On the virtues of scarcity.

Scarcity is a gift. We usually don’t see it that way, because we usually equate “scarcity” with “lack”.

Scarcity sounds like we don’t have enough. Scarcity sounds like the desert.

To speak about the virtues of scarcity means to speak about the virtues of the desert. Wise men from the past used the desert as territory for initiation. There are no distractions in the desert. The mind can focus on what needs to be accomplished. And when the skies bless he who enters the desert with a single drop of rain, it is received as if it were of more value than all the goldmines of the Earth could ever provide. And when the man enters the first Oasis he sees, after having been mesmerized by dozens of mirages, he will feel welcome like he has never felt welcome in his life. He will eat each single grape as if it were comestible diamond, feel the refreshment in a single cup of water, and his nights of rest on a comfortable bed will feel like the mattress of a Hilton hotel in contrast with his lonely nights sheltering under the cold rocks of the desert.

A while back, I was facilitating a workshop at a business school. The students were interviewing entrepreneurs to find out keys to success and challenges along the way. One of the entrepreneurs explained his transition from a large corporation in the cosmetics industry, to launching his own catering business. One of his biggest lessons was learning to do more with less. He was used to large budgets, and all of a sudden, he saw the cost of things. He became much more effective and frugal.

Enter Frugal Innovation

A whole movement of frugal innovation is emerging. One of my good friends, Abhinav Agarwal is a pioneer in this movement in France. His own definition of frugal innovation is:

“the ability to improvise a solution and demonstrate resourcefulness using available resources to solve a real problem by finding a simple and ingenious solution to create an affordable and sustainable solution.” (source)

 Pierre Rabhi, a wise French thinker with Algerian roots has spoken about the importance of a Fulfilling Sobriety (une Sobriété Heureuse). He explains the virtue of restraint to create our own fulfilment through simplicity. Here are some of the key questions (inspired by this French blog) to practice Fulfilling Sobriety:

  • How to discern the necessary from the superfluous?
  • How can I create more time to grow physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
  • Do I feel fulfilled in my life?
  • If not, what is missing?
  • Am I in alignment with my values, my needs and my dreams?
  • How can I reduce my footprint on the environment?
  • How can I help other humans grow and thrive?

This ties to the concept of Minimalism.

I love minimalism. That is my favourite way to live. Sometimes, abundance just feels like too much. That is when abundance turns into overabundance. That is what I felt, sometimes in the U.S. with the giant portions of food at the restaurant. Most of the times, I would take away half of the food that would feed me for another meal.

It feels good to detoxify, purify and eliminate through a specific diet. It looks like fasting. One emerges with a clearer mind, body and reconnected with Spirit.

A few years back, I undertook a fast, recommended by a friend who is a naturopath. The fast went over 2 or 3 weeks, with a shift in eating habits every three days. In the middle of this program, there are three days where I drank only vegetable juice and water (and green tea), then three days of drinking water only, and then back to three days of drinking vegetable juice, before slowly reincorporating raw vegetables for three days, and so on. That is a total of nine days without eating any solid food, and without any sugar intake in the body. I remember feeling really high. I that I couldn’t climb the 5 flights of stairs leading to my office, I felt too weak physically (although my mind was hyper sharp) and just wanted to save as much energy as possible. I remember my mind going crazy, imagining all the good foods I could eat once I was done with this fast, and fantasizing about an Afghan banquet, Iranian food and Thai food among others…

I ended up strongly constipated, as my digestive system had become blocked, but that is for another story. (Yeap, sometimes, we can take things a little too far, but that’s also the point of self-experimenting – you get to know what works for you.)

Fasting is not for everybody, and there are softer ways to detox.

One of the virtues, however is that you become more aware of what you have, and more importantly, you become more aware of what you don’t really need.

“You can never have enough of what you don’t really need.”

Rich Litvin.

One of the things I became acutely aware of was my high irritability with other people. I felt a lot of anger and resentment. I had to protect myself and set strong boundaries. And I had a lot of compassion for others, too, for example seeing people eating completely unconsciously at the canteen at work.

So far we talked about a scarcity mindset. That is a mindset characterized by the feeling of lack, of “not enough”.

Scarcity mindset vs. material scarcity

When I was in India, living for two months at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, I remember I was financially poor (based on my standards / nothing compared to Indian standards). I had a few hundred euros left on my bank account, had a loan that I would need to start paying back a year later (so my financial net worth was actually negative). Yet, I felt that I was the wealthiest and most grateful person on Earth. I had everything that I needed, and much more: Each day brought it’s lot of surprises and discoveries. It might have been some of the two most fulfilling months in my life. I do not think I could have lived in a higher state of gratitude and bliss (today I’m working on increasing how much gratitude and bliss I can experience no matter where I am). A person living at the ashram gifted me a book. It was signed by the author, who was a highly accomplished yogi. I felt that I had won the lottery. One day, there were flowers on the desk, as a gift for my birthday. That filled me with joy. The most simple pleasures were the largest treasures. That is when I had the realization that wealth is a state of consciousness.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If you are facing financial challenges, it might be harder to find that inner peace. The paradox is, creating that inner peace will make it easier to create financial wealth. It doesn’t mean that you need to neglect your material and financial wealth. But true wealth is a state, that is completely independent from what you have on your bank account. Gay Hendricks, in The Big Leap, speaks about a client of his, who always needed at least $30 000 on his bank account to feel safe. He got pissed off when his wife bought expensive toilet paper. No amount of money can buy you peace of mind.

You can never have enough of what you don’t really need.

Here are some helpful distinctions to shift your mindset from a Scarcity mindset to an Abundance mindset:



Some coaching clients are too comfortable, and they say:

“I don’t take action because I don’t need to. I have too much money to worry.”

This shows that there is virtue in being hungry too.

Those who don’t have the resources find them. They actually create them.

Because the only resource that you have in unlimited quantity is resourcefulness.

I love the story of Kyle MacDonald. He is known as the man who traded a paperclip for a house.

Here is how the story goes:

MacDonald started an experiment, with a paperclip, and posted an ad on a website asking if anyone would trade him the paperclip for something with a little more value. Someone traded him the paperclip for a doorknob. Then, he exchanged the doorknob for a camp stove.

One trade led to another, and a year later, he traded a role in a film for a house !

Think about a project or dream you have.

How would you make it happen if you had $0?

One thought on “On the virtues of scarcity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: