I recently listened to a podcast of an interview with Mark Scandrette, the author of Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most. In the interview, Mr. Scandrette discusses the economic concept of scarcity. While scarcity is an economic term, it involves a psychological mindset. I often see the principle of scarcity at work in my own life as well as the lives of my clients. Before I discuss how it comes into play in our lives, it is helpful to understand the definition for scarcity. In its most distilled meaning, it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a very small supply”. To fully grasp the concept, it helps to look at the definition from an economic perspective. This definition generally involves two components: 1. unlimited human wants and needs and 2. limited resources to fulfill those wants and needs. In contrast to scarcity is the mindest of abundance which is defined as “an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply” by dictionary.com.
How Scarcity Manifests Itself in Our Everyday Lives
1. Money. The most obvious way it shows up is with our finances. Do you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck? Is your paycheck spoken for before you ever receive it? Have you found yourself spending your money on things you want, such as entertainment and dining out, as soon as you get paid because you are afraid there won’t be enough left? Do you find yourself wishing you could donate more but being out of money before you arrive at church on Sunday? Do you find yourself constantly saying things like “Someday…” and “Maybe when I ____, then____.”?
2. Self-Esteem/Confidence. Scarcity tells you things like, “If only you were more ____ then you would be important, valuable, worthy, loveable, chosen, interesting, respected, and the list goes on. Scarcity compares us with others and points out how we are lacking in comparison to them.
3. Relationships. Because we compare ourselves to others, we operate out of a sense of insecurity in our relationships. We look to others to give us the worth, esteem, respect, and love we desire. This sometimes puts us in a taking position rather than one of giving. Relationships begin to look like quid pro quo agreements. What do I mean by this? A quid pro quo mindset says, “I will do for you what you do for me.” It is the age old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality. When we look to others for affirmation and we don’t receive it, then we find it hard to give it in return. We are operating out of a place of emptiness that has nothing left to give to others. This is scarcity.
Do you find it hard to receive things from others when you are not in a position to repay the favor? This is scarcity. Deep down you believe that you have taken something from them and compromised their ability to get their own needs met. This is just another example of quid pro quo. Perhaps you find yourself envying what others have as you compare yourself. Jealousy operates on the principle that there is only so much to go around and “you got it so I can’t have it”. We begrudge our coworker because they got a promotion and we didn’t. We are envious of our siblings because they got noticed for something and we didn’t. The pretty girl gets noticed which means you get ignored. Over and over we view the abundance of others as something being taken from us and leaving us in a position that is lacking. This affects our ability to be in healthy relationships with people.
4. Anxiety. When your mind is consumed with worry about how your needs are going to be met, scarcity manifests itself as anxiety. Often people will get carried away imagining the worst possible resolution to their unmet needs and get stuck in this negative loop. Scarcity breeds fear in the human heart. When fed, fear turns to panic. Sometimes people develop behaviors that sooth their fear and make them feel more in control of the situation. These can look like addictions. They can also appear as rituals, as seen in those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
5. Hoarding. Perhaps you have seen the reality TV shows about people who can’t let go of things. They begin to pile up belongings until they barely have room to move around in their own homes. However, how often do you find yourself saving for a rainy day and ignoring your obligations? While planning for the future is a function of abundance, if it is done out of a place of hanging onto things for fear that there won’t be enough some time later into the future, it becomes a function of scarcity. There is a fine line between the two. Is your saving motivated by fear or by good stewardship? A good test to determine whether you are hoarding versus being a good steward is to ask yourself what would happen if someone else needed what you have and asked you to share it. Would you be glad you were blessed with excess so you can share it or would you want to hold onto it out of fear that you might need it someday?
Did you see yourself in some of these scenarios? You may be operating from a mindset of scarcity. Stay tuned for part two to see how you can shift your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance.
Are there other ways you have seen scarcity show up in your life? I would love to hear from you.