Through our lives, we may be called a nickname or two. I had plenty of them. When I was five years old, my hair was very short, and my Dad called me “bur head.” If it came from my Dad, it was alright by me. I was called “Broadway” in high school, “Peppy” in college, and “The Rocket” in business. But at a financial conference in San Antonio, in front of an audience of almost 1,000 people, I was called a nickname that threw me, but only for a moment or two.
It was an exciting event with an impressive group of professional speakers huttled together in the green room behind the stage. Normally at a conference like this, one or two professionals would be hired to speak. At this conference, eight speakers were each given one hour slots to wow the audience. If that doesn’t get your heart beating, you need to get your ticker checked. It was in that green room, while I was watching the speaker before me on the monitor, that I heard my new nickname. It started innocently enough…
“Today you’re going to hear from many great speakers, but there’s one in particular who I’m not that fond of. He believes you need to not just uncover an issue that a client may be protecting; he believes you need to continue to get that client to talk about this issue, which he sometimes calls a wound. I call a person like this person a scab picker.”
A hush feel over the green room where the remaining speakers and I were sipping on water, making idle chatter, and watching the monitor. There was some rather humorous and quizzacle looks as if each was saying, “That’s not me – is it you?” I smiled and said, “I think that’s me” and began to get miked up for my rebuttal… I mean presentation.
So many thoughts raced through my head as I stood off stage waiting for my real name to be called. But within seconds, I knew what I wanted to say. When my name was called and I walked towards the microphone, I was ready…
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Rob Jolles, and I am a scabpicker. I know that might sound like a terrible name, but I am not ashamed of it. I’m proud of it. You see, I know that people do not instinctively fix small problems; they fix big problems. What’s more, I know that the fear of the unknown often outweighs the pain of the present.
So what can we do about it? We have two choices: The first is to ignore it, and hope it goes away. Ignore it? I’ve spent most of my professional career observing the tragedy that falls on those we care about because no one has the courage to step forward and ask difficult questions. It can be as simple as poor study habits, or as complicated as a dysfunctional scar stemming from a troubled childhood. The players change, and certain elements of the plot change, but the results are the same. In the end, there’s the feeling that there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t ignore it.
My other option is to try and do something about it. Doing something about it begins by creating trust, and then earning the right to actually have someone tell you about a particular problem. That can be uncomfortable, and that’s not even half the job. If you believe in the change you are trying to create, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Getting your hands dirty means asking more questions about the pain someone might be trying to avoid. It means opening the wound a bit more. For the lack of a better word, it means being a scabpicker. That’s what I believe, that’s what I teach, and that’s who I am.”
It was a rather shocking opening to a presentation, and not a nickname I’d like to put on my luggage tag, but I stand by those words. The next time you are nose-to-nose with another individual who desperately needs to change their ways, I hope you remember these words as well.