The 3 Traits of Ever-Growing People

Lessons on change from two mice in a maze, looking for cheese

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Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

When I was 16, my uncle, a partner at a big consultancy, gave me two books he had spare copies of. One of them was called Who Moved My Cheese?

I looked at the cover, decided it was “a book for managers,” and put it on my shelf. For the next ten years, it would stay there, untouched, still wrapped.

Today, I wish the picture of a big cheese slice on the front had intrigued me enough to open it sooner. In fact, it is one of my few big regrets in life, because what’s inside that book is a brilliant story — a story that might have brought me to writing five, eight, ten years sooner.

Spencer Johnson wrote this book to teach people a simple lesson with a powerful story: You don’t have to be afraid of change. If you embrace it, you’ll have more fun, work better with others, and achieve your goals more quickly.

Who Moved My Cheese? is a parable about two little people and two mice in a maze, searching for cheese. Each character represents a different attitude towards change, while the cheese stands for what we consider success.

Here are 3 lessons to turn change into your ally and always keep growing.

1. Stop thinking about your cheese, start chasing it.

The two mice inside our maze are called Sniff and Scurry. They spend most of their time running up and down the corridors of the maze, looking for cheese.

Turn a corner, run to the end, see if there’s any cheese, and if not, turn around and go back. That’s their pattern, and, while it seems kind of mindless and unstructured, it actually saves them a lot of time and energy.

Hem and Haw, two little people, also spend their days in the maze looking for cheese, but not because they’re hungry — they think finding it will make them feel happy and successful.

However, because of their complex brains, they think a lot about…

  • How they can find the cheese the fastest
  • Which strategies will work best in getting through the maze
  • How to keep track of those strategies
  • What finding the cheese will feel like
  • When they’ll finally find it

Finally, they wonder if there is any cheese in the maze at all whenever they turn yet another empty corner.

That’s life. Every minute you spend wondering what success looks like, how to get it, whether it’s possible, and how you’ll feel in the future is a minute not spent working towards it.

Humans are complicated beings, but that doesn’t mean we have to make everything complicated.

Be more like Sniff and Scurry. Start running and let life unfold in front of you.

2. Even the biggest cheese doesn’t last forever, so always stay on the move.

When Sniff and Scurry found a big stash of cheese at Station C, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor. However, despite snacking a bit every day, they kept paying attention.

As their cheese kept disappearing one bite at a time, they eventually decided to move on of their own accord. Soon, they found more cheese at Station N.

When Hem and Haw found station C, however, they settled there, and quickly grew accustomed to the new status quo. Every day, they indulged in a cheese fest. It became the center of their lives. They thought it was a fair reward for their hard work.

Unfortunately, they were so preoccupied with the cheese, they didn’t notice it was disappearing one piece at a time. Some corners grew moldy and, one morning, they woke up in shock: Someone had moved their cheese.

Hem and Haw felt depressed. They felt treated unfairly. They were in denial. Instead of venturing out to find new cheese, they sulked at Station C, growing ever hungrier and weaker.

No cheese will last forever. Change always happens sooner or later.

Instead of fooling yourself that things will stay the same forever, always keep one eye on the horizon. Always stay on the lookout for change.

3. There’s always new cheese to be found, and the minute you start moving, things will improve.

The best part about cheese isn’t that you’re set for life once you’ve found it. It’s that there’s always more cheese to be found.

Eventually, Haw got sick of sitting around, so he decided to go looking for new cheese all by himself. Once he started moving, his situation improved.

He found a few bits here, a few pieces there, but that was already a lot better than doing nothing and being paralyzed by fear.

Once you find the courage to move on despite your fears, fear’s grip on you will never be as strong as it used to be.

Haw realized he had accumulated a lot of fears in his head — and those fears were much worse than even his biggest challenges. Full of confidence, he kept exploring the maze. He found Sniff and Scurry at Station N, along with a block of cheese, and the three of them shared their latest reward before moving on together.

Summary

Who Moved My Cheese? shows us how to stop fearing what lies ahead. It’s a guide to thriving in a world where the only constant is change, where uncertainty is a given we must learn to accept.

Three good lessons to take away from this book are:

  1. Just start looking for your cheese. The more you think about it, the more paralyzed you’ll feel.
  2. Nothing lasts forever. Always keep your eyes open. The next change is just around the corner.
  3. There’s always new cheese to be found. When your current stash is gone, start moving. As soon as you do, life will improve.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

— Spencer Johnson

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