What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I read that pamphlet called “Who Moved My Cheese?”, or some title similar to that. Its basically a very simplistic allegory about corporate culture and dealing with change.

It’s somewhat annoying because it first gives an explanation of what the story is about and what the plot is, then it tells the story, and then (incase you are just too damn stupid to figure it out) it tells you what everything in the story represented. Maybe it was just to make it long enough to justify putting a real binder on it since its so damn short.

Anyway, aside from all the silliness, there are some very good points about dealing with and anticipating change, mostly in your job but I guess it can apply elsewhere too.

The story has two mice in it that end up having their cheese taken away. One deals well with it and the other freaks out. Throughout the story there is “writing on the walls”, literally. There’s big signs on the walls and the mice read the messages. Get it? See the writing on the walls.

Well, there’s this little card that comes with the pamphlet that summarizes all the writings on the walls. Its handy to keep the concepts in your mind. I put mine on the wall of my cubicle.

Oh yeah, and the mouse is a runner. :)

One of the things on the wall in the story did not appear on the list. The one mouse who went out to find his way instead of freaking out, wrote this on the wall: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”

It really stuck with me. I find this to a big thing with me. I don’t know if “afraid” is the right word, but maybe its concern or whatever about making decisions. Am I doing the right thing? Does this decision change everything? They really do you know. But the problem is that the hesitation causes very bad consequences. Maybe that’s the problem that the freaking out mouse had.

Tonight I made one of those big irrevocable decisions that may have very large consequences in my life. It might also change nothing at all. Unfortunately, it also means that I have to make more decisions because of it.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I suppose I’d just go and do it and move on with it. Decide if it is the right direction to go and just go. So that’s what I did. We’ll see what happens. Am I going to agonize over it, even after doing it? Ofcourse, that’s what I do. Did I tell the frog and scorpion story?

There’s this scorpion that wants to cross the river, but scorpions can’t swim. So he walks along the bank until he comes to a frog.

“Yo, frog, let me ride on your back across the river.” says the scorpion.
“Yo, scorpion, do I look stupid? You’ll just sting me when I get out in the middle and then I’ll die!” replies the frog.
“That’s stupid. If I stung you, then we would both die because I would drown.”

The frog sees the logic in this, and agrees to help the scopion. The scorpion jumps on his back and the frog swims out into the water. About half way across, the scorpion stings the frog. As he is dying in the water he says “Why did you do that? Now we will both die!”

“I could not help it,” replied the scorpion “it’s my nature.”


  1. You’re brave!! Don’t look back.

  2. oh my god!!! Are you my twin? I could have (but of course didn’t! too scary) written this post…thistake the plun is my life story. For me, it all comes down to trusting. Trusting in whatever or whoever. Trusting yourself enough to know you can make it come out ok. My fear is that I will end up on skid row. So I opt for security over the potential for happiness or failure. I said no to the last decision I had to make. There may be another one coming soon, and I may in fact say yes. But will I agonize before and after? you betcha. It’s my nature.

  3. would help if i learned how to write too…

  4. I don’t know Jon, if we ever make the right decisions or just the best ones, but we certainly know for sure soon enough it is a wrong decision. we agonize too much when we should learn to listen to our instincts.
    PartyRunner told a similar fable in one of her posts last week.

  5. So, am I getting hit by a bus tomorrow?

  6. “Oh yeah, and the mouse is a runner. :)”

    he he! :) thanks, Jon, for making me smile.

  7. frolicking filly says

    hmmm, so whats the story for tomorrow :) Hope your decision works out for the best!!,, Also how you look at it too,,,,errr, I cant think of the story to go with that one,,,,The SKY IS FALLING……yikes

  8. Sometimes we have to just jump off into the darkness without really knowing where we are going to land. Fear is a natural means of preparing us for the landing, the adrenalin flows, we are nervous and primed to react at a moments notice. For some it is kind of like lining up at the Starting line of a big race…

  9. I, too, see parts of myself in this post. That’s why I keep the magnet on my fridge with the quote about doing something everyday that scares me. I also think we can change our nature…and over the last few years I have worried less and “jumped” more.

  10. Jon, I read that story too…and was struck by the very same question. It’s quite inspiring isn’t it? And terrifying to consider.

    Now I have a sign in my kitchen that reads “What would you do if you could not fail?” It evokes that same kind of feeling…I can continue to coast through life or I can do things that make me nervous, scared, unsure, etc. and really shake things up….things that will make me feel ALIVE. Obsessing over whether or not it was a wise/good/best decision is all part of the process that will inform the next decision. Roller coaster versus the merry-go-round.

  11. Excellent post and an excellent question. Continue to be courageous and make the decisions you need to. Somebody once said that if you don’t always make the right decision, you can always make the decision right. Just go! And do! I think in the end it is all about trusting yourself.

  12. oh, a mystery! I love a mystery. Whatever it is, I’m wishing you luck. I have to also tell you I love this “thing” you have going, the story telling? It’s awesome! You’re a great writer, and I find myself leaning forward and smiling and reacting all along. Lovely. Also, there was a whole show on chocolate last night that we watched (one of those local news type shows) and it was fascinating. I thought of you the whole time!

  13. Jon,

    It is ok to be afraid. The important thing is to control our own fear instead of letting it to control us. This is easier to say than do. The first part is recognizing our own fear. Why do we hestiate in what we do? Once we start sensing the fear, we can start to look for ways to deal with it.

    Most ppl i know live their life in fear. Worst of all is that they don’t even know it (or maybe they just won’t admit it).

  14. how timely (since i just made the big decision to quit my 2nd job). as soon as i did it, i was thrilled. so WHY all the initial resistance? i still don’t know. i guess i was afraid.

    i hope your decision worked out, too.

  15. Be strong! All the best.

  16. I recently re-read that book, which my dad gave to me years ago when I was laid off from my job. Despite its corniness, it helped me so much! I was offered a promotion a few days later (which I know sounds great, but things have been up and down at work for me), and because of what I had just read, I handled the whole situation with much more grace and dignity than I may have if I hadn’t just read it. And I’m so happy now! Good luck!

  17. I wonder about “fear” all the time… I try to identify it when it’s present and feel it out – is it stopping me, and from what?

    Recently, a friend told me I’m an overthinker. The fear stuff is a part of that, most definitely.

  18. I know exactly what I would do if I weren’t scared or as I like to think of it “practical”. I would quit my job and study to become a yoga instructor and possibly open a bakery. BUT I carry my family’s health insurance, so feel I can’t take those risks. Then I end up hating the republicans for squelching universal healthcare when Clinton tried to pass it through. Great entry, you rock.

  19. I was given that story in hardback by my dad when I graduated from college. I didn’t pay much attention to it, though, maybe I should read it again?

    Hope everything goes well with your big decision!

  20. A little fear is healthy in some regards – for instance, I wish my 2-year-old would have a little more of it when she is walking along a 3-foot-high fence.

    There are some seasons in life when it’s advantageous to be fearless, and some when it’s beneficial to be more deliberate. Unfortunately, the proper time varies for everybody, and is never easily identifiable.

    Glad to complicate things for you. Good luck with the decision.

  21. Good question and good story. There’s a book out there called “Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway”. Nothing wrong with being afraid, but you can’t let it control you to the point of not living.

  22. it first gives an explanation of what the story is about and what the plot is, then it tells the story, and then (incase you are just too damn stupid to figure it out) it tells you what everything in the story represented.

    “What kind of training?”

    Jump, Jon. Think about the bit in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where flying is just forgetting to hit the ground…

  23. Billy (the squid lover) hit it perfectly. Navy Training, sir.
    So sometimes the best decisions are the ones you do not make; decisions in their own right.
    The overriding question for me is not, “What team am I on?” but, “Do I like the game?”

  24. So last year, my school dedicated the year to The Stupid Cheese book. At every faculty meeting, we would pass around a stuffed mouse to the staff mamber who had adapted the best to change. The principal and the assistant principals wore cheese hats to staff meetings to discuss the merits or more apprpriately the the lack there or of “No Children Left Behind (or untested)”. Staff members who showed suck up dedication were given wedges of cheese key chains. I have one.

    I was a amazed that that silly video and book could control our little world. All I could think of is what kind of fable I could regurgitate which would make me some money, so I could retire and get away from the cheese heads.

    I couldn’t help myself, it’s my nature.

  25. {{{}}} Jon. Many wise comments above that I will just point to. Yeah, what they said. I’m reminded of the motivational poster that they used to have up at Ford, supposably about bees. I guess bees aren’t supposed to be able to fly, but no one has told them that, so they do. Though now as I write this, I wonder what the hell this has to do with anything. Thinking about you all the same.

    Oh, and on this cheese thing: check out the despair website: despair.com. I’m so fed up I think I’m gonna get the book.