Scarcity or Abundance - Your Choice?

  • Note: In the past week, I have heard a common theme from several coaching clients; I have named it "the lack of, syndrome," a.k.a., the scarcity orientation, which always leads to unhappiness. Enjoy. Previous installments of my weekly blog from 2013 are located on my website at

    I have my own thoughts on the genesis of this human engineering quirk. Broadly speaking, I would say that all of the ways in which people sabotage their happiness shares a common theme: the theme is scarcity orientation , which is characterized by the feeling that "life is a zero-sum game," my win has to come at someone else's loss," and "I don't (and will never) have enough." This orientation leads to viewing the world and the events in it from a "Us vs. Them" or "Me vs. You" perspective. It leads to self-centeredness and a sense of separation from everything.

    It is this self-centeredness and sense of separation that underlies all of the so-called "happiness sins" --the sins of chasing superiority, of being overly control-seeking, and of being desperate for love. It's the same scarcity orientation that underlies a lack of trust in others, lack of confidence in the "universe," and to the tendency to overthink.

    The unfortunate thing is that many of us are not just unaware that we subscribe to the scarcity mindset, but that we do not even realize that we have been conditioned--by society and, of course, to a large extent by our genes--to adopt this orientation.

    The alternative and much more productive mindset is the "abundance mentality," whereby we view the world from the perspective that "there's enough for everyone's need," and that "pie can be grown." Those who adopt this mindset are less likely to commit the happiness sins and are, in fact, likely to exhibit many of the habits of the highly happy, including pursuing flow, being loving/giving, and seeking internal control (that is, taking personal responsibility for one's happiness).

    How Does This Play Out in Real Life?

    • Client #1: A 40-year-old white male, dissatisfied with his chosen 20-year career, has decided to leave his job as a healthcare administrator. His reasons are many, but the pervasive feeling that he is just not suited for this profession has become overwhelming, and he resigns. In the weeks that follow, his emotional state slowly spirals downward to where he starts beating himself up and then "buyers remorse" sets in - maybe he shouldn't have quit that job until he had another one; maybe he's just not good enough to do this type of work; all the way to maybe he's just not good enough for the world. How did he hit bottom so quickly and what's missing from this picture?
    • Client #2: A young CEO of a rapidly growing company, four years into her tenure at the wheel, starts doubting the sustainability of the double-digit growth they have enjoyed in the past two years. Then, instead of what I call concurrent thinking/action, she slowly moves into a mode of consecutive thought/action; and ultimately, all the way to analysis/paralysis and putting new initiatives on hold or into an indefinite timeline queue. How and why did this happen?

    Client #1
    The answer to his question is complicated; by nature, an introvert, but to adapt to his work environment, he gets pushed toward being an extrovert. (There is a new term now in the pop psychology lexicon - he is labeled an "ambivert." ) It is what I call the difference between a natural style and an adaptive style. If pushed - put under a lot of stress - he reverts to his natural style, which is as an introvert. Then, he starts to withdraw and then begins the self-doubt and self-flagellation. At this point, he has arrived at his destination of a scarcity orientation and mindset. That's how it happened, now what does he do about getting back to the world of abundance?

    a. Here are some of the activities he could consider:

    • Get out and network with other people in his career field, if for no other reason than to get self-affirmation and support that he is competent and knows his craft;
    • The obvious second reason is to get intel on who is hiring and information about same;
    • Then the third reason to get out and network is to build a support group mechanism of other people looking for a position and, again, for mutual support;
    • The last thing for him to do is to create his own self-affirmation syndrome with a visual reminder that he does know what he is doing. Since 65% of the adult population are visual learners, I highly recommend using a whiteboard to highlight the great things you have done (maybe a week by week, month by month, etc.) and to compare it side by side with the not-so-great. (I'll bet you that the "great" list outnumbers the "not-so-great" list!)

    Client #2
    This CEO hit the ground running, cleaning up the sins of her predecessor, (of which there were many) in short order, and then started moving into the future on multiple fronts. This approach is what I call concurrent and interrelated thought and action - juggling many balls simultaneously, and when a new idea (ball) comes into play, handing off some of the older ones to other team players. Then, slowly, but inexorably, she starts backing off the pace and becomes more deliberate in her actions; i.e., her actions become more consecutive.

    What Happened to Her M.O. (method of operation) ?
    Nothing. That was the problem; she came in from the beginning and determined the need for massive change in the business model, but the people that were already there actually did not. At first, they were dazzled by her style and speed in decision-making, but, as time wore on, they began to dig in and favor the old way of doing business. Also, as much as the company needed to be customer facing, in reality, the only person actually out of the office and meeting with clients was the CEO. In reality, they changed her.

    My analogy for this sure pathway to scarcity is looking at the FTE count of "bean counters" to "bean getter's." If there are more people engaged in counting beans (accounting and rule-making folk) than getting them (customer service, sales types), then the perspective on change can become way too swayed in the wrong direction. In short, the CEO got sucked into the trap of "cost controls" and all of the rest of the list above under "scarcity mindset."

    a. Here are some of the activities she could consider:

    • Hire new people that have no history with the company and make sure they are customer facing types of people;
    • Find a mentor for herself; someone that she can confide in and talk to regularly about the challenges she is facing;
    • Make sure she has "the right people on board the bus and that they are in the right seats." (Jim Collins - 'Good to Great.')

    To wrap this up, let me quote from an unknown author on the merit of a mindset of abundance v. scarcity:   "When you master your mindset, you free yourself to achieve the level of success you desire."