On change and not being a mouse in a maze

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about change. As I shared in my last post, I’m personally embarking on a pretty big change myself, so it’s perhaps no surprise. But thinking about change has me thinking about mice in mazes. Wait. Let me explain.

Some years ago, a colleague suggested I read “Who Moved My Cheese”. In fact, they felt so strongly about it that they loaned me their own copy of the book. Feeling like I didn’t have much other choice, I read it. Luckily it was a short read, because I did not find it very inspirational.

For those of you who haven’t read it, “Who Moved My Cheese” is a short story about some mice and some little humans living in a maze. Their cheese keeps moving and they need to learn to adapt so they don’t starve. Each of the characters deals with that uncertainty in their own way, but the core messages as I understood them were simple. You can’t control change, and you just need to figure out how to deal with it. It’s not for us to wonder why. Hmm.

wandering through the maze of change
Photo by Dan Asaki on Unsplash

So I promptly returned the book, thanked my colleague, and didn’t give it another thought. I wasn’t a mouse in a maze and I wasn’t interested in mindlessly accepting changes in my environment.

Another approach to change

Later on, I stumbled on a similarly titled book with a very different message. This one was written by Deepak Malhotra and was called “I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze.” This one sounded more promising.

Recently, I started thinking about this story again, and so I dusted off the book and gave it another read. I’d like to share some thoughts from this story as I grapple with my own life changes.

Fair warning: spoilers below!

This story opens by sharing the prevailing culture for the mice in this maze. They have learned not to worry about why a change is happening, but to simply accept it and focus their energies on adapting. Don’t think about why the cheese has moved. Just go find where it is now.

As a result, most of them work diligently to rediscover the new location of the cheese each time it moves. They live in a state of constant flux, always adapting and rediscovering the state of their world. They’re exhausted. Their sole pursuit is to find the cheese.

“The problem is not that the mouse is in the maze, but that the maze is in the mouse.”

Three mice, however, are different. They are Zed, Max, and Big. Each of them finds their own way to escape the maze.

Max starts by questioning the maze at a very young age. He doesn’t want to just know why the cheese is moving, but wonders why the maze exists at all. The other mice know a lot about the maze, but they understand very little. Max seeks to understand. Instead of accepting his life as out of his control, he figures out how to leave the maze and learns how to move the cheese himself. He now controls the change.

Zed lives unbothered by the moving cheese in the maze. While he accepts that change is inevitable, he also says that “it is unimportant. It is irrelevant.” The other mice are confused why he can be so unconcerned with their pursuit of cheese. Zed knows, however, that the maze is all pursuit and no happiness. By ignoring the maze, Zed manages to transcend it and walks through dead ends at will. The change still exists, but it doesn’t bother him. He has discovered happiness outside the pursuit.

Finally, Big doesn’t even consider that he is in a maze. His happiness also has nothing to do with cheese. He spends his time in the maze pursuing his own passions, finding the cheese only accidentally. The changes don’t bother him because they don’t change his life. One day, though, the maze starts to get too overpopulated and he does find himself bothered by his constraints. Instead of lamenting the change, though, or adapting to it mindlessly, he breaks out of the maze completely. Another mouse taking control of his environment.

Some pursuits are simply too important. Some lives are not so easily contained. Some mice are big.

Deepak Malhotra, “I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze”

What does this teach about change?

For me, this book was much more inspirational. Sure, we can choose to sit on our laurels and let change happen to us. Then we can scramble to try to adapt to it each time it surprises us. Sometimes we won’t have a choice but to do that.

But we often have another option. We can choose to be proactive and act as an agent of change in our own lives. As Malhotra shares, there are different ways to do it, but we can seek to understand our surroundings and be ahead of change. If we’re lucky, we can even adjust our own environments to suit our preferences. This seems like a far better way to live!

As I work to create my own future, and in the process upset my old habits and leave my comfort zone, I remember that I’m trying to be like Max. I won’t stop trying to control my own environment. It takes effort and uncertainty, but it will be worth it in the end.

Are you experiencing a change in your life? Or are you trying to adjust to a change you didn’t initiate? If you need help, check out the services I offer or get in touch to find out how coaching can help you.

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