Scarcity and Wealth

I’m having a transition summer. While I’d much rather be out and about, biking instead of driving, wearing tank tops and flip flops, I spend a lot of my time hiding out at home. I’m always tired. I’m always diving in to the deep end, and as I’ve been trying to come up for air, I always rush back in before catching my breath.

I’m at about 40% of my full power. I go to work, and that’s about all I can manage. I 3D print things for people there, and otherwise, I leave everyone alone. I’m at home playing Breath of the Wild with Reno 911 playing alongside on my iPad. I’m sure most people live pretty mellow everyday lives, but it’s always been a challenge for me. There are people I could call up to hang out, but I have very little left over right now. My cup doth not overfloweth.

Scarcity and weatlh. I don't mean being objectively rich or poor, but instead there are the mentalities of thinking you have either much or little, whether it be money, time, friends, food, opportunities, health. In terms of clichés, if you have a day to write 20 letters, you’ll get them all done that day. If you have a week to write one, you’ll take all seven days to write it. Your perspective of how many resources you have affects a lot of domains, and I find that leaning towards scarcity leads to better results. Warren Buffett is famously very frugal as far as billionaires go.

It’s the difference between the day of the job interview and the day you get the offer, after which you start planning purchases and vacations. When you’re super physically attractive like me, sometimes being polite and friendly is too much effort because you’re sick and tired of the attention from all the creeps. I remember a friend telling me about how cheap their dad was. If the price of gas moved up 1 cent, it would just ruin his day, and my friend wouldn’t hear the end of it about how the oil companies were stealing all the money and the government was overtaxing the average working person and on and on. Gas prices are a genuine problem for people with low income, but my friend’s dad did well for himself, so it didn’t make sense why he was so bothered by such an inconsequential change. Perhaps his mentality was too extreme in its scarcity.

I can think of a lot of times when I took on a mentality of wealth and got burned in the end. There was the time Carrie and I were ready to leave our honeymoon in New York to go back home, so we just packed up and left for the airport like 4 hours before our flight just so we wouldn’t run into trouble with traffic or other bad luck. We got through security and everything pretty quickly, so we had something like three hours to burn. We ate, used the bathroom, bought some snacks, chatted, looked at pictures. We thought we had so much time that there was no way we would miss our flights, so we sat by the gate early, where Carrie fell asleep and I got caught up in a video game on my phone. Carrie woke up and asked if we were leaving soon, and I said, “No, doesn’t look like it. This pilot sitting next to me would already be in the plane if we were boarding soon.” She went back to sleep. I eventually looked around and noticed that nobody was getting up to board the plane, and the plane was supposed to leave in a few minutes. I went up to the desk and asked if our flight was late. They asked if we were Jon and Carrie, and when I confirmed that we were, they replied “We’ve been paging you for 30 minutes. The plane just left 3 minutes ago.” Apparently it’s possible to have too much time to board, and as a result of my wealthy mentality, thinking that we had all this time, we had to spend an extra $500 on flights, accomodations, and food.

I used to think I was on top of the world. I had a strong, tight-knit family. I still had both of my parents. We had a strong Christian upbringing, bolstered by the Asian values of family and honour. I received a proper education from the top high school in Canada and then from an average Canadian university. I had tons of friends, I was smart, I was tall, dark, and slightly above average-looking. I found the love of my life at the tender age of 16, and I had a solid office job with good salary, benefits, and vacation. I acted in a way that was consistent with my bougie identity at the time, so I spent money on the nicer sets of IKEA furniture. I spent a ton of money on toys. We traveled to distant lands and went to expensive music festivals. When I first moved to Calgary, I got a place with a second bedroom because I wanted to share the wealth with people who needed a place to crash in the city.

After counselling, I now realize how many challenges I actually faced growing up. I was sexually abused as a child. I was emotionally abused for years by my family. I couldn’t manage my stress and anxiety as a young adult. I had the symptoms of PTSD, experiencing hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares. Last year, I couldn’t work anymore, and I lost my support system. I turned to simple pleasures and partying to feel better, which only made me feel worse. In those situations, you need to deal with all of the mounting problems, but you don’t feel strong enough to do it. You party to feel better and to restore your strength, but the late nights and drinking make you feel worse than before. If you decide to face the problems head on and skip out on the fun, you can easily push yourself so far out of your comfort zone that you need to turn back to the simple pleasures again. In those times, there is no winning, only losing more slowly.

A habit I picked up from my youth was diving in to the deep end completely to overcome big challenges. That was all well and good when I was a kid, defiant and invincible, having no real responsibilities. We were always reminded in school that we could be anything we wanted if we put our minds to it, and I took that to mean I could do everything at the same time at any age. Most problems can easily be dealt with if you’re betting your whole life on it, going all-in at every turn. Then your luck eventually runs out and you lose big. It’s a highly inefficient system, but it gets you a quick little boost early in the game. I don’t have a problem writing the cheques, but it’s starting to hurt more and more when it comes time to cash them.

I dive in because I feel like I have endless energy. I used to. Now I’m bankrupting myself and getting into trouble. From a previous post, I resolved to patiently wait until I knew when to move on. I’ve learned that once I feel jittery and anxious to leave, the right time is generally double the time I already waited. What I’m doing now is building up my strength again until I’m ready to dive in again. Last week, I took some sick days to recover from the common cold, and I did absolutely nothing. Laid in bed, listened to some music. I fought every instinct and reflex, to watch TV, to make 3D models and prints, to read, to do my morning yoga. It was very difficult. I learned long ago that relaxation is an active process, but it’s almost at the point where it stresses me out to not stress myself out. When I feel like I have an abundance of energy, I pick up projects and hobbies, sleeping less. Recognizing that I don’t have any leftover energy has helped me stop spending what I don’t have.

Even though I’m making half as much money as I did a few years back, Carrie and I are getting by great. Dual income, no kids. I could compare myself to friends who are making more than the two of us combined, or we could live within our means. I’m not at full strength right now, and there are too many things I want to do for my health, ie. humidifier, yoga, rolling out my locked-up muscles, flossing, nasal rinsing, moisturizer, eating less, sleeping more, writing every week, etc. A customer told me how he doesn’t ask for much in life. He works hard, doesn’t gamble, doesn’t drink or smoke, so he has money leftover to buy a nice iPhone and to take care of his kids. Similarly, I’m not suffering from being around certain people anymore. I don’t have any limbs missing. My organs aren’t failing on me. I’m not being abused anymore, so with the little that I feel like I have right now, it turns out that I’m actually rich.

Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting--and conflict. (Proverbs 17:1)

I always seem to think that I'm not productive enough. I'm not really sure what I'm so afraid of happening if I’m idle. Am I traumatized from a past event where I didn’t do enough? Clearly I'm very productive, but it’s a deeply ingrained fear. Why? I never really seem to have an answer as to what will happen if I don’t keep myself busy. It’s apparently a fact that anything less than maximum capacity is the worst possible thing I can do. For that matter, I seem to feel like it’s terrible to think highly of myself, even when it’s warranted, for fear that I’ll have an incorrect view of myself. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, where now I have an inaccurately low opinion of myself and my abilities, but somehow that inconsistency hasn’t clicked in yet. I’m afraid of taking on a wealthy mentality with respect to my self-worth, and maybe that’s in response to growing up around narcissists. My brain has already registered that I’m productive enough and that I’m not worthless as a person, but my heart hasn’t gotten those messages because I keep throwing away the fan mail.

It’s tempting to relax for a long time. Instead, I have better luck when I’m always on my toes. Constant vigilance. Otherwise, I get lazy and complacent, and then I’ll miss something critical. Like most things I write about, it’s a hard way to live when you’re at either extreme, but you gotta find that fine balance, which changes depending on the situation. However, instead of generally finding balance somewhere in the middle, I think it’s better to lean towards the scarce mentality, like 60/40. “That way, I have a better appreciation for the little I do have,” he typed from his brand new iPad Pro.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le