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We’ve Been Thinking About Scarcity All Wrong

How leaning into the scarcity mindset leads to abundance

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“Expect your every need to be met. Expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level.” -Eileen Caddy

A few months ago, I still lived with a blissful naïveté that tennis elbow was reserved for tennis players. Yet, had you stepped into my home office in the last 60 days you’d have found me contoured over my laptop, saddled up with elbow braces that made me look more ready for a roller derby than a writing session.

Here are a few of my favorite things: writing, lifting weights, drinking coffee. My medical team (page one of Google search) recommended I lay off the first two while my tendinitis healed. It wasn’t until the pain of bringing a coffee mug to my frowning face became too much to bear that I realized I may be in some trouble.

It’s been said that we suffer more in our minds than in reality. And despite the perpetual Indian burn that had latched onto my arms like bear traps, most of my anguish was mental. Soon, a dangerous question would set up camp. An idea that would turn inconvenience to emergency. I typed the words with my pinky fingers, wincing in pain, “This is never going to go away. This is my life now and things will never be the same.”

The dreaded “Scarcity Mindset” has been well documented. Like my medical team, its dangers are outlined on page one of Google search. Most of us, by now, have learned to avoid this mindset, to banish it back to the caveman days.

“Expect abundance on every level.” It’s a nice idea. Why shouldn’t we be able to swim upstream from our natural instincts? It’s 2018, after all. The scarcity mindset may have got our species this far but has no place in today’s market. Not when buy-1-get-1-free positivity packs are polished and packaged. We’ve since learned to run on good vibes and gratitude spiked matcha lattes.

Yet, the primal scream of scarcity still lives inside us. We’re still hard-wired to overcompensate for a perceived lack through accumulation. And like it or not, it still makes much of the world go round.

As my elbows continued to catch fire, I did my best to exile the self-defeating thoughts Stephen Covey and all the other highly effective people warned me about. I tried and failed and tried again until I was presented with a new question.

What if instead of avoiding the scarcity mindset, I embraced it? What if I didn’t exile it to the outer banks of my mind and instead meditated on it? Could it be through the lens of scarcity I might discover a life of abundance?

If the rise of minimalism has taught us anything, it’s that addition through subtraction is possible. The movement is built on the idea that through wanting and needing less, we cultivate a greater sense of abundance. By removing physical and emotional baggage, we open up space for more gratitude, self-sufficiency, and clear-headed understanding.

I don’t think all the magic of minimalism is in the “tidying up.” Someone who gives away all their possessions is no more suddenly enlightened than an unhealthy person is suddenly fit after a 7-day juice cleanse. But it is an important first step. And for the true believers who have found abundance through minimalism, their journey began by leaning into scarcity.

Artists and entrepreneurs already know the value of scarcity. They’ve trained their eyes to hunt for it. Ask any innovator or writer and they’ll tell you it’s not just running the company, it’s not just sitting down to write the pages. Before they can even reach the starting line they need an idea worth pursuing.

What is the market missing? What’s an uncrowded category? Better yet, what isn’t a category at all?

What if this article was titled, “A Scarcity Mindset is Bad, Here’s Why”? Another google search would reveal the overwhelming abundance of anti-scarcity statements already there. The burden of creativity rests on the shoulders of those willing to sift through a bounty of options in hopes of finding that sliver of scarcity. Where’s the needle in the hay? And through the eye of the needle can we find an abundance of new ideas and conversations?

Parkinson’s law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” It’s hard to ignore the irony that “Fear the Scarcity Mindset” is carved into the ten commandments of personal development right above, “Thou Shall Create Deadlines.”

We’ve learned that “all the time in the world” isn’t the best perspective for getting things done. So we create deadlines. We put constraints on our time because we know it increases efficiency. Again, we lean into scarcity.

It’s scarcity that urges us to “use time wisely” and to “get the most of life.” If this is how we view time—our ultimate commodity—should we not use the same lens to inspect other areas of life? Wouldn’t it be valuable to use this lens more often?

Scarcity brings focus and prioritization to our work. By focusing on our own scarcity we can better define what abundance might look like. And isn’t defining the first step towards achieving?

Life will provide the occasional kick to the head. A partner leaves unexpectedly, funding for the project is cut, the house burns down. Life’s lightning strikes. Immediate and dizzyingly. Negative thoughts and perceptions, however, are termites. Insidious and subtle. We do suffer more in our minds than in reality, and living with a scarcity mindset for too long can be damaging. But as the saying goes, the dose makes the poison.

I believe the scarcity mindset should be embraced, if only as a tool to calibrate a definition of abundance. My bout with tendonitis and the prospect of permanent loss forced me to not only find abundance in what I still had, but shined a light on what I’d been taking for granted.

I found abundance by realizing how lucky I was to even have elbows and to have lived most of my life pain-free. It was scarcity that forced me to sit with these feelings and take notice.

Our mission then is not to exile this mindset but to embrace our own nature and use it to our advantage. Where’s there’s smoke there’s fire. And where there’s scarcity, there’s a new opportunity to find abundance.

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