On September 19, I hopped on a train from the southern suburbs of Paris to the Charles de Gaulle airport located way up north to fly back to China after visiting friends and family in France for two months. According to the RATP website (a state-owned public transport operator based in Paris) the trip from Robinson RER to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 2 TGV takes exactly 1h13mins.
That’s exactly how long it took me to read Spencer Johnson’s bestseller “Who Moved My Cheese?”.
Considered one of the world’s most popular management methods, “Who Moved My Cheese?” is a short story and simple parable that reveals insightful truths about change in our personal and/or professional life. In order to get his message across in the most entertaining way possible, Spencer Johnson tells the tale of four characters living in a “Maze” and looking for “Cheese” to nourish themselves and consequently live happier lives.
Two of those characters are mice named Sniff and Scurry. The remaining two are what he calls “little people” — beings the size of mice but look and act a lot like people. Their names are Hem and Haw.
The “Cheese” is a metaphor for what you desire in life — whether it be a good paying job, a relationship, a brand new car, great health, etc. The “Maze” is where all the action takes place; that is, where you go look for what you want — the company you work for, your family, communities, etc..
What! No Cheese?
After a bit of search, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw eventually found a huge stack of Cheese at Cheese Station C: “This is great, there’s enough Cheese here to last us forever” Hem said. Hem and Haw quickly regarded the Cheese at Cheese Station C as their cheese and starting decorating the station to make themselves feel at home. Meanwhile, Sniff and Scurry carried on with their daily routine of sniffing and scratching and scurrying around the station to inspect the area and see if anything had changed from the day before.
Evidently the stock of Cheese gradually diminished until there wasn’t any left. To Sniff and Scurry this was no surprise at all — they had noticed the supply of cheese had been getting smaller over time, so they went on with their day and sniffed around looking for new Cheese. To Hem and Haw, however, that day turned out to be the worst day of their little lives. For so long they both refused to believe that the Cheese was permanently gone — that the Cheese had “moved”. Haw started to get depressed. “What would happen if the Cheese wasn’t there tomorrow?” Had had made future plans based on this Cheese.
It took some time for Haw to find the strength to go back out into the Maze to look for new Cheese. Hem, on the other hand, felt too comfortable at Cheese Station C to leave despite the obvious lack of Cheese: “I like it here, it’s what I know. Besides it’s dangerous out there”.
Haw was on his own. He laughed and shouted: “It’s MAZE time!”
The Handwriting on the Wall
As Haw made his way through the Maze looking for new Cheese, he kept note of everything he learned by writing his thoughts onto the walls of the Maze. The following is a record of Haw’s journey and his experience searching for new Cheese.
01 — Change Happens (They Keep Moving the Cheese)
Change it what helps us move forward and evolve. We’re forced to rethink the old to make way for the new. As Haw eloquently puts it: “If you do not change, you become extinct”.
02 — Anticipate Change (Get Ready for the Cheese to Move)
One should never assume that whatever situation they find themselves in will last forever, regardless of how enjoyable and comfortable it feels.
18 years after having first seen New York on TV I finally had the opportunity to go work and live in the Big Apple. Although my visa was only good for 12 months I refused to believe that I would eventually have to leave everything behind. My Cheese was bound to move.
03 — Monitor Change (Smell the Cheese Often so You Know When It Is Getting Old)
Change can’t take us by surprise if we continuously watch what is happening around us and if we anticipate it.
A couple of months prior to the expiration date printed on my visa my company and I put together all the paperwork required to apply for a longer-term working visa (H-1B). Because of their lottery system, however, one must wait several weeks before receiving the results and knowing whether their petition has been selected or rejected.
I left New York on March 28. Although I applied for a few jobs back in Europe to continue working while waiting for the H-1B results, I eventually decided to travel and reunite with an old friend in Shanghai instead. I picked up a few teaching gigs to make some money but would not stop thinking about the H-1B visa. Every morning I woke up thinking “Is this the day I finally get an email from my company? Did I make it through the lottery?”.
Similarly to Haw when he first found out their Cheese was gone, I started to feel depressed. I had made future plans based on my coming back to New York. I had been planning it for so many years that the idea of my having to live somewhere else was inconceivable.
04 — Adapt to Change Quickly (The Quicker You Let Go of Old Cheese, the Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese)
For three months I refused to continue applying for new jobs because deep down, somehow, I knew my petition would be selected. I was convinced that everything would work and refused to move forward until I’d get what I want.
On June 30, I finally received an email from my company in New York. My H-1B did not get accepted.
By that point we all kind of assumed that it would be the case, but I felt completely lost. I was officially not returning to New York and was faced with the inevitable obligation to rethink everything.
05 — Change (Move With the Cheese)
After a few weeks of self-reflection and upon the end of the “pity party” I had thrown myself, I was ready to gain control over my life again. I began to rebrand myself by combining my time in New York with the experience I had gained while traveling and making small opportunities happen for myself while in Shanghai.
I quickly gained my confidence back and embraced the unknown. I connected with even more incredible individuals from all over the world which ultimately led me to bring Creative Humans back to life and launch our first website to feature inspiring stories about what our friends are up to across the globe.
I started receiving job offers from other reputable agencies. I explored more of China and Asia — a region of the world I had never considered before leaving New York.
I felt adventurous. Alive, and ready for the next big Cheese.
06 — Enjoy Change! (Savor the Adventure and Enjoy the Taste of New Cheese!)
Although my future still remains uncertain, I have learned a lot about myself and my own capabilities over the past 6 months since I left my company and New York.
I started reading a lot more and am actually enjoying it.
I stopped worrying about the little things.
I reconnected with one of my best friends and have made more connections who keep on inspiring me every day.
I’m traveling more and appreciating every culture I come across.
I am happy again.