Let me state right up front that this article is not about getting rich or making money. It is also not about the latest in security technology or the suggestion that you should be happy just the way you are. Instead, I want to explore the biggest obstacle to why most of us don’t really feel rich, safe or content regardless of how much money we have in the bank, the circumstances surrounding us, or how great things might be at any point. That big “elephant in the room” is an underlying, all-pervasive and largely unconscious belief in scarcity and lack. In fact, whether you are on the path to a simple or minimalist lifestyle—or just trying to get by as you are—I’m convinced that discovering what I mean by that, growing ever more aware of it, and taking steps to counteract it are some of the most important steps we can ever take to increase our individual well being. Interested?
The insidious nature of a scarcity mindset was recently brought back to my attention by author Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly. While I had previously been aware of ideas of scarcity from a financial perspective, Brown suggested that a major component of most of the problems in the entire world stem from this all-encompassing fear-based mentality of “never enough.” As Brown says, “Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs and wants.” Unfortunately, that constant focus on not-enough challenges our sense of vulnerability and triggers our shame. That is largely why Brown is convinced that scarcity is at the root of all of our feelings of shame, comparison and disengagement. And that of course is why most of us don’t feel rich, safe or content in spite of how good our lives are.
Of course Brown isn’t the first person to speak out about the problems of scarcity or lack thinking. Author Lynne Twist in her book, The Soul of Money offers this classic explanation of the issue:
For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is, I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not-enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of….Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life…
When we think about it from this clarity it is easy to see that scarcity has most of us in its grip—not to mention entire countries and their leaders. While it is easy to point fingers at those in our world who are acting from fear or greed, an awareness of how deep a consciousness of scarcity goes in each of us is apparent. Anytime I compare myself unfavorably to anyone else, anytime I believe someone else is both capable or even interested in taking away my good, every time I am fearful of anything, anytime I’m worried about something—at the core of every one of those situations I am putting my faith and belief in an idea of scarcity. And when I do, how can I ever be enough, how could I ever have enough—to feel rich, safe and content?
I find Brene Brown’s perspective on scarcity so compelling because, as she says, “Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post traumatic stress…and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.” Brown is convinced that this climate of scarcity influences our culture in three major ways. Those ways are:
- Shame. We ridicule and belittle others as a way to control or keep people in line. We control ourselves by tying our self-worth to achievement, productivity, compliance and even perfectionism.
- Comparison: We constantly compare and rank others and ourselves, holding each to a narrow standard or ideal. Creativity is stifled and ignored.
- Disengagement: We all disconnect to avoid judgment or to remain unseen. We refuse to listen or pay attention and feel no one is listening or paying attention to us. We avoid trying anything new or taking risks.
So what’s the solution? According to Brown it begins by saying, “The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is (simply) enough…” She believes that the way to overcome such thinking is to cultivate what she calls “Wholeheartedness.” A wholehearted person is someone who lives their life courageously, “facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks” all the time holding a deep belief that they are enough and the world itself is enough, exactly as it is.
What suggestions does Lynn Twist offer? Twist says, “You have to recognize that you’re swimming in the lie. Because when you’re chasing more so obsessively, you can’t see ‘enough’ – it doesn’t even exist for you. You’re too focused on what’s not there, to see what is there. The radical truth is there is enough right now, right this minute, but you have to let go of trying to get more to see ‘enough.’ When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, which is what most of us are scrambling to get more of, it frees up oceans of energy to pay attention to and make a difference with what you already have. I like to say, ‘What you appreciate appreciates.’ What you already have grows in the nourishment of your attention and intention.”
Twist goes on to say that this “enoughness” is actually an awareness of “sufficiency.” But she is also clear that sufficiency isn’t “two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance.” Instead, sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. “It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing there is enough, and that we are enough.” Twist is similar to what Brown says when she explains that, “Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us, and within ourselves, we find what we need. There is always enough…”
I agree with both Twist and Brown when they say that we must counteract the consciousness of scarcity with an ongoing awareness and internal work to turn such thinking around. Brown says that she and her husband work every single day to overcome “the cultural norms driven by scarcity.” She believes it takes courage and vulnerability “every time we make choices that challenge the social climate of scarcity.” But only when we embrace sufficiency consciousness as opposed to scarcity consciousness can we count ourselves among the wholehearted.
Clearly unless we are willing to challenge our feelings of lack and vulnerability by daring greatly, then we remain jailed by the fear fueled by a scarcity mentality. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how “minimal” we live, how few pieces of clothing or furniture we own, or whether we live in a tiny house or a mansion. Regardless if we have a billion bucks in the bank or $10 in our wallet it will never be enough. As long as we continue to believe in lack and scarcity we will never feel truly rich, safe or content. Instead, a compassionate, openhearted, courageous awareness of sufficiency is the best antidote we can take.
This post is linked in the SITS Girls Saturday Sharefest on 12/7/13