You’re supposed to choose the former above the latter. Chris Guillebeau, an author and entrepreneur I admire refers to this concept throughout his guides to living freely. I’ve read his stuff and felt so on board with his ideas of finding our passions and making them our life’s work, about freeing ourselves from convention and seeking life on our terms, about taking bold, radical action, about using our talents to help others as an essential vein that runs through all messages. But I stumble when he gets into choosing abundance. Oh, that doesn’t apply to me, I think. Yeah, like it’s that easy, I think. Well, maybe I can just work the other stuff and ignore that section, I decide. Because at some point along the way I began living a life of scarcity and then it became my life. What started as a superstition, a reaction to crisis became my plain reality. It was, scarcity, because abundance may never come, and then at least you know how to live with less.
Was that right? Don’t get me wrong, when I started to live lean it served an important purpose. It helped me feel less bad about myself and my circumstances. If I didn’t want or need as much, it didn’t crush as hard when I didn’t get as much. Much of what? Luck. Opportunity. True friendship. Joy. The material. Love, even. It was just, I’ve narrowed it down to the basics, with the occasional modest luxury. Frugality began to feel like an art form, it was so creatively used. Needless/wantless. A lean startup of a person, if you’ll forgive the tech industry metaphor.
It wasn’t right. It stopped working. It started to look self-imposed at best, self-righteous at worst. Someone accused me of being sanctimonious. He was wrong, of course, but it was an interesting idea. Had I become so scarce I appeared to be looking down from some great height? Yes, I felt removed, but living on the periphery is comfortable, now that I’ve learned to accept it. The lone wolf side of my lone wolf extrovert personality/lifestyle deals in scarcity. There’s a deep streak of fierce independence that thrives on austerity. But does it have to exist across all aspects?
I used to expect so little of the people around me that small courtesies felt like large kindnesses. If we’re being honest, I’m still struggling with this. Only now I’ve rebranded it as gratitude: seeing immense wonder in the miniature. But during times of famine, it looks like a woman running into a pack of ex-friends at a nightclub and panicking, knowing she’s alone to deal with it, even though a new friend is by her side. The friend walked with me to a corner of the bar, not visible to the line outside which contained six cold, hostile people with axes to grind. By then I’d been not drinking for close to two years, and this crew had been there for the black-outs, been on the receiving end of and borne witness to my bad and reckless behavior. They hated me. And I hated them for ditching me as soon as I quit drinking. The timing was miserable, as we were there for a burlesque performance in a medium-sized venue with one restroom. We were all going to have to work not to run into each other. The friend ordered us a couple of drinks and I engaged in my silent freak-out. The friend looked me over, sensed it and said, hey, I think it’s going to be OK. In that moment my stress dissolved, her beautiful words washing over me. It was the nicest thing someone had said to me in recent memory, and I was grateful for her deep caring. I told her so. That is the kindest thing anyone’s said to me.
That’s not good, she replied. I remember her sitting back and looking at my questioningly, perplexed. At the time I didn’t understand why she couldn’t accept my thanks, take in my appreciation for her character.
Scarcity. I get it now. Telling someone you think they’ll be OK is kind, sure. But is it a great, large-scale act? In times of scarcity, yes. What I realized is that abundance is being in the life where those words are just a starting point. Where you’re willing to accept an arm around your shoulder, shielding you from the exes. Where you allow yourself to be comforted and protected. I wasn’t there. My friend couldn’t give me more than that because I displayed an inability to accept it. I had no place to put it.
I’m thinking about scarcity first, and how exactly it’s affecting my life. It’s not that I’m cleaning out my existential closet. You can be assured it’s been bare for a long period of time. It’s more that I’m seeking to understand the payoff of living that way, so I can change it.