Me : We ratio

Is the cause truly above the self?

Joel V Zachariah
4 min readJul 24, 2021

Disclaimer: I’m not sure if I’ve penned on this topic previously — I suspect I have given how much headspace this topic has occupied in the past. Regardless, here is another attempt to clear my thoughts to give students some clarity of perhaps relatable dilemma’s in priorities at University.

I promise this will be the last time I write with a nostalgic look back in college time. Now that the batch of 2021 graduated, it is high time I let go of my undergrad memories from occupying every possible digital space. However, this is perhaps the last matter I want to share my thoughts on before turning a leaf. It has to do with the dilemma of balancing engagements that upskill yourself, with those that benefit the community.

This is something I found in DMs with Farhan two years ago:

It all started when I joined Make A Difference — a non-profit committed to improving the welfare of underprivileged children through education and emotional support. One of their core values was Cause above self. And from time-to-time I could see this manifest in the selfless actions by volunteers dedicated to the goodwill of the collective — sometimes to the extent of missing out on goals on ones career.

To the naïve 19 year old me, this seemed rather noble way to live and I tried to extend it to University. From my first article on medium to the numerous engagements in college clubs, I’ve tried to maintain an altruistic outlook in life — to not equate actions as transactions but to do whatever it takes to achieve the end goal at hand.

But as time would eventually teach me, unstructured community engagement is futile — you end up repeating cycles of activity for students who can’t take it forward and you’re stuck asking yourself how to measure the success. Sure, it may look good on your resume to be involved in different communities but when college is all done and the world asks what you have to offer beyond management, you really need to ask what do ‘you’ have to offer?

Let me introduce you to the Me vs We Dilemma

At some point in college, you get to make a choice — either be involved in clubs at college, or go anti-social and work on your skills. Ideally, the two should go hand in hand but most of the times, you get lost in the intricacies of running a FOSS Club than in the joy of contributing to the open source. The administrative tasks sure skill you up as a manager but perhaps that was not what you were aiming for to begin with. Also from the angle of the benefactor of a club, the bureaucracy of these clubs tend to get in the way of your goals than to assist you. As the head of the club, you put in your effort to create avenues of growth and experiences of exposure for students. Yet when do you get to work on your set of skills that may not overlap?

From my observation, the ones who bag the noteworthy job offers in University stayed away from these community engagement stuff and instead invested in their own skill development. In fact, one of them recommended the same when asked for the secret to his success. This makes sense if you think about it — time is finite and you need to divide it between “me” tasks (preparing for placements) and “we” tasks (running a community). The internal motivators may be differently tuned for each (my M.A.D xp making me favor community over skill dev) yet most of the times peer pressure acts.

Things are improving now — IEDC chapter of my alma mater has made notable achievements to enhance the state of affairs for students and also improve their personal goals. It helps that most in the core team aspire to go down the management route hence the overlap of skill chart. The same cannot be said for technical clubs. Now that I think about it, the tech fest at IIT Madras (Shaastra) — though technically marvelous — does not match ours in terms of excitement and level of engagement. This is probably cause most are busy with “me” stuff to be bothered about the “we” element of the fest.

This write-up does not offer a solution. Thought I wish I could explain how the two go hand in hand, the truth is in the end, only you are with you from birth till death so got to look after yourself. So it makes sense to ‘not’ be altruistic, to be ‘selfish’ and work towards what you aspire. Looking back, despite being involved in Clubs I had enough and beyond time to work on my technical skills but my headspace was occupied by the community stuff that made it hard to prioritize in time.

A balance is possible in the me:we dilemma, but by the time you figure that out, time will be up. So the easy answer? Learn from the past and run your race. Or take a chance and be the outlier that brings the best of both. Cheers.