Stoicism in Government Contracting – Part 4 – Speaking Latin

By Bob Burnett, Director of OASIS PMO

In this final installment of the 4-part series on Stoicism in Government Contracting, we focus on three more themes identified by The Daily Stoic that typify stoicism, namely Kindness, Amor Fati, and Memento Mori. Yes, you are reading correctly…those last two ideals are written in Latin, but we will get to that shortly. If you have read the previous posts in this series, you know that the general intent is to demonstrate how themes found in the philosophy of stoicism can be of great use to those of us who support government contracting business development efforts. As a refresher, according to The Daily Stoic, “stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium… the philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words.” Current practitioners of stoicism include Tim Ferriss, James Mattis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger among many others. Read on to get a taste of what this philosophy is all about.

Kindness is a straightforward quality, and can be described as being nice or showing concern for another; when you see kindness, you know it. In everyday life, most folks aspire to be kind to one another, or at least that is what I would like to think. However, in an occupational setting where competition exists among persons or firms, kindness may not be as abundant. At the heart of government contracting business development is the pursuit of contract award; this is why the business development professional exists. If an award is made to one or some, then presumably others did not win the work. This inherent reality of winning and losing can lead to an ever-present competitive environment or feeling of being at odds with our colleagues at other firms. While we may be at odds or competing for a limited number of awards, we can be kind while doing so.

We have all heard the term “competimate” to describe companies that we sometimes team with in pursuit of an award, while other times competing against them for other contracts. It will serve all parties to be kind to each other under both circumstances, if for no other reason that that it is simply easier to be kind. At a deeper level, showing kindness toward a competimate (and face it, we are all competimates in this business) allows for more open and engaging dialogue, which can lead to increased knowledge and understanding. Being more knowledgeable can lead to being more effective. Being kind can strengthen existing relationships and possibly lead to increased opportunities. Being kind is like planting seeds for a future harvest…when you are seeking a teaming partner, looking for an introduction to a decision-maker, or considering a career change. If you have been kind, people are more likely to be helpful to you.

It costs virtually nothing to be kind, but the return is often priceless. So, be understanding of others, show compassion, and be good to each other. It will make everyone around you feel better, and it will likely make you feel better. In most situations, being kind can simply make work more enjoyable.

Amor Fati translates as “a love of fate.” To a stoic this means more than simply accepting what life throws at you, but embracing it and eagerly moving forward in your new reality. Marcus Aurelius, the one-time Emperor of Rome, once said, “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” The idea is that you should learn to use every situation as fuel to make you a better you. Loving fate directly affects our outlook on life and encourages us to view opportunity in all things.

For the business development professional, Amor Fati is a powerful mindset. Consider that you recently won a new piece of work and you are riding high; the Amor Fati mindset helps you recognize the opportunity to demonstrate humility in this situation. Conversely, when you lose a piece of work, you have a chance to demonstrate grace and cope with defeat. In this circumstance, you can be professional and congratulate the awardee. Additionally, you can conduct a hotwash of your pursuit and objectively evaluate where you could have improved your efforts. You will be far more open to lessons learned and continuous improvement after you have embraced the reality of the loss. In both situations, win or lose, you have the opportunity to improve your character; this is what Amor Fati is all about.

Adopting this mindset also reduces the need/desire to control or orchestrate all activity. This reduction in controlled variables allows for greater focus on outcomes that you have greater potential to influence; essentially, it sharpens your focus and reduces distractions. This too will make you more effective, as you will spend less time swimming upstream.

Memento Mori is a stoic ideal that may seem a bit pessimistic or even gruesome as it translates to “remember that you will die.” The premise of this is that we all die…so our time on earth is precious and fleeting; therefore, you should live each day knowing that it could be your last. Do not let anything go undone, if you can help it. Do not procrastinate. Be present and aware of this exact moment in your life…do not go through life as a zombie!

For the government contracting business development professional, this ideal has many aspects to consider. It is a reminder to enjoy every interaction and to avoid activities that provide no real benefit…do not simply check the box. For example, before you attend another BD event, ask yourself if it is the best use of your time or if you are attending simply out of a feeling of obligation. If you do not attend, will it really matter? If you do attend, will it really matter? Another aspect of this mindset relates to how we evaluate our PWin associated with a recompete bid. Have you ever declared a 100% PWin for a recompete? No matter what the situation is, we are never guaranteed an award on a competitive bid. None of us are invincible, we are all susceptible to loss – memento mori. If you believe this, then you will not rest on your laurels going into a recompete, and you will do the work necessary to win the award.

This mindset has the double benefit of keeping us all humble while simultaneously spurring us toward embracing life. Show me a humble BD professional who is present during interactions and has a zest for the task at hand, and I will show you a person who the customer enjoys interacting with. This is something we should all strive for…positive customer interaction.

I hope these four “Ideals of Stoicism” blog posts were insightful and beneficial. The principles of Clarity, Equanimity, Awareness, Unbiased Thought, Right Action, Problem Solving, Duty, Pragmatism, Resiliency, Kindness, Amor Fati, and Memento Mori are worth embracing and weaving into your BD practices. You never know, it might make you more effective at your job, and it will almost assuredly make you a better human.

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