Lou’s Been Thinking about the Word “Cheechako”

Lou Hecklerby Lou Heckler, CSP, CPAE

I’ve been thinking about the word “Cheechako.”

On a trip to Alaska, I started asking my host a few too many questions, I guess. He smiled at me and said, “Wow, you really are a Cheechako.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. Is that good? Bad? Uh-oh…I had to ask another question: “What is a Cheechako?”

It turns out it is a term long-time Alaska residents (read that “Sourdoughs”) use for newcomers. A Cheechako is basically ignorant… ignorant of the terrain, or the weather, of Alaskan animals, of the best way to drive under Alaska’s sometimes-tough conditions. Well, my host was surely right. There are tons of things I don’t know, but I love to learn and I love to ask questions.

I remember management guru Tom Peters talking about this in one of his books. He called it “naïve listening”… the kind of listening a child does and the kind we adults probably ought to do more often.

In my early days in television, I hosted several different shows in local markets. I loved asking questions and learning how people met barriers and achieved success and bounced back from difficult moments in their lives. I didn’t know it at the time, but in a very real way all those interviews – I’m guessing they numbered over 2,000 – were raw material for my current career as a motivational speaker, teacher and speaking coach.

As adults, we sometimes want to portray to others that we already “know it all.” We want to look good in front of our peers at work. We want to be presumed truly competent. But, if you’re like me, you are amazed literally every day at what you don’t know and at how much you still have to learn.

I am certainly not an innocent, but I really believe I need to approach each day with a kind of innocence… a commitment to be wide-eyed and open and curious. I mean, I have to… I’m a Cheechako after all.

Lou Heckler is a motivational humorist and business speaker with more than 40 years experience in managing, motivating and directing others. In 2010, readers of “Meetings and Conventions” Magazine named him as one of their favorite keynote speakers. He has been married since 1968 to five-times-published novelist Jonellen Heckler and they have a son Steve, daughter-in-law Johanna, and two granddaughters.

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