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Surrender to the Cheese! (Part 2 of 2)

Like a kid whose eyes are too big for her stomach, my ambitions in newsletter writing almost always outpace my word count. Not that abiding by word counts or concerning myself with our (as in the human race’s) ever-shrinking attention span has ever led me to discipline my writing. Last week was a case in point. I wanted to write about this idea, Surrender to the Cheese, but only got through the surrender part.

This week, it’s all about the cheese. If “surrender” is the process of giving in, “cheese” is the altar upon which we throw ourselves.

ow I hope I can make this point about cheese without mangling it up too much. Essentially, the story is that a meditation student found some of what was being taught in class to be so, well, unutterably cheesy, he couldn’t take it seriously or even engage with it. The meditation teacher purportedly said, if this cheese, as you say, can help set you free, maybe it’s time to surrender to the cheese?

Hoo boy, when I look up the definition of “cheesy,” aside from the obvious ode to, well, the cheesy dairy product (as in, that’s some cheesy cheese sauce!), definitions abound, from of bad quality or in bad taste (Cambridge Dictionary) to Merriam-Webster’s shabby or cheap.

I did chortle at the Urban Dictionary which offered up this gem: trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic. Specifically, that which is unsubtle or inauthentic in its way to trying to elicit a certain response from a viewer, listener, audience, etc. Celine Dion is cheesy because her lyrics, timbre, key changes, and swelling orchestral accompaniment telegraph, ‘I want you to be moved’ instead of moving you.

And there it is. I love Celine Dion. Her song, When I Fall In Love, was one of the first dance songs at our wedding, for crying out loud. It doesn’t really bother me that Celine wants me to be moved AND in my case, moves me.

Honestly, I think our distaste for the cheesy (a) can smack of a bit of insecurity: the “I’m too cool for school” vibe; and (b) can limit our enjoyment of the full spectrum of wonderfulness that’s out there.

I’ll go so far as to say that building up our “cheese imperviousness” is a superpower that I think we can all cultivate and here’s why.

It’s not the cheese, but the fight against it, that weakens us. See last week’s installment on the power of surrender for more information about this. But fight we do, and to our detriment. I find this “cheese distaste” especially prevalent in the high achievement worlds I work in, where people pride themselves on being unemotional, hard-nosed, hard-driving, “get 'er done” types. People who are mortified if they cry in my presence. You know this is you when that certain cheesy something (a) makes you cringe, (b) brings up the bile, or (c) elicits this expression:

There’s commonality around the dislike of the cheesy stuff - that being “one with the cheese” would say something unpleasant, uncool, or weak about us. Our filter tells us that others will think less of us, or that we will think less of ourselves. But when, if ever, do we check the evidence and ask people what they would think? Or even more to the point, do we ever look under our own hoods, and check out the line our own minds are feeding us? If I like it and it makes me feel good, who cares?

Cheese imperviousness might just set us free.

Sometimes the cheese is where the freakin magic happens. The big three cheeses in my world of easier high performance are (in no particular order): love, compassion, and forgiveness. But if you were to cast back and consider what you think is cheesy (that thing or action on your part that you hate to take because maybe it makes you feel weak) maybe your too-cheesy thing is asking for directions or seeking assistance when you are struggling.

Let’s take on compassion as an example. The Latin roots of this word literally mean, “to suffer with.” Humans are hard-wired for compassion - it was the socio-emotional “glue” that kept communities thriving as the strong were motivated to seek out and care for the weak and hurting. On the flip side, most of us, if we have been lucky, have been on the receiving end of compassion, the hug, the sense our pain is recognized and cared for…even if the problem was unsolvable. To surrender to the care of someone who gets you can be magic. It’s where the saying “a burden shared is a burden halved” came from.

And yet. When I turn the concept around and suggest that we care for ourselves in this same way, I get that same semi-strangled look in return. There are a number of reasons for this that I’ve discussed elsewhere, but one of the big ones is the “cheese” factor. Does your mind have the habit of hard-hitting you with reasons to go harder and cautioning you against kindness? A common refrain I hear is from people afraid that if they are nice to themselves, they’ll never get off the couch again.

Thankfully, neuroscience says differently. In exactly the same way that someone else’s support buoys us, when we can get behind ourselves, support ourselves through our inevitable failures and mistakes, let the love for ourselves in, we can learn to buoy ourselves, thus increasing our chances of trying again. Neuroimagery confirms how the same regions of our brains light up when we express compassion, no matter who to.

Say you make a mistake and know your go-to move is to shrivel into self-mortification and judgment. Try on the cheese instead. Greet yourself kindly with a version of: “Wow, that didn’t go how I wanted! That’s really tough.” And take a deep breath and see if you can actually absorb some of that self-support.

If your cheese is professing love, try professing love more often and see what happens, to those you tell, as well as you. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a coach about this - the context was me nudging him to tell his athletes how much he cared and valued them. His response? They should know I care, I picked them for the team! I laughed and said, why, that sounds just like the husband’s response to his wife who wanted him to tell her he loved her more often. He said, ‘I married you, didn’t I?’ The coach’s response? Exactly what I tell my wife!

If asking for help is beyond your cheese pale, do it. And then find out how your “ask” landed on the person you asked.

If apologizing feels like a too-soft cheesy sell-out—I often hear a version of, if I apologise, I’m admitting fallibility/weakness—try on some fallibility. A well-placed apology has been shown increase employee trust and inspire confidence in leaders, and as I shared in another post, won an Olympic gold medal.

Whatever that thing that feels like a stinking pile cheesy ick, I challenge you to start your surrender. If the cheese can set you free, why wait?

If all this surrender stuff still feels like a bridge too far, I can help you with that. Reach out and let’s talk.

Let me know what you think!

In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on how to achieve the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at

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