Shifting from a Scarcity Mindset

Pas de place pour deux -- Not enough space for two

Last week, I met someone who talked about how Philadelphia wasn’t a great city. When I asked her why, her answer was that the lack of money was the root of its problems. Most people I have met talk about what a wonderful city it is and how the community has worked together to make it better. I have been thinking about that for much of this week as I dealt with budgets and allocated resources to various projects and initiatives.

My thoughts have been around how the core belief that resources are scarce is at the root of so much of what we do and think. The quote from Lynne Twist. In her book The Soul of Money, defines the mindset of scarcity really well.

“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.…”

As I have been mulling this over this week, I thought about the concept of abundance that I read and learned about in my MBA program. The idea that we just need to be creative to make the pie bigger so that there is more to divide is still rooted in the idea of scarcity and focused on getting MY share of the limited quantities of stuff that are available.

Brene Brown defines scarcity as the “never enough” problem and proposes that to move away from a scarcity mindset, we need to develop a belief that we are enough that is satisfied internally rather than externally. This core belief gives us the courage and confidence to share our ideas and ask for what we need without being dependent on external praise or deflated by criticism from others. It also opens us up to incorporate different ideas and truly partner with others. The real magic happens when we feel as much joy in others’ success and good fortune as we feel in our own.

This rings very true for me and my experience. I spent years doing what I call the ego hustle. Constantly feeling inadequate and focused on what I didn’t have. I struggled to drive my agenda and get through my long list of to-dos, believing that if I just worked hard enough, I would be successful and feel better about myself.

I have learned to recognize the thoughts of “never _____ enough” that consume my energy and divert my focus. When I can redirect my energy and focus on being a positive leader, then I am able to discern the most important things I need to accomplish, have the focused attention to get them done, and find others very willing and able to help. How I work now is so different than how I have worked in the past and it is so much more fun and effective.

My challenge to you this week is to notice whether you have a scarcity mindset. How much time and energy do you spend worrying about “never ____ enough?” The first step toward changing is always awareness.


Photo credit: Gilles Gonthier –

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