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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The company we keep: The impact of people and things we surround ourselves with

Wilfred Peterson said it best- “Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it...”

In case you hadn’t noticed, time is a precious and fleeting thing. There are only so many days left in our lives, and wasting them on people or pursuits that bring nothing positive to our lives is the ultimate waste of time and energy.

Every day you hear cynical lamentations on how unfair the world is, and I won’t argue that it isn’t.  The Serenity Prayer is brilliant because it reminds us that certain things can be changed, but others cannot. Having the wisdom to know the difference is what gives us the serenity needed to go on. One of the most critical changes a person may need to make is who they choose to spend their precious time with.

Consider “who, what, and where” we are spending our precious days and nights. I firmly believe the people we surround ourselves with, the places we go, and the things we do, define who we are. For better, or for worse. As Peterson so poignantly said in his quote, walking with people who enrich and uplift us makes it possible for us to leave this world a better place. If we surround ourselves with people or pursuits that bring us down, or stuck in one place, what hope can we have to bring ourselves, or anyone else, up?

If anyone believes people won’t be judged by their friends and associates, they are in for a huge shock. People will always assume you are like-minded if you spend your time with negative, hateful, narrow-minded people. And why shouldn’t they? If all your associates are people who love sports, of course it makes sense to believe that you love sports too. And while it is an assumption, it is one that is based on strong and conclusive evidence. 

To that point, if you are a person who associates with scholars, academics, students, and learned people, it is a very strong indication that you are also an intelligent person who values learning and knowledge. Consider people who are in groups that adhere to certain codes and ethics, like the U.S.military, The Boy Scouts of America, or Doctors without Borders. Then consider people who are in groups that espouse anti-social values- gangs and organized crime. Those are extreme examples, but there are other groups and organizations that will cause people to judge and make conclusions on a person’s choices and values. It is important to understand how those choices can impact success and image. 

Most people will have diverse friends and groups in their lives. Fortunate people will have a wide and eclectic blend of associates who meet the different needs for a variety of interests. I believe the most successful people surround themselves with people who bring a positive outlook, useful solutions, and thoughtful opinions to the table. Choosing to only spend time with people who aren’t as smart, or motivated, or funny as we are may make us feel good about ourselves, but they aren’t challenging us to be better.

A fragile ego, or a lazy attitude may make us feel safe and in control when we choose friends who aren’t as successful as we are. We really don’t improve unless we reach higher and increase expectations of ourselves, and our associates. Nothing is as sad and boring as a group of people who have known each other for years, and are STILL talking about the same people, things, and events they’ve been talking about for the past 10-20 years!

Surrounding oneself with mindless sycophants is missing a great opportunity for growth and introspection. The best and most helpful friend is one who will tell you when you have stepped beyond reason, and ground you in reality. The best friend is one who praises in public and criticizes in private. 

Young people often fail to understand how important it is to surround themselves with friends and mentors who challenge their views and give them pause to reflect. Immature individuals lack the ability to see themselves as they truly are, and work to improve and grow.

Spending energy on and maintaining relationships with, people who bring us down- both morally and intellectually- is perhaps the greatest reason for failure. If a person limits their sphere of interaction based on their self-image and ideal, they are cheating themselves of true wisdom. 

Learning from mistakes can be the best way to really understand life. But, making the same mistakes over and over again is the surest way to lose hope for lasting success. Time is the limiting factor. If you spend your time learning the same lessons again and again, you have lost valuable time to learn new lessons. The same is true with the people we surround ourselves with. Do they only bring problems to the relationship? Are they reciprocal in their duties as friend or co-worker? Are they truly beneficial to our wellness? How do they help us improve, or are they an impediment to our own growth or success? These are questions to ask and determine. Far too many people are brought down by people in their lives who wallow in ignorance, arrogance, a lack of integrity.

I have learned the hard way, so I can say with assurance, if you surround yourself with people who lack integrity, honesty, or kindness it will reflect on you and inevitably influence your behavior and choices. Sometimes, the only way to have a better life is to remove those people, or activities, that are bringing you down.

It can be painful, lonely, and sad to lose people who have been a part of one’s life for years. Growth means leaving behind things that no longer fit us. True maturity means being able to honestly assess the value of relationships and habits. It hurts to grow and change.

Surround yourself with people who inspire and uplift. No one is perfect, and perfection is hardly a reasonable measure to aspire to. I have learned important lessons from some very bad people, but the greatest lessons of my life were learned from good, decent, caring, and intelligent people who gave me knowledge and a thirst for more! Don’t cheat yourself out of success by refusing to uplift yourself and surround your life with people who challenge and inspire you to do bigger and better!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My midnight confession: I have biases, but so do you

I have a confession to make. I have strong biases, preferences, and opinions. So shoot me. If you're going to claim you don’t have your own preferences and biases, you’re a liar. WE ALL DO!

Let me give an example of something, a real story that happened to me when I was a teenager, which has stuck with me all my life. It was, as they say, a pivotal moment in my life.

When I was in high school, there was a girl who hated my guts. It was the oddest thing. I barely knew her, but she would scowl at me every day and it finally got to a point where she was physically threatening me. Now, what makes this an almost hilarious vignette is that I went to an all-girl, Catholic high school, in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1970s. 

There weren’t many fights in this school. To my knowledge, there was never one. So one particular day, this girl voiced her dislike towards me, and my friend who was with me straight out asked her why she disliked me so much. She answered, “I don’t know, there’s just something about her.” Well, that was a real eye-opener for a 15 year old girl!!  SHE didn’t even KNOW what it was about me; she just knew she didn’t like it. Fair enough. She didn’t HAVE to like me. But, she wasn’t supposed to beat my ass either. Lesson: We ALL have biases towards people, things, ideas, opinions, and everything else under the sun. Sometimes they don’t make sense, even to the person feeling them!

You can’t force people to like the same things, believe the same things, or feel the same things. I pray there is never a day when there are laws that FORCE anyone to act exactly the same way. At that point, we will live in a tyrannical state that enforces emotions, character, and thoughts.

A lack of individuality would truly make life dull and colorless. Diversity in life is part of what makes things interesting and vibrant. But the problems arise when people become offended or threatened when some individuals voice their dislike or lack of appreciation for the things they like. For instance, I don’t like the “Honey Boo Boo” show. 

Am I an urban snob because I can’t relate to the people in the show? Does it make me an elitist because I prefer to hear the English language spoken in a certain way? Am I a bad person because I don’t like NASCAR? I also don’t like professional football, does that make me un-American?  

We all have our personal preferences and styles. I love my daughter dearly, but she and I rarely agree on anything when we go shopping. We have our own tastes and style. That’s okay! Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone liked exactly the same clothing? They tried that in China under Chairman Mao and it really didn’t work out very well.

 Here is a list of 20 things I will never like, no matter how much I am pressured or forced by “popular opinion”:

1. Cheerleaders- I don’t get it, despite being lectured on its merits.

2. Fanatics- I don’t care what your cause is, if you are a fanatic, you’ve lost me.

3. Fakes/phoneys- This is self-explanatory. Also falls under the category- Shit talkers.

4. Sororities- Again, not a fan. No amount of explanation is going to change my mind.

5. Onions- Offensive smell and taste PLUS I suspect I am allergic.

6. Winter- Depressing, cold, and dark. Need I say more?

7. Poor grammar- Spoken or written. Even what you may consider cute slang.

8. Dirty fingernails- In 2013, in a country that has hot water and soap, this is hard to fathom.

9. Bad breath- It’s gross. Classified under poor hygiene.

10. Drunk people, especially when they are loud and yell “WOO HOO!”

11. Tailgaters- but not the kind that have delicious food on them.

12. Beauty Pageants- I think they are an anachronism and have never understood their appeal.

13. Porn- No, I’m not a prude, but I find most porn offensive and dehumanizing.

14. Double standards- If you don’t want someone to do it to you, don’t do it to them. It’s simple.

15. Clowns- They’re creepy. Nothing fun or delightful for me.

16. Snakes- I find them terrifying and unpleasant. Also in this category are other creepy crawlies.

17. Bad manners- Be polite and gracious as possible. Even if you don’t like it.

18. Bullies- Picking on people who are weaker, smaller, and less powerful makes you a bully.

19. Yellow- I’ve never liked that color, and it looks terrible on me.

20. Roller coasters- Terrifying and nauseating. At the same time.

So, in the course of this list, I promise you I have OFFENDED someone and have now exposed myself as the biased person that I am. I have trampled on an item or even a few items that another person probably LOVES!!! 

Does that make me a terrible person? Am I am intolerant, discriminating, meanie because I don’t like… snakes, roller coasters, clowns, sororities… you get the picture. Am I a snob because I don’t care for poor grammar, or bad hygiene? Am I a bad person because I take issue when someone treats me a certain way, but they expect me to treat them better? 

Freedom of thought and feeling is a beautiful thing. To deny a person their RIGHT to FEEL a certain way is oppressive. Denying them certain actions, like beating their child, or driving while intoxicated, or endangering the public, is not only important it is morally correct.

We are NOT entitled to do anything we FEEL, but we ARE entitled to have our own personal feelings and opinions. Hopefully, and for their own sake, a person’s thoughts and feelings will be in sync with their community, family, and friends. Otherwise,they will be a lonely outsider.

There are groups and sections of the country that are very, very, different. Our differences can cause us to have misunderstandings and a lack of respect. That’s fairly normal and predictable. Is it intolerance if I don’t like all the things another person does? Of course not. 

If you are my co-worker, which means we are both PAID to work in the same place, you must treat me in accordance with the rules and regulations of our place of employment and you should treat me professionally and courteously. If you don’t, you’re a rude, unprofessional, jerk. Unless this annoys our boss, you will probably get away with it.

We all have to live with things we don’t like- and accept differences of taste, opinion, and the pursuit of happiness. It is unrealistic to think we will agree with everyone we meet on every topic or choice.

Trying hard to be civil and striving to find commonalities and things we do agree on is the only way to stay sane and keep some humanity. But I will never accept anyone who will try to make me like professional wrestling or video games. I have a God-given right to NOT wear the color orange, and will never bend my will to say “y’all” or “ain’t.”  

I know I am not perfect, but I know what I like and what I don’t like. I am not forcing my likes on anyone else, so they don’t have the right to force their likes on me. As long as we are mutually civil, respectful, and law-abiding, we should be able to coexist and live mutually satisfying lives.   

If you now don’t want to be my friend or keep my company, that’s your choice and opinion. You don’t have to like me, agree with me, or think I am pretty or smart or funny. You don’t have to live in my neighbor, or read my blog. THAT is what is so great about America. We all have choices. And isn’t that a miraculous blessing!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Contractor Performance Reviews Double for Some Department of Defense Agencies

For a number of years, there has been a great debate, and many questions in the government contracting world, regarding the practice of contractors receiving performance reviews from their government supervisors.
Twenty years ago, Congress enacted the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994, which established a statutory basis for agency evaluation of past performance for government contracted staff. For a variety of reasons, many government agencies chose not to evaluate their contractors, and until recently, there were little or no policies being enforced for government supervisory staff who failed to provide performance review.
This lack of direction was a source of frustration to many contractors who felt they were not receiving critical guidance or feedback on the work they were performing for the government. Additionally, increasing numbers of contracting officers have voiced concerns regarding the quality and value of work that was being performed for the government, per the terms and conditions set forth by the contracts.
Last January, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense put out a memorandum which detailed data regarding Department of Defense (DoD) agencies which had given contractors performance reviews. The memo, signed by Richard Ginman, Defense Procurement Director, captured DoD contractor past performance assessment for the first quarter of FY 2013, and listed 23 agencies by name. Some of the organizations, which included the departments of the Navy, Army, and Air Force, were more successful than others in administering contractor performance reviews. The memo clearly stated that by FY 2015, The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is recommending 100% compliance.
Many contractors and government employees are hopeful that the trend toward contractor performance reviews, and detailed feedback, will continue to increase within DoD and other government agencies. Considering the ever increasing budget cutbacks, fiscal constraints, and workforce scrutiny, performance reviews are an invaluable tool in assessing and assuring the best and most capable staff are in place in their given roles.
See original posting here at