the art of more (money, readers, love): fighting off the scarcity complex




I have a problematic relationship with money.

I didn’t learn about it growing up.

I married a man I met in college who, in the course of our marriage, became wealthy. I had no access to any of it other than what he gave me.

My attempts to carve out my own career (and income) as a dark-fantasy novelist got sidetracked by babies. Nothing had my name on it – not the house we bought together, not the car I drove, and because I didn’t know anything different, and because we lived an amazing lifestyle, I told myself I was fine with it. I didn’t want to be spoiled or ungrateful.

Two and a half years after my husband filed for divorce and after a prolonged battle over a document I signed without a lawyer under questionable circumstances, I received a divorce settlement.

Now I’m a woman of substance, so to speak.

I have a business manager and an investment advisor and investments and a house in my name.

And yet I don’t feel any different than when I legally had nothing. Some deep part of me continues to feel impoverished, and I worry about losing everything.

So this is what it means to have a scarcity complex.

I’ve been working on mine (thank you, helpful therapist).

I read Tara Gentile’s THE ART OF EARNING and it inspired a shift in me. She talks about the “paycheck prison”: how you focus on spending less…instead of challenging yourself to develop other streams of revenue.

To create more.

It’s about unlocking your potential to create the
wealth that supports that latte habit, increases savings, decreases spending
(yes, increased earning can result in decreased spending), and creates ideas that put money to work for you & your world.

This, I all-at-once realized, is what people refer to as an abundance mentality. It’s a deep sense of the potential in you and all around you. You can use your gifts and skills to create what you need – more than you need – as you need it. Instead of worrying over the size of your pie as you fritter it away (people with a scarcity complex often indulge in careless, might-as-well-spend-it-while-i-have-it consumption), you focus on enlarging it.

What you put your attention on – grows.

(Which is why a “gratitude practice” can be life-changing: it keeps your attention on the things you want more of.)

So simple, I know.

And yet it isn’t.

And yet it is.


A writer remarked that she was discussing with a writer friend the possibility of self-publishing her novel. Her friend started trumpeting the merits of traditional publishing…and then they were arguing over self vs traditional…and “nearly came to blows”.

What struck me was how unnecessary that argument was.

Because it assumes either one or the other.

It’s “the tyranny of either/or” …

….instead of and.

Self-publishing and traditional publishing.

In today’s rapidly changing publishing landscape, they serve different purposes and different kinds of fiction. I predict – and I’m hardly alone in this – that a successful writing career will now include a mix of both. Together, they enlarge the pie of what’s possible: the material you publish, the readership you connect with, the profit you make.

But scarcity complex can blind you to this. You find yourself ‘competing’ for resources even when the circumstances that limited those resources…have changed. You respond to the past instead of the present, and run the risk of turning your anxiety into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perception is reality.

What you put your attention on…grows…even if it’s the dark space of lack.



We are all competing for it.

It’s the one thing you can’t make more of. There’s only so much mindshare to go around.

We are writers competing for a readership.

But what if we focused on creating more readers?

On using platform/social media — trust, influence, credibility, authority — different kinds and forms of storytelling — to reach into the neighboring entertainments and bring people back to books.

What would that look like?


Something happens when you start thinking in terms of creating more instead of settling for less. You start asking different questions, which frames your thinking in different ways.

As Chris Guillebeau puts it:

Fighting over a Small Pie = dumb idea, rooted in scarcity, fear, and small-mindedness.
Expanding the Pie = abundance, rooted in a belief that there is enough for everyone.

When you strive to expand the pie, you redefine the category and change the game. You utilize your strengths and talents and knowledge. You experiment with new ideas, and allow those ideas to evolve – or die out.

According to Seth Godin, embracing change – or being the change – is the one true way to stay in the game in the first place.

After all, this is the age of: innovate or die! Not to mention the ubiquitous: be remarkable!

In his book SURVIVAL IS NOT ENOUGH, Godin stresses the necessity of evolution and the importance of the fast feedback loop. By making lots of tweaks, experiments, improvements, and little bets, and hooking yourself into a constant loop of constructive criticism that lets you know what works and what doesn’t, so you can keep revising and adjusting accordingly, you rise through the environment as it is now – and not five or ten or fifteen years ago – and influence what it becomes.

You stay relevant and meaningful.

Platform can be a great example of this. Instead of fighting for a narrow slice of your right people, you build out a deeper pie. Your platform forces a constant interaction with your audience; day in, day out, you have to create value – and more value – through your blog posts and tweets and videos. You see which of your ideas hit the ground running, or need more development, or fall by the wayside. Instead of competing with other bloggers, you form partnerships with them – which allow both of you access to each other’s audience and to deepen and increase your readership and the value you put out into the world.


In order to be successful at creating more, you have to follow your strengths and interests.

By ‘strength’, I mean it in the way Marcus Buckingham means it: whatever activity energizes you and makes you feel strong and alive and most like yourself. Identify those moments. Cherish them. Organize your life around them – figure out how to do more of them – and, over time, the dots will start to connect into a skillset uniquely yours.

I like the analogy Sally Hogshead uses in her book FASCINATE. She’s comparing flowers in the Amazon to successful marketing – the ability to fascinate people – but I think it’s a great analogy for thriving in any highly competitive world.

University of Florida biology professor David Dilcher wrote, “flowering plants were the first advertisers in the world. They put out beautiful petals, colorful patterns, fragrances, and gave a reward, such as nectar or pollen, for any insect that would come and visit them.”

Plants offer other lessons in marketing survival. For instance, the Amazon jungle might look like it would be a desirable place to live, if you’re a plant. It’s lush, exotic, flourishing, with plenty of water. But with thirty million species in the rain forest, vegetation grows so thickly that each plant to must fight to gain food, protection, and even a slender ray of light. Plants act like marketing managers: developing unique adaptations, designing spinoff extensions, and seeking unconventional niches.

By listening closely to your environment and playing to your strengths, through constant experimentation and feedback and revision and more experimentation and feedback and revision, you can be abundant.

You can create things and express things that no one’s quite seen before.

You can make more.

Jul 8, 2011

18 comments · Add Yours

“By ‘strength’, I mean it in the way Marcus Buckingham means it: whatever activity energizes you and makes you feel strong and alive and most like yourself. Identify those moments. Cherish them. Organize your life around them – figure out how to do more of them – and, over time, the dots will start to connect into a skillset uniquely yours.” –This is the concept behind developing your cosmos from chaos in my blog. Forming connection between the facets of self and unifying them into one coherent you.

Love this post. Create more. Definitely a lesson for those sitting on the verge of the publishing debate. Why restrict ourselves? The world is ever-evolving and rapidly doing so…those not able to rise to the occasion are going to be left behind. That being said, it is hard to swallow some of the work that is being put out there just because it can be…


“That being said, it is hard to swallow some of the work that is being put out there just because it can be…”

Tania, I agree. Justine suggests that the crap will fall away and only the good self-published writers will survive. I hope she’s right.


There has always been crap. It always falls away. That’s why the past always seems like the art and literature was *so much better* than today — only the good stuff gets shared and passed down through the years, decades, etc. The bad stuff dies.

Keep in mind too that when I say more I mean more *value*. Sometimes value isn’t about producing more pages, but taking the pages you have and learning how to make them better.


Yeah, I can appreciate the problem intellectually and sympathize emotionally.

I thank whomever that I grew up a peasant and married another peasant … even though we both were/are achievers.


Justine – love this post. It’s funny how money is used to cloud things in our culture: identity, value, purpose. When you remove it (and this is a psychological choice, not an effect of having or not having money) – suddenly, a new world of options opens up. One not defined by bringing money in or sending it out. On status via ownership.

Lots to think about here.
Thank you!


@justine More value is key…very good point. Thanks!


your posts have been uncanny for me in their timing and topics.
Another fantastic reinforcement of areas I’ve been focusing on, thank you.


Well, you’ve covered a lot of ground here, Justine: starting with defining feelings of scarcity and moving onto various proactive physical actions to override it. But does learning competitive marketing eliminate feelings of lack? I think not. Unless…unless, one becomes so successful that one no longer feels he/she is competing with anyone. “Build it and they will come” becomes completely believed. And when it IS, they come.

So I’m not disagreeing with you about steps one must take to build success and confidence. But I’d like to point out that many of us don’t hit our marks no matter how hard we try. And consequently, without the validation of tons of fame and fortune coming our way, we remain in the pit of “NOT ENOUGH.”

You talk about attention and focus bringing results, positive or negative. I definitely agree. I also agree that active pursuits of anything encourages HOPE. But there is a place in your essay where I branch off, and it’s at the beginning.

I believe that the feeling of scarcity is a manifestation of a much larger belief: that of UNCERTAINTY. It’s a fear that things won’t work out. It’s a lack of trust. It’s a feeling that what you need in the future won’t be waiting for you when you get there. And this fear of the future brings about a feeling of “not enough” RIGHT NOW, and a competition for what IS. This anxiety sets up enemy camps. And wars.

People who feel empowered don’t worry about competition or scarcity. They believe they will always get what they want, no matter how many MISS-takes they make. This is a core belief. This is FAITH, something I talk about a lot. And when you have it, much less effort is needed to manifest your desires and fears.

So my point is: Does action leading to results build faith? Or does faith create results, like manifesting abundance? I believe both dynamics must work in tandem. And when they do, life is sweet.



Great post, Justine! Plants as marketing experts…of course!


@Irving Podolsky Oh no no no no no no! Scarcity is NOT uncertainty — if anything it involves the INABILITY to live with the kind of uncertainty that the creative process *requires*. (Jonathan Fields’ upcoming book about creativity — called, actually, UNCERTAINTY — addresses this.)

I never suggested that competitive marketing in and of itself eliminates feeling of lack. That’s not what the piece is about.

Thing is — we are at our most productive and creative when we are relaxed enough to downshift into those creative brainwaves. Scarcity is connected to anxiety, which contaminates and interferes with your work. But believing something is already out there, existing in some other secret personal dimension and all you have to do is pull it through into this one by giving it expression — you might call it faith — others might call it visualization — enables you to relax into the actual work and let the work absorb your whole focus.


I love this post. I think sometimes I need to be reminded of this. It’s easy to retreat into the scarcity mindset — it sometimes feels like it takes more to expand the pie. It seems like a lot of people think that wealth is a zero sum game, that there’s only so much to go around when it IS possible to create more! :)


@justine Hummm… When one gets into philosophy this deep, face-to-face conversation is much more efficient. Internet social media doesn’t always allow for the nuances of ideas to come across. But I’ll give it another try. Here’s my reasoning about “scarcity fear” being part of “uncertainty fear”:

If one feels that something important (like love or money), is limited, or that at some point it will stop or run out; by implication, one also believes that love or money may NOT be replenished tomorrow, next month or next year. Conversely, if love or money always is always replenished, there would never be scarcity. Or fear about it.

Of course many times there IS no certainty that love or money will always be replenished, and consequently, there is real scarcity, and justified concern or fear about it.

Said another way: if one has faith, OR…if we knew for sure that love and money would always be replenished some time in the future, then there would never be scarcity, fear of scarcity, or fear of uncertainty. Somethings we expect to always be WAITING FOR US. And they are. Somethings we’re not sure about, and many times they are not waiting for us. When they aren’t, we worry. Hence, fear of uncertainty about scarcity.

Does this make sense?


Justine, yours is one of the few blogs I always make time to read. You always have something important to say…and you say it so well. Love this post! Thanks.


Justine, thank you for sharing your story. I can relate totally.


Thank you for sharing yourself Justine!


I think for the folks who feel scarcity OR uncertainty no matter how successful they are (and I define success as living the life you want, with or without money), it’s a question of upbringing. I’m not saying it’s the parents fault, just that if love and support and encouragement weren’t given to you as a child, it’s difficult to manifest positive things for yourself, or to appreciate/accept/welcome them when you do. As an adult, it’s your responsibility to deal with it, but you work with what few tools you have and it can be a real struggle. A lot of people don’t understand this is what’s happening to them, and even for the ones who do it can still be a struggle to change.


@justine So true. It’s easy to look back at the literature that survived and forget that some of what we view as classics seemed like utter failures or were even lost in ashes. Time brands work differently than we try to do. Comparing today’s pages with all literature in existence will always make it clear that our contributions are minisculely small…but everyone’s contribution is a microdot when we look at it from far enough away or from vast enough abundance.

And, yeah, the “entertainment industry,” at the macro level, is insanely abundant. Hollywood and NY publishing are still full of gigantic successes. Far too often, we look at “genre” or “writers we know” and the midlist (or self-publishing or whatever’s not superhot) looks teensy. But the big picture’s still limitless. I still watch friends pull the magical deals. And then it turns out that a million for a first novel isn’t always a good thing. Or that a thousand for a first novel might be life-changing.

We are what we bring to it. We show up on the page. We need to bring what we’ve got and offer it all up: the strong, the weak, the stable, and the deranged.

Thanks for writing this one, Justine.


Shorter version: “I am the 1%”


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