In high school, I did a lot of community service through Key Club, an international service organization. I felt vaguely uncomfortable seeing how much money we spent on frivolous things like t-shirts, thunder sticks, and spirit events like going to Six Flags. We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities, but I always wondered about how much more money we could give if we just stopped buying spirit gear.
This isn’t specific to Key Club. I wondered this about any big non-profit organization (NPO) or charity event. So much money is spent on maintenance and advertisement rather than helping whatever cause needs that money. Dance Marathon, particularly, caught my attention because it’s such a big event here. It concerned me that we host a 24 hour dance event for charity rather than saving that money for HIV/AIDS research, the target cause of the event.
The easiest response to this is that many people aren’t interested in charity unless it’s fun. To be fair, insincere high school students are prodded into community service because of college applications, but the social aspect is enticing as well. Many people wouldn’t consider donating to HIV/AIDS research without awareness events like Dance Marathon. The same goes for the bureaucratic aspect of NPOs as well. We need the administrative side, the organization, and the advertisements in order to increase the amount of charity we produce overall. If we took all donations and poured it into some charity of choice, we wouldn’t produce as much monetary good as if we had taken some of that money and spent it on building infrastructure for encouraging others to donate their time and money as well. All the extra stuff, even if it seems wasteful, is helpful because it raises morale and helps raise more money overall.
This idea has a lot of parallels in other aspects of life. In fact, it’s such a widespread idea that it can be summarized with the idiom, “To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.”
For example, this idea comes up often in computer science topics such as memory management. Memory management systems (such as heap allocators) are how computers and programs keep track of where data is stored. A memory manager can’t just use all of its memory on storing real data, even if that would (in ideal situations) allow it to store the highest quantity of data overall. A certain portion of the memory needs to be reserved for bookkeeping in order to make the memory manager more efficient in terms of usage and speed. Even though I objected to the idea of Key Club spending so much money on things that were not directly charitable, I understood a lot more quickly that having no bookkeeping whatsoever in a memory manager is a bad idea. Storing information about where files are saved and where memory is available for use is necessary to making everything run quickly. Thinking of charities as “donation allocators” made it a lot easier for me to reconcile my distrust in NPOs with my desire to do some kind of good.
There is one particular instance of this concept that I’m still trying to accept: personal health.
Somehow, gradually, over the past few years, I’ve put myself into the mindset that I need to be working at all hours of the day. I have convinced myself that if I take breaks, I will waste time that I could spend learning new things or participating in some extracurriculars. So, I get anxious any time I do something unproductive, like go on reddit or blog about my unimportant opinions. My mind hums in the background, “You should be working. You have so much due this week. You are wasting so much time right now.” over and over, which just makes me feel guilty and unable to enjoy a break.
I, of course, have concluded that my productivity is not maximized when I spend all of my time working constantly. There does need to be some sort of “overhead” in which I sleep or I let my brain stop working, because being in work mode all the time doesn’t actually produce the most amount of work.
Despite being aware of this, I can’t give up feeling like I should always be working. Memory management seems logical because it’s just the best allocation of resources. Charities, sure, I can convince myself that we need to have a 24 hour dance marathon in order to raise more money. But my productivity? How could I justify slacking? How could I justify taking a light quarter? Writing out all of this convinces me, consciously, of the fact that it’s okay to take a break, but I subconsciously keep rejecting it. And it leads me to do silly things like drop karate due to work obligations (I’m sorry, Rachel! I know you were making this point!) and attempting to stay up all night to grade homework, only to realize that grading after sleeping ends up being so much faster. Even now, I’m telling myself that I’ll try to lighten up and take a break after I finish X, Y, and Z projects, but I doubt I will. Somehow, it’s more comfortable in my mind to just keep working every single day without breaks because that approach doesn’t leave me feeling like I didn’t do my best. But I know how it does make me feel: guilty. And that needs to stop.
Hopefully, writing this out in a public space will make me commit to changing. I hope other students who might be of the same mindset as me have an easier time of convincing themselves of the idea that overhead is necessary and does yield more productivity overall. Maybe I’ll find an optimal balance of goofing and working soon. As for now, I need to get back to work.