90: Scarcity


Sometimes called ‘scarcity thinking,’ laura breaks down and reframes the notion of scarcity – what is is, where it comes from, and how to heal it. Tune in for concrete suggestions, reflection questions, and tools for healing scarcity all through a lens of equity. While this episode is designed for individuals, it’s also applicaple to teams and organizations struggling with scarcity orientation.



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Laura: Hey there, brave friends, I'm Laura, and you're plugged in for a podcast all about growing your love, justice, and courage muscles. Welcome. Let's jump right in. As many of you know, I'm a coach. I've been coaching now for almost 20 years, which is a little wild to say. Over and over and over again, one of the most common topics that folks bring to me explicitly and also one of the most common unconscious factors that folks discover at the heart of all the stuff that they're working on is this notion of scarcity, scarcity thinking, feeling, believing.
We're going to define this in a moment and make sure you leave with some concrete strategies for uncovering scarcity and strategies to also unlearn scarcity from your mind and your heart and your body. But first, I'm going to make you two promises right up front. Number one, I'm not going to tell you to manifest anything in this conversation. And number two, I'm not going to tell you that abundance is the opposite of scarcity, nor will I even really talk about abundance except to talk about why I find the matter of abundance to be largely unhelpful and sometimes problematic. There's nothing wrong for those of you who are lovers of manifestation.
By all means, work your magic booze, manifest the shit out of whatever you want in your life and what the world needs. Please, please do that. It's just not my personal orientation, nor my personal skill, nor my personal expertise. No shade. It's just not going to be a part of how I personally teach or work or coach with clients to unlearn scarcity. All right, so let's define scarcity, and I'm going to define it in a couple of ways. First, it's an orientation toward lack, toward insufficiency. What do I mean by orientation? I mean, emotions, thoughts, ways of being that push you in a particular direction.
In this case, thoughts or emotions or ways of being that direct you toward lack in your life, in your work, in your finances, in your love. What I'm noting here is that it's bigger than the thought, there's not enough. That's a part of scarcity, but that's not the whole of scarcity. It's a channel. It's a path you're walking, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, in your life and toward the things you want in your life. But it's a path defined by pointing toward lack and insufficiency. Most folks refer to scarcity as scarcity thinking. I personally think it's much, much bigger than that, that it seeps into much more than our thoughts.
I think about scarcity ontologically as a way of being and as an orientation. The second thing about scarcity, it's fear-based, meaning the big bang for your personal scarcity orientation was likely forged in fear. When something's bones are set in fear, it's really, really, really, really hard to purge fear from it. Now, the reason your scarcity orientation was forged in fear is perfectly reasonable, because it was likely really fucking scary and possibly even traumatic. It might have been poverty. It might have been a guardian or a loved one who abandoned you. It might have been a catastrophic event that took you from financial enoughness or sufficiency to financial fear and strife and scarcity.
For most of us, scarcity orientation gets formed when we're younger as a coping mechanism to survive really difficult and possibly traumatic experiences that we can't totally make sense of and it helps us cope with that situation. But then the bones get set and it gets locked and loaded for the rest of our life as a coping mechanism that we fall back to. Now, you maybe someone who has a scarcity orientation or struggles with scarcity and hasn't experienced something like what I've described, and that's largely because the other place that scarcity orientation gets forged and honed is in our day-to-day culture.
If you have lived on the land that's now called the United States or grown up here, you've absorbed our culture and our culture is centered on capitalism. Capitalism requires that some folks have enough and some folks don't, and having is rewarded and not having is taken advantage of. Capitalism also relies on power and extraction and control. Most of us are overworked and burnt out as a byproduct of having to try to survive in a capitalist system because few of us have the resources to step outside of it. Most likely, no matter what your life has been like or how you identify, you've probably got some scarcity orientation up in your insides.
Not to worry, I'm going to help you tend to it or at least be a lot more conscious about what it's doing in there. Okay, so that's what scarcity is and how it got up in your bits. Now, what do we do about it? I see a lot of folks when they teach about scarcity jump right to the opposite of scarcity is the solution. In other words, the answer seems to be do the opposite, think the opposite, be the opposite. The word people reach for most often is the word abundance. Now, hang on just a moment. I'm just going to step up on this soapbox here for a minute. Hang on. Okay, I'm there.
First, if you are looking for long-term change or permanent change in your life or your identity, it most likely will not work, my friends, to run toward the opposite thing in your life. That my work as a short-term solution. But in my 20 years of coaching experience, I haven't seen it work yet as a permanent solution. Why not? Because it avoids the root. You'll hear me describe my work sometimes or my orientation or our work together as radical and radical means going to the root, at the root, grabbing something at the root. My personal andragogy is that unless we grab the thing at the root, it's going to keep growing offshoots in new places and in new ways, and it gets really, really sneaky.
When we say the answer to scarcity is abundance, we're avoiding the root which needs to be tended if we want to fully move through or pass something. I think we reach for opposites for a couple of different reasons. A, binary thinking. It's the lowest lift sort of thinking. It's the easiest and the most obvious way to think. We're trained to look at things this way. We want absolution, so we do it without even realizing we're doing it. And B, most of us want to get away from the thing that we see as bad or painful. Whether it's a feeling or a part of our identity, we see it creating harm or hurt in our life, we label it as bad, and then we try to run away from it.
This makes good sense. You see a lion that could eat you and you run. But scarcity orientation is not a thing you're up against. It's not a thing that's chasing you. It's a thing that has made a home inside of you. When the issue is something that lies inside us, running away won't help. It's not even possible. How do you run away from yourself? Whether you like it or not, my friends, scarcity orientation is likely inside you and it's inside me. You may not have asked for it and probably you most certainly don't want it, but it's in you. I have a personal and impassioned belief that solutions to the problems that race immediately to let's do the opposite are a waste of precious energy.
In my experience, that old phrase, there's no way out but through, fuck, it's basically true all the time about things that I do not like and that I want to change inside myself. The other bone I want to pick before I jump off the soapbox about abundance is that it's inspiring and helpful to some folks and it's unhelpful and actually pretty painful to others. When abundance is pointed at as the solution to scarcity, it sometimes asks us to close our eyes to systemic oppression. And while it's good to practice things that take us out of our comfort zone, I'm not sure how responsible it is to practice things that ask us to turn off our systemic and critical consciousness.
As we all know, there are a lot of people who are just getting by in our country and in the world and for whom their lived reality past scarcity would not be the concept of abundance. And that doesn't mean they aren't invested in moving through scarcity or the notion of abundance for that matter, but abundance isn't always on the other side of scarcity for a lot of people. If we're not careful, abundance can function a little bit like magical thinking, meaning to get behind it, to believe it, we sometimes have to shut down our critical consciousness. Now, you all, I'm not saying don't use the word abundance.
I'm not saying don't work with it if it serves you and resonates or helps you. In just a few minutes, I'm going to give you a pretty rigorous kick in the shins to practice different orientations and ways of thinking and being other than scarcity. Some of you might call that abundance and work with abundance, and that's fine. But, and if your practice of abundance requires you to shut off or shut down your awareness of equity, go forth carefully. Abundance is not always on the other side of scarcity for a lot of people, nor is it accessible as a concept for a lot of people. Again, that doesn't mean don't work with it if it serves you.
It just means don't enforce it on others. And be mindful that some folks might experience it as negating their realities, their identities, and the ways that they actively experience oppression. I'm going to offer some alternatives momentarily that I personally think are a lot more fruitful. But remember, you all, it's not about the word, it's about the practice. It's about how we use the thing. Don't go swapping out abundance for something I'll teach in a minute and think you're free and clear. Be mindful of how you use any concept.
Whatever you do, push yourself to hold and honor the complexity and the tension of the concepts that we practice, rather than running away toward any overly simplified word or concept as a problem free solution. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk. Amen. All right, you all, quick summary. We've got scarcity up in our heads and our bodies and our hearts, and we can't and aren't going to run away from something inside us because that doesn't work. Abandoning ourselves doesn't work, and that's where we are so far. What the fuck do we do? Okay, you all, the first step to healing scarcity orientation is looking directly at the source of the pain, going to the source, going to the root.
Now, remember, we can't run away from something inside us. Instead, we take a seat of compassion, and that part's essential. And then we acknowledge that this thing is real, that it's inside us, and we apply some compassion for where it came from. It won't work to do the step and judge yourself. Again, it's inside you. Belittling yourself or demeaning yourself for something that's inside you is unhelpful and largely counterproductive. The first step to healing anything that you want to heal or addressing something that you want to remove is to get a really good look at it. Think of it like getting an x-ray.
We have to sit still so we can see what it is for what it is. We have to sit still and be curious about it rather than be so eager to get rid of it that we race through the step or take shortcuts or be willing to see some ways that scarcity orientation is playing out, but not be willing to look at others. Again, step one, shut up, sit still in compassion and be the observer. Run your life through the x-ray machine. Getting really curious about where scarcity orientation is affecting your life, your work, your finances, your relationship, your innermost thoughts, your belief, your sex life, your anything. Things that are inside us, especially as orientations, tend to permeate all aspects of our life.
Step one, you take a grounded, compassionate seat and you set out to observe and study. Where do I see lack functioning in my life? How is it affecting my orientation toward and beliefs about love or work or money? Where do I see it causing me pain? How does it function? Literally, how does it do its thing? What are the thoughts or the feelings that tend to spark it? And so on. If you feel exhausted already, listen, we have our whole lives to do this work. There's no rush. This doesn't have to take a long time, but it does have to be wholehearted. Again, we're looking to heal something. Healing is multifaceted and it's transformative work.
This doesn't have to be hard or painful, but it will require mindful, conscious reflection. You get to determine whether you want to dedicate hours or days or months or years to that attention. BT dubs, if you're like, "Oh shit, I should be taking notes," the support that Patreons are providing me has enabled me to create a new transcripts feature, which is super cool. It's going to be there for all episodes moving forward, including this one. P.S., again, thank you, Patreons. You enable really cool shit like this. If you need the questions I'm rattling off in this episode, head to my website, go to the individual episode page.
Right up at the top, there's going to be a place that you can either download the transcript or copy and paste from the transcript the questions and the notes that you want, however you do it. Step one to shifting and healing scarcity orientation is to study how it functions in your life. Know how it does its thing as intimately as you can possibly know it. Okay, step two. As I mentioned already, scarcity's breath and life comes from fear. Fear is the thing fueling scarcity, plus systems of oppression, but those work in the case of scarcity by manipulating and fanning our fear by taking advantage of it and creating systems to manipulate it.
And while I'm working on it, I can't help you stamp out the system of oppression part of scarcity in this moment. What I can help you do in this moment is examine the fear. Let's get to that part now. Let me take you back to childhood for a couple of minutes. Were you ever afraid of a monster under the bed or something in the closet? Every night as it gets dark, the fear builds and your imagination goes wild, kind of conjuring up all these sorts of pictures of what might be under the bed or in the closet. The only real way to put that fear to rest is to peep under the bed or open the closet door and look.
The second part of healing scarcity is about identifying what you are really afraid of. I'm going to help you do this, but first, I want to say, if you're going to do this exploration either now or later, please make sure you have some proactive self-care or after-care lined up. Do it with a friend. Take the questions into a therapy session and do it with a therapist or a guide of some kind. Have a bath or a meditation or a walk after it. Have something fun lined up afterward. Whatever your practice of self-care is and whatever you think you need. For some of you, you may not end up needing that care that you set up, but sometimes these reflections can take us into deep places that we didn't expect.
I want you to love yourself enough to say, "You know what? Just in case, I'm going to take really good care of myself proactively because I want to heal this and I don't want to hurt myself in the process, and then we've done double damage." All right. When you're ready to begin this particular part of healing and working with scarcity, what we're going to do is look at the fear. We're going to try to look at it as directly as we can. Again, it's really important that we try to take a seat of compassion with ourself in this part of the journey. But what I'm going to do right now is surface up a bunch of places to go explore, to see and to explore and to be curious about what we're really afraid of.
Remember, the root of scarcity is fear. We've got to find the source of the fear. We've got to go to the root in order to make progress on this. Here come a bunch of reflection questions. Take what's helpful, toss what's not. Here's the foundational question, why do you orient toward lack in your life in the places that you discovered in step one? What are you really afraid of? When you examine the places where you see that lack and you see that scarcity, answer the question, what are you really afraid of? I want you to try to listen compassionately to the answer like you're listening to your best friend.
Once you have that answer, you're going to gently ask why. What are you afraid of, and then ask why. If you said, for example, "I'm afraid I won't be able to provide for my family," I want you to ask why again, why am I afraid of that? Now, try not to have extremist thinking here responding to the second why with, "Because we'll starve and die," is most likely not true. It's sort of letting the fear use this catastrophic thinking to get us straight back to fear and keep us stuck in scarcity. Really ask yourself with curiosity, if I couldn't provide for my family, then what scares me? What am I really afraid of then?
And then I want you to ask why again. You're going to ask why softly and gently at least three times, and you're going to listen. You'll have found the root or you're getting really, really close when you start to feel fear in your body. Not when you think it in your head, but when you start to feel the sensation of fear in your body. Be really gentle at this moment. Remember that this is just the energy of fear and you're fine, but we need to go carefully and lovingly here, because again, it can take us into some deep places.
Once you start to feel that sensation of fear, that's when you know you're getting really close or that you found the real fear that your scarcity orientation relies on you believing and being invested in. Now, in my experience, we don't just get over fear, but we can work to understand it. When we understand it, which includes having a really deep, authentic compassion for it and where it came from and when we can ask ourselves and plan for, what would I do if that actually happened, if that worst fear came to fruition, then we can learn to exist with the fear and even befriend it so that it's not so scary.
And that's what the step is about, finding the fear, understanding it, compassionately caring for it, and then having a plan for the fear. If that deepest fear were to occur, what would you do? Actually list out the plan, because then you can rest. Now, of course, it would suck if the thing that you fear the most actually happened. But if you have a general plan, that allows the fear to go, "Whew! I'm seen. I'm understood. I'm cared for," and that allows the fear to stop feeding on other things in your life and it allows you to actually be able to tend to the scarcity orientation because it's no longer being actively fed and fueled by this ambiguous fear.
Woo! All right, I told you all, I'm interested in helping you heal, not temporarily feel better. I want that for you. But the healing shit, that's deep work. Healing is deep and amazing work. Quick summary, step one, study and observe how scarcity orientation functions in your life all around. But that's step one, study how it functions. Step two, find the fear that fuels the scarcity and create a plan for it. We're at the final step, step three. Surprise, surprise, step three is practice. Practice what? Well, you're going to decide. Let me help you. When we unlearn an orientation, we do two things at the same time.
We simultaneously divest in something and we invest in something else. The process is incomplete if we do just one of those things. We have to consciously stop feeding something and we need to consciously start feeding something else and practicing something else. The question is, how would you rather be oriented? If we stop feeding and fueling the fears that stoke our orientation towards scarcity and lack, or maybe a better way to say it is, that we sort of break that magnetic pull towards scarcity, we need to allow ourselves to be pulled toward and oriented towards something else instead.
Now, some folks choose abundance, and I've shared my thoughts about this. And if abundance is a word or idea that really speaks to you, go for it. But make sure you take the time to define what abundance means to you and that you take the time to layer in a lens of justice and liberation to ensure you're not causing unintentional harm and sort of overlooking or negating the role that oppression plays in all this. I've shared already that the notion of abundance just doesn't do it for me, and I've also shared that I define scarcity as lack. When I think about what I personally choose to practice orienting toward instead of scarcity, it varies a bit, but it's usually wholeness, fullness, satisfiability, possibility.
I think any of those words or concepts are really beautiful orientations and practices. What would be different in your life if you practice possibility instead of scarcity, wholeness instead of scarcity? What matters most for you is that you choose an orientation to practice and that it's one that speaks to you. It's one that feels true at some level, feels resonant, and that it's one that sets you on a different course of thinking and feeling and doing than scarcity. In step three, the first part is deciding what you would rather be oriented toward, and it's a personal choice. It needs to be something that lights you up, and it needs to be something that your brain can get behind. It feels true enough.
Once you have that, it's time to practice. Practice just means you log the time. You log the time divesting in the thoughts, beliefs, fears that feed your old orientation toward lack and scarcity and you practice investing in new thoughts and beliefs and even new fears, choices, actions that feed the orientation that you'd rather have of possibility, of satisfiability, of wholeness, of whatever it is that you choose. Now, I know some of you may want me to define the practice for you and tell you exactly what to do, exactly what to practice. I both can and I can't. I can if we had more time and a relationship together, either in the Patreon community or one-on-one work, sure.
If we have that time, I can help you build a custom workout routine that really defines what that practice will need to be for your life uniquely in order to help you divest and invest. But here and also generally, I can't define it prescriptively for you because the key to healing is that it comes from within you. But if you've chosen possibility, for example, you're going to have to actively stop practicing thoughts and belief that orient toward tightness, toward figuring things out, toward caution, toward constraint. You're going to want to watch out for when you tell yourself that something is unrealistic.
You're going to be practicing seeing possibilities instead, thinking in terms of possibilities, building your muscle to generate and create possibility. What thoughts would help you do that? What feelings on purpose would help you do that? Some of you might do this part of the work in stages. For example, you might start by learning possibility as an orientation, and then you might practice learning fullness as an orientation, and then you might shift to wholeness as an orientation. Not that these things are linear, but your brain may not be willing to follow you all the way to wholeness if the starting point is scarcity.
If you don't believe what you're investing in real or possible, it's going to be really hard for your brain to get behind you. But whatever you do, practice the shit out of your new orientation. Practice being satisfied. Practice wanting from a place of enjoyment, from a place of satisfiability, from a place of contentment versus fear or striving or anxiety. Practice wanting things you already have. Practice feeling full. Where and how you practice is up to you, though literally anything can be turned into a practice. Sometimes after a storm when I'm picking up sticks in the backyard, I say to myself, "I'm rich in sticks."
It sounds silly, but I'm actively practicing not being overwhelmed, and I'm practicing enjoying the feeling of fullness and learning what that feels like in my body because I don't often feel it. This isn't about just training ourselves to think new thoughts. We're going to be experiencing new emotions along the way, and we've got to build our capacity to feel those feelings.
Believe it or not, when I'm conscious about that, when I'm conscious about picking up sticks and saying to myself, "God, I'm so rich in sticks. I'm so full with sticks," I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I'm conscious about it, it can also be a part of the way that I practice around fear, around changing how I think and feel about money or my relationships or love. It extends to all kinds of places because I see it as a practice. The more I learn the sensation of fullness, the more I learn to think in a way that represents wholeness and fullness, the more that I can apply that to so many different areas of my life and continue to build the muscle.
What we're trying to do in all of this is to get you more familiar with the thoughts and the feelings of something like wholeness, of fullness, of enjoyment, of satisfiability, rather than wanting from a place of fear or emptiness, which is what scarcity fuels. When we're practicing generating new thoughts and feelings on purpose versus being in the habit of being drawn back again and again to the old scarcity stuff, it creates new muscle memory. And as you log the time practicing your new orientation, the old orientation will shift dramatically. Eventually it will feel odd to you. It will feel odd in your body.
Scarcity will start to feel off and feel odd in your heart, in your head, in all the areas of your life. All right, you all. If you want to do this practice with me, if you'd like someone to hold you in a little bit of compassionate heat and help you really deeply unlearn scarcity and kind of punch it in the nose, you should check out my 100 days of coaching program. It's linked in the show notes and it's on the webpage. It's easy to find. But no matter what, go back and listen to this episode again and again. Take it with you on walks, allow it to seep deep into your bones and into your body, and take your time.
Healing is gorgeous work and it's complex work, and there's no need to race or rush. All right, you all, practice, practice, practice. You're building wholeness muscles instead of continuing to work out those scarcity muscles. It's really good for you and it's great for the world. I'll see you here next month, friends. Bye for now.



laura brewer

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