The scarcity mindset is a very human, super prevalent belief of lack and not having. It’s the feeling that we’re going to run out. We’re going to be left with nothing. I have to get what’s mine.
This mindset is universal, and as with most mindsets, its only partially rooted in the present reality. Some of the richest people I know are run by a feeling of lack, and some of the poorest I know have managed to overcome their scarcity mindset while still having very little materially.
Scarcity isn’t just about money. It bites at the foundation of who we think we are. It shows up in a belief that I am not experienced enough/ confident enough/ old enough/ young enough/ attractive enough/ smart enough/ something enough. This mindset preys on who we think we are not. Scarcity mindset isn’t the rational accounting of skills one may need to learn to progress one’s career or life. It’s a mindset that fundamentally says I’m not able or capable. I don’t have it to be it or do it. I do not have enough – and I am not enough.
Scarcity is ingrained into the fabric of modern life – you didn’t invent scarcity, nor did you need a pandemic to trigger it. It can come unbidden – when you woke up this morning you probably thought ‘not enough sleep, not enough coffee, not enough time to get ready’.
But Cathy, I hear you ask – is it really a mindset if I’m about to lose my job, or my hours have been cut 30%, or my customer pipeline has dropped off the cliff, or I am really broke?
I’m glad you asked!
Mindsets are the way we view a situation, and the story/belief/assumption we make about it. The thing with the scarcity mindset (as with all others) – it doesn’t depend on the existence of a situation to feel like it’s true. The mindset of lack keeps us stuck in a story of lack – and that story blocks us from moving forward. Think of it like a car bogged in wet sand, churning the tyres but not getting purchase.
When I first started to spend time with people living in hunger, I totally believed the scarcity mindset was true. I mean – people have nothing! It made sense they felt hopeless and resigned. I would too. And yet my biggest learning came from these same people: they transformed scarcity into having enough to start small businesses, invest in education, create social change – all by liberating the resources that they did have. From this I learned that resourcefulness is multi-dimensional, and we only focus on one small part.
At the heart of the scarcity mindset is a lie – that the biggest resource we have lies outside us. It lies in our bank account, our pay cheque, or our stock market shares. Any perceived threat to that sends us into scarcity. This is a lie because our true wealth is found elsewhere. It is found in our ability to create, to innovate, to show compassion, to think strategically, to invent, to collaborate, to inspire, to build, to reimagine, to love.
So what’s the antidote to scarcity? Some would say it’s abundance. But I take my cue from Lynne Twist’s book Soul of Money. She believes abundance is merely the flip side of scarcity – a belief we need MORE of anything to feel safe and secure. However, when we look to healthy systems we don’t see abundance. A squirrel doesn’t collect enough acorns for a decade. She collects enough for the winter. She collects enough. The mindset of ENOUGH is the counterpoint to scarcity.
ENOUGHNESS is a profound, radical understanding of an essential truth – that we are enough to live, to serve, to be loved, to love, to make an impact, to lead, to help others, to stand up for ourselves, to craft the life we want, to bring about a new world, to change the narratives and old story of scarcity and lack – just as we are!
Yes we are!!!
ENOUGHNESS recognises the truth of where our true richness lies – within and with others.
This isn’t a philosophical distinction. As I shared on the Masterclass, I was once in the grip of a scarcity mindset so real it dominated my life. In my late 20s I went through a period of financial hardship. I’d lost work, my new house was going to be repossessed, I had creditors ringing. I remember hunting for $2 coins to be able to buy milk for the kids. It was dire! I was so full of shame. I longed for a miracle because it seemed it was beyond me to fix – the hole I was in was too deep. It was shit, basically.
I had a moment though – a slice of grace – when I realised with such clarity how this lack of money was impacting my whole life. I was being held hostage to fear over money – and nothing should have that power in my life. Looking back with what I now know about mindsets, I can see how in that moment I separated my financial problems from the story I told about them. That separation gave me the space to truly look and see my mindset. I could then take action around it. Which I did.
With the scarcity mindset, there is no silver bullet. When you are in its grip it can be a moment by moment proposition. Centring yourself in your enough-ness is the best possible place to start. See your situation, and as much as possible get untangled from the story you are telling about it – the ‘truth’ you believe about it. From there ask, “What richness can I draw upon to change this situation?” “What resources do I have around me and within me?”
(I do run a separate Masterclass on this pervasive mindset. Let me know if you’re interested for your team or organisation.)