One of the most constant things in life is change. It happens in several ways. Physiologically, we change every day. Our body goes through several growth processes that manifests in either apparent or innate ways. Change also happens in the environment we live. From the little things like the shrubs in front of your house going brown during the harmattan to the road in your neighborhood being paved during the election season. And then there are the more poignant changes in your personal life that has to do with either jobs, relationships, dreams etc.
Some of these changes are easier to deal with. Physiologically, you have no option but to live with the fact that you are growing taller by the day. If the leaves of the mango tree are getting browner, you know it is due to the vagaries of the weather. But most of the changes we experience in our lives are not that easy to adapt to. That tends to be the Achilles Heel of most people. Getting stuck in the past because we refuse to adapt to the changing times.
Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson is an instructive book on how different personalities respond to change. The book was a conversation between old friends who met up to catch up on old times and ended up discussing the changes in their lives. The book then segues into a story told by one of the friends which revolves around four characters, Hem and Haw, two humanlike characters as diminutive as the other two characters, Sniff and Scurry. All four characters lived in a maze and depended on cheese as their main source of nourishment which they found in a Cheese station. This is where the distinct characters at play come to the fore.
Scurry and Sniff did not see the discovery of the cheese as reason to relent in their earlier efforts of looking for cheese. They continued to be vigilant, sniffing and scurrying around their cheese source in search of the origin of the cheese. They knew their discovery was too good to be true and like everything that had a beginning, there was going to be an end. So when the day arrived when the cheese was no more, they quickly moved on in search of other sources of cheese.
Hem and Haw on the other hand saw their discovery as an opportunity to be extra comfortable. They showed up to their cheese station late and went about their activities with the nonchalance of people who could not be bothered. They flaunted their wealth and engaged in the equivalent of Greek revelry with their friends when they so wished. They never planned for the day when all the cheese would be moved. So when that day eventually came, they were distraught. Who had moved their cheese, they wondered?
At this juncture, readers begin to see the difference between Hem and Haw. Hem decided to hem himself to the past. He refused to believe that the loss of cheese was real. It was unfair to him. But changing to suit the situation was not an option. Haw however was the polar opposite.
Initially, he was equally shattered by the loss in cheese. But instantaneously, he began to glean lessons from his situation. Writing on the wall whenever he had a eureka moment, the struggle he was going through was having a positive effect on him. “The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold to it”. He realized how attached he was to the cheese and thus how devastating the loss was.
Haw resolved to move out of his comfort zone. It was time to venture into the unseen and take the literal path less taken. But that did not happen without him battling his fears of the unknown. He had been ensconced in his comfort zone for so long, it was not going to take a simple shrug to move out of it. But he knew that was the best he could do for himself. He eventually laughed off his fears and moved into the unknown. If you do not change, you become extinct” he wrote!
Deciding to move into the unknown was not going to be easy simply because he decided to move into it. That is the thing about journeys. Haw appreciated that reality and responded to it appropriately. The cheese was not going to materialize out of nothing overnight. Finding it demands efforts and Haw put in all the effort that was necessary. He continued to battle with some of his earlier fears and at times considered returning to the old cheese station. When he scraped together some cheese, he returned to the old cheese station (Cheese Station C) and found Hem still sulking. He offered him some and asked him to join in the search for more cheese. But Hem was not going to budge. Even though Cheese Station C was bereft of cheese, he felt better off in his mediocrity. Haw wrote It is safer to search in the maze, than remain in a clueless situation”.
Back in the maze again, Haw continued to search for more cheese and the more grounds he covered, the more cheese he found. When you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change course.” Long gone was the cloak of mediocrity and relenting. Haw was now fully adventurous. As he took slowly but steadily made his way through the maze, he took in all the changes coming his way. Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are yet to come. And the bigger change was just within his reach.
Haw found Cheese Station N and it was a mecca of cheese. It had all the cheese he could possibly want and two other characters he had not seen in a while, Scurry and Sniff. They had long found Cheese Station N and were enjoying all the spoils of their new home. As Haw began to settle in, he recollected how far he had come and the many lessons he had learnt. He was not going to forget the need to always smell the cheese lest it began to grow mold. He also remembered Hem and wondered what his condition was but as he had earlier learnt, when you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change course.
Sniff and Scurry are the outliers. Very few of us realize the need to think ahead of the times, even when we are enjoying the trappings of life. It is the entrepreneurs who come up with solutions to life’s ever pressing needs that embody the characteristics of Sniff and Scurry. But we all cannot be sniffing and scurrying around. Ideally we should be but it seems like genetics and our environments did not endow us with that.
That is why we can all be like Haw. We might take a little longer to respond to the changing realities around us; the girlfriend who jilted us, the job we did not land, the F on our transcripts or the death of a family member. But we must eventually respond to it appropriately. Throwing our hands up in despair is never the way to go. Hemming ourselves to the past will only make us extinct in the grand scheme of affairs.
Being like Haw means realizing that life’s challenges offer us an opportunity to grow and learn. The learning process is the most important. We do not have to write the lessons we learn on the wall but we must definitely internalize what those lessons mean to us. That is what Haw did that made all the difference. What these lessons tend to do is to remind us of what the goal is, what the ends of the process must be. When someone moves you cheese for the first time, take it as an opportunity for you to learn some life lasting lessons. Move out of your station C, venture into the unknown after battling your fears. Change your course if it is new cheese you want. In time, you will find your Station N and learn that sniffing whatever cheese you have is the surest way to ensure a steady supply of cheese in your life!!!