Tools of the Incompetent
Sep 15, 2013

Remembering a few choice words of advice, learned while pledging

It was spring semester 1990 (boy, does that sound like a lifetime ago).

Picture a young Stephanie, hair still relaxed instead of my current wild curl flow, dressed in some combination of pink & green with either beige or black as a neutral offsetting color, Ivy hat bearing the number 4 pulled low, scurrying around Penn's campus (briskly, never sauntering) in my quest to become a member of the first and finest sorority: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Innnnnnnncorporated.

Forget the frivolous nonsense of the movie School Daze. Which is not to say that there weren't some Herculean (if not downright silly) requests made by my big sisters. But overall, those weeks of dressing alike, staying up until all hours of the night studying my Penn classwork and the organization's history, step practice, sisterhood workshops, and planning or executing service projects were undoubtedly one of the most rewarding exercises of my entire life. The public usually is only privy to Greek-lettered organizations' inner workings after something tragic has happened. After someone has deviated from the time-tested course of action that has brought hundreds of thousands of college-educated Black folks into the bonds of a lifelong commitment to togetherness, service and an upliftment of positive societal principles. It was that visibility, that history deeply rooted in accomplishment and distinction, that determined my pursuit of AKA.The other superficial crap made no matter in my valuation.

One of the most beneficial assets of my pledge period, in the last incoming crop of applicants that were allowed to legally use the word pledge, was a little rhyme we recited when one of our line sisters had not completed a task. There are several versions of this poem, but the relevant phrase was that excuses are tools of the incompetent. Meaning do not begin to fix your lips to lie about the reasons that prevented you from getting something done. Don't expect anyone else to bail you out of a mess you created. Be accountable. Own up to the lapse, and move on.

It seems like such a simple thing. Admit when you're wrong. Admit when something you did is just plain ole lazy and wack. Admit that it was physically impossible for you to do what was asked of you, and that you accept the consequences of the delay or the inaction. OWN IT. Your stuff. Your problem that may create a trickle-down effect for other people working with you. OWN IT, so we can collectively figure out a Plan B (if one isn't already in motion) and get it done. Because the bottom line is, the task still needs to get done. And if you didn't do it, won't do it, it falls on someone else. Because not completing the task is flat-out unacceptable.

The flowery language of half-hearted apologies falls on deaf ears with me. I can't stomach it. And when I feel myself about to utter such declarations, I'll usually swallow the sound and just hush. Buckle down and re-route the situation to a workable end. Because I learned 23 years ago the lessons that were preached to me from the cradle by my family. You are only as cute, fabulous, or respected as the things you manifest. Nobody wants to pay or praise you for your "potential," and you standing around waiting for hollow applause is only a statement of your ego. Actions speak louder, so get moving. No country for incompetence 'round here.

Here is last week's playlist: