One of the most important skills you’ll develop as a staff action officer, aside from the obvious requirement for extreme proficiency in PowerPoint, is the ability to name projects, programs, and groups in such a way as to make their acronym memorable. In a giant bureaucracy there are few things more important than making sure the leaders high on Mount Olympus being able to remember what your little part of the machine does for them. Giving it a good name is where that starts.
To that end, members of the staff since time immemorial have struggled with just the right naming convention for the efforts. The US government is replete with agencies – NSA, CIA, FBI – that need no further introduction. A few, those gifted with true overachievers, have striven to match their make with a pronounceable acronym. The White House Military Office (WHMO) is pronounced “Whamo!” for instance. Whoever came up with that one deserves some kind of damned medal.
On the other end of the spectrum are the ones who tried and failed. That’s when you end up in a meeting talking about the ASTWG and ASTAG. For some inexplicable reason the Army Science and Technology Working Group decided their name should be pronounced “Asswig” while the Army Science and Technology Advisory Group settled on “Asstag.” I have no idea why anyone thought either of these was a good idea… but expecting anyone to sit through a meeting to discuss the important workings of the Asswig and the Asstag and somehow manage to keep a straight face is just entirely unreasonable.
1. Denali. Humans have been changing the names of places basically forever. In parts of the world that have been continuously populated for thousands of years it’s happened a lot. That’s why there isn’t currently a Sumerian city-state called Ur in southern Mesopotamia. That place is now called Tell el-Muqayyar and is located in southern Iraq. Five thousand years from now it seems pretty unlikely that it’s going to matter whether in 2015 there was a mountain in Alaska called Denali or Mt. McKinley. It seems to me that both sides are wasting a good deal of breath on something that just doesn’t really matter all that much.
2. Annual Training. Every new fiscal year starts the clock on the approximately 47,632 annual mandatory training requirements I’m supposed to take. Every year, I’m determined not to procrastinate in taking them. Every year I somehow find myself well into September and realizing that I’ve done none of them. Yes, it’s my fault that I procrastinated on checking those boxes… but perhaps if there weren’t quite so many that need checked I wouldn’t feel the need to avoid them for as long as humanly possible.
3. Do your damned job. If you’re hired to do a job and find that the requirements of the position demand something that that violates your moral or ethical code, honor demands that you resign from that position. Honor doesn’t demand that you make a spectacle of yourself by simply not doing the job (while continuing to draw salary). If your moral sensibilities aren’t troubled enough that you need to resign in protest, then they aren’t really troubled and all you’re trying to do is get your face on television. At that point you’re not a martyr to the cause, you’re a self-aggrandizing douchecanoe.
I have a confession to make. If I’ve only met you once or twice, I’m never ever going to remember your name. If I only see you once a month, I’m not going to remember your name. If we pass in the hallway every day and I recognize you by sight but we don’t have any substantive interaction, I’m never going to remember your name.
Some people have a knack for matching names and faces – even for people they see once and then maybe never again. Honest to God, I can sit in a meeting with you. Have an entire discussion and use your name the whole time, but five minutes later I’ll end up referring to you as “that one guy from the meeting who had a beard.” I know that for a fact because it’s exactly the phrase that came out of my mouth this morning in reference to a meeting I was in yesterday.
So, I’m not good with names. I make up for it with wit, charm, and by never talking myself into a position where I’d need to use a person’s name. Studying your own handout while asking “What do you think,” is a good way to avoid the awkwardness, in case you’re interested. Just avoid eye contact so it’s never entirely clear who you’re addressing and most of the time you’ll be good to go. And sign in sheets. Sign in sheets are your friend. They’re like having a cheat sheet only it’s perfectly legitimate.
All I’m saying to the people who I’ve met already and for those I’ll inevitably be forced to meet in the future, is don’t take it personally when I can’t call you by name in a meeting, after a meeting, or really at any time. Frankly I can’t call anyone by name. Sometimes I draw a perfect blank on people I’ve worked with for almost half a decade, so it’s nothing personal. It’s not you, it’s me.
I’m sure there’s some kind of mental gymnastics I could do to power up that part of my memory that is supposed to store and recall names, but doing that would require far more effort than I’m really willing to invest in it. I’m happy enough continuing to use second and third-person pronouns to meet all my professional needs.
I’d been kicking it around for a while now and boredom while waiting for clothes to dry finally got the better of me this afternoon… I’m now the proud registered owner of 2 websites – jeffreytharp.com and jdtharp.com. Now I just need to figure out what to do with them… And yes, I have to admit that there was a strong temptation make some quick money by linking my name inextricably with the internet porn industry, but I’ve resisted that temptation so far.
So, my gaggle of devoted friends, what the hell does one do with a website other than create a spiffy email address where both sides of the @ symbol are the same thing?