Scarcity and Abundance

moneyToday's post focuses on one of the more common problems we face when seeking fulfillment. As a child, we are born into complete abundance.  We know no limits.  We can dream about whatever we want, achieve whatever we choose to, and nothing is off limits.  As time carries on, we are gradually taught more and more to abandon this way of thinking.  The child gradually learns that, rather than the world being one of abundance, where they can achieve whatever they set their sights on, it is instead one of scarcity.  There are only so many spots available in that school.  There's only so many people let on the ride.  There is only so much money to go around.

Being taught the lesson that the world is not limitless serves a purpose.  Acting selfishly is an undesirable trait, and turns other people away from us.  We can end up alienating others - people that we might otherwise hope to align ourselves with.  Our goal is to teach children that they must think of others as well as themselves.  The lesson we hope to imbue in our children is that you can't have everything that you want.  Unfortunately, we hear it this way: you can't have anything you want.

You know that you're bumping up against this story whenever you catch yourself thinking something like "well, some people are just lucky" or "well sure, she achieved that, but I never could".

Let's look at how this plays out.  Take a moment to think of something you really truly want.  Not something that you kind of want, or that you're interested in, but a big hairy audacious goal.  Something you'd love to have or achieve, but might not even be able to admit to yourself (or others) that that is something you'd like.

If you are like most people, the very act of trying to think this up might be challenging.  Most of us have been trained so strongly in a mindset that comes from a place of scarcity that we have difficulty even thinking of those big terrifying dreams.  We've learned to shove them down deep, underneath a pile of reasons we cannot achieve them (and so should just abandon them altogether).  The problem is, no matter how much we try to bury those dreams under rationalizations and pragmatism, they're still there.

Coming from a place of scarcity, the dream becomes mired in us thinking of reasons why we can't achieve what we'd really like, and collecting evidence in support of that logic.  Here's some common evidence people collect:

  • Other people have tried to attain this goal and failed ("if other people couldn't do it, what chance do I have?")
  • My friends and family don't think that I can or should do it ("why should I think any differently?")
  • In the past you've never completed the stuff you set out to do ("this will just be another failure I have to be reminded of")
  • You can never afford to do the sort of stuff you want to ("look at all these bills!")
  • You won't have the time to take on something this big ("look at my schedule!")

Each of these stories is simply evidence of thinking from a place of scarcity, rather than abundance.

Items 1 and 2 give your power over to those around you.  Why should someone else's failure, or inability to see your vision, dictate your success?  Maybe they didn't want it enough.  Maybe they weren't willing to commit fully to their vision.  Maybe your friends and family are simply coming from their own scarcity-based thinking.  Maybe your vision triggers them and reminds them of their own failures.

Item 3 is letting your current vision and dreams be held hostage by what has happened in the past.  I have worked with many clients that get mired down in this game.  "But Adam, I have failed in the past - I'm not making this up!".  Having failed in the past is not evidence that you will fail in the future.  Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and many more incredibly powerful leaders all have monumental failures in their lives.  One of the first questions that most venture capitalists looking to invest in startups will ask the team is, "What have you failed at?".

Items 4 and 5 are both rooted in seeing your time and money as scarce commodities.  While both are precious, there is no reason that you cannot achieve what you want to achieve - it is simply a function of your commitment and ability to continue striving towards something, no matter the difficulty and challenges that may face you.

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By coming from a place of scarcity, we end up mired in selfishness.  Selfishness prevents effective and powerful leadership.  It blinds us to what might be possible in terms of a success for everyone, and instead turns our focus only towards what we might be able to achieve for ourselves.  It eliminates the possibility of mutual wins, and it lends itself to suspiciousness, burn-out and exhaustion.

Scarcity-based thinking prevents us from seeing anything possible outside of our current circumstances, and erodes our abilities to play for a bigger game.  When we come from abundance, we can make declarations and promises way outside of our comfort zone.  We might not now how we will get there, but why would you?  You're making a declaration outside of your comfort zone - you're playing in the realm of the unknown.

If you know, right now, how to achieve your big hair audacious goal, I've got news for you: It's not big enough.  It's not audacious enough.  It's not scary enough.

So take some time between now and next Monday, sit down, and really ponder what your dreams would be if there was nothing in the way of you achieving them.  If time and money weren't factors, you didn't have to worry about failure, and your peers and family wouldn't think any different of you for having these dreams.  If life was like that, then what would your dreams be?

Practice standing in abundance, rather than in scarcity, and notice what shows up.  Check in with yourself, moment to moment, and ask, what might be different about this situation, coming from abundance rather than scarcity?

Play in the realm of possibility.

Abundance vs. Scarcity