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Focus on the Big Picture and the Small Screen -- and Say Cheese

Are you a man, a mouse or Elly May? You'll find out when your job is gone.

May 06, 2003|Joe Dwyer

One day not long ago, I was toiling away as a writer on contract for a medium-sized bank in Northern California when the news spread through the cubicles like wildfire: We had been bought by a larger East Coast financial institution. We were all going to lose our jobs. My first thought was: This could be a wonderful opportunity.

All right, I'll admit I'd gotten stale. Stale is when you walk around work all day saying, "Okey-dokey artichokey." The path of glory has been transformed into the avenue of least resistance. And lately, it had been more like steerage class on "Voyage of the Damned." So I wasn't exactly devastated. It was time to move on.

To soften the blow, human resources began distributing copies of the bestseller "Who Moved My Cheese?"

If you haven't read this little book, I'll summarize: There are four mice of differing world views. Their cheese has been moved, this cheese representing something that's very important to them, and the subsequent relocation of the cheese constitutes a life-changing event. Each of these four mice reacts to this change in a different way. Along with the book, HR gave out plastic cheese-wedge refrigerator magnets. (I didn't get the book or the magnet; I was told I was just a contractor -- my cheese is on ball bearings, my cheese is of the nacho variety, drippy, runny, not worth moving.)

I'd read the book about six months before the ax fell and found it a bit simplistic; it's supposed to give you insight into your own condition, how you handle great changes in your life. My first take was that ingrained human behavior is a little more complicated than what this quick read purports to correct.

My second take was: Mice? I don't need no stinking mice.

If we're going to insist on seeing ourselves in simplistic terms, I have a better way: the comedy programs of the late 1960s, the golden years of sitcoms. If you've moved across country and find yourself ensconced in a regional or corporate culture not your own, look to "The Beverly Hillbillies." Which Clampett are you? Can you awaken your inner Jethro, that spontaneously optimistic boy-man? Are you like that spitfire Granny, who maintains her identity by clinging to old superstitions? Are you the patriarch Jed, possessing a folksy savvy and exuding a calm self-assurance? Or Elly May, a sultry diamond in the rough, whose honesty in swank Beverly Hills is a welcome breath of fresh air? This series instructs us how we can maintain our hillbilly ways while being admired for the riches we possess.

My personal favorite is the workplace as stalag. "Hogan's Heroes" can provide some guidance. Isn't your CEO a bit like the officious commandant, Col. Klink? The office manager like I-see-nothing-I-hear-nothing Sgt. Schultz? And, truly, aren't your colorful co-workers like the wisecracking enlisted men, Kinchloe, LeBeau and company? Underneath it all, aren't you yourself the suave, unflappable Col. Hogan? At your company, you and your cohorts really own the place, running interference and having lots of yucks.

If you're ready to purge your deepest fears and obsessions, ask yourself: Which Gilligan's Islander am I? At its heart, "Gilligan's Island" is a Greek tragedy with a laugh track, and you'd do well to identify with one of its ill-fated characters. Like the Howells, do you refuse to accept reality while maintaining appearances? Are you technically brilliant like the professor but your tragic flaw is your inability to find the solution that gets you off the island? Are you like the befuddled, hesitant skipper whose grand incompetence got everyone on the island in the first place? Are you Ginger, cute as a button but condemned to spend your best years among social eunuchs? Are you the goofy megalomaniac Gilligan, who undermines all rescue attempts in order to stay the center of attention?

It may be painful to confront these attitudes, but what we're looking for in ourselves is change -- real change.

If you meet your cheese on the road, kill it.

A better book these days might be "Who Moved My Dow?" Now that's a read I'd like to get my hands on.

Joe Dwyer is a technical writer living in El Dorado Hills, Calif.

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