapse into despair. They complain about the lost cheese and how unfair life is that they should be without cheese. What Hem and Haw didn’t know was that Sniff and Scurry, the optimistic mice, had found a new block of cheese further in the maze. Fed up with his situation, Haw realized how fruitless it was to sit still and complain, and he leaves his crestfallen partner with a newfound determination. Naturally, it was only a short time before he found Sniff and Scurry, along with an abundance of cheese. The three characters who came to believe they could overcome the challenge of change lived quite happily, while poor Hem remained stuck in a pessimistic and inflexible state of mind.
Like Aesop before him, Johnson’s fable of mazes, mice and cheese teaches a valuable lesson; the power of attitudes. The point isn’t about a love of cheese. This story is about comfort with the status quo and how paralyzing it can be when that comfort is taken away. Replace “cheese” with anything you’ve ever had in your life – popularity, shelter, income, etc., and the analogy may become more apparent. When we fool ourselves into thinking we are entitled to these things or that they will be around forever, losing them can be traumatic. We can see a little of Hem and Haw in ourselves, panicking as soon as something is different or taken away. What makes Sniff and Scurry different comes down solely to outlook and attitude.
I saw a bit of Hem and Haw in myself in 2011, when I was midway through a career-broadening assignment at the Pentagon. I was more than confident, over-confident in fact, that I would receive my cheese, a follow-on assignment as a Force Support Deputy. When my career field informed me that I should complete one more “in charge” assignment prior to becoming a Force Support Deputy, I felt that cheese being moved just before I could grab it.
I had done everything the Air Force asked me to do, and while I hadn’t fully achieved my goal, I was confident I would get my desired follow-on. I thought I would get the cheese. Just like Hem and Haw, I complained and threw myself a pity party for the next few weeks, as I struggled to come to terms with a three to five year career delay. But as I was outside playing with my two daughters on a beautiful fall day in Northern Virginia, I had the same realization as Hem. I chose to quit feeling sorry for myself and accepted that the cheese had not been snatched away, but simply moved. That move was the beginning of a new journey for me, and once I got out of my own head, I set myself upon a path and never looked back. This personal change in mindset allowed me to be a better husband, father, and professional. When I realized my cheese had only been moved and not taken, I could let go and push forward. I learned Johnson’s lesson the hard way. The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold onto it. Since 2011 my cheese has been moved several times, both professionally and personally, and each time I embrace the change and move with the cheese.
If you are reading this article, I am positive you can relate in some way about your cheese being moved and can reflect on how you reacted, or are reacting, to change. We should all learn from Sniff and Scurry to not overanalyze our situations, and when our cheese moves, get back into the maze to find more cheese. However, too often we are like Hem and Haw, complain and feel sorry for ourselves, which leaves us frustrated and less than our best.
The bottom line is this: your cheese will move – move with it! The choice is yours.