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Is a Scarcity Mentality Holding you back at Work?

Ana Polanco

Is there enough in your life? When someone asks you how you are, what do you respond? I remember being at work in my political job and always telling people I was busy and tired. I was actually busy and tied a lot. But I was also used to saying it and found myself saying I was busy even when I was feeling something else.

Working Late nights and on the weekends have become some sort of societal badge of honor instead of something embarrassing. It helps coworkers interact superficially, avoiding the opportunity for deep connection with others in or out of the workplace. Whether you are busy or not, saying you’re busy and training your mind to say you are busy has a horrible side effect --- a real feeling of scarcity.

Every time you say you’re busy, you are reaffirming that there is not enough time to accomplish what you have set out. Being busy all the time, sends a confusing signal to the neocortex that busy = good. In fact, have you ever caught yourself one upping your coworkers, friends or acquaintances with who’s busier? When someone one ups me about being busy, I usually feel a sense of despair, a sense that there isn’t enough time to get things done and that I’m not as efficient as the person next to me. That feeling sucks.  

Have you stopped breathing as you read this last paragraph? Take a deep breath and reset. The truth is that the idea of scarcity exists in many different aspects of our lives.

In fact, leaders who think and operate from a place of scarcity, often struggle at work. Leaders who think there isn’t enough time, recognition or money to get something done, struggle to be creative, to support other leaders and to support each other in promotions, bonuses or new hires.   

As a first generation college graduate and second generation American, I was also vulnerable to the scarcity mentality. Like everyone else, I come with a whole set of stories and experiences that inform my life. In my case, past experiences with poverty and shortages of home resources had an impact on how I viewed the availability of money, raises and well paying jobs. As a result of these experiences, at times I was vigilant and small in my work.  Overtime and with the help of mentors and coaches, I learned how to let go of these limiting beliefs and become an expansive, abundant and successful leader. 

So how does this scarcity show up at work? Here are some obvious ways it shows up:

  • If only we could erase the word “but” from our vocabulary. I would be rich living on an island of the Coast of Colombia if I had a dollar for every time a person said “I love that idea but there isn’t enough...”
  • Taking all the credit for work done by a team of people
  • Letting one person take accountability for all the mistakes, knowing you and others were also involved
  • Preventing others from getting a promotion, raise because you think there isn’t enough money available or you think it’s you or them.

Here are the less obvious ways you can be operating from a place of scarcity:

  • Refuse to hold another colleague accountable for their bad behavior
  • Avoid having courageous conversations with coworkers and friends
  • Dodge accolades or praise for a job well done  
  • Remaining silent or going unnoticed to avoid sharing emotions

As you can see feelings of scarcity can play a major role in how we share our gifts with the world. The beliefs we have about our role and our emotions can suppress or oppress our own engagement or the leadership of others. Feelings of anger and frustration usually ensue when we hold back our true self.

Fear, anger and frustration are usually gatekeepers for deeper feelings of inadequacy or scarcity in our lives. Instead of looking away from the fear and anger, look past them and see what areas of your life feel insufficient or limited. What are you protecting yourself from?

Putting your finger on these deeper insights can help you unleash your full power and potential as a transformational leader.  Instead of filling up with scarcity, we want to see the abundance and plenitude. Finding abundance in every situation, helps us be more authentic, loving, compassionate and fierce coworkers.  We can engage in more courageous activities, take smart risks and find creative solutions to today's most pressing problems. 

Your turn: What parts of your life feel scarce or incomplete? How can you create an abundant perspective in those areas?

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