Earlier this week, a man named James Altucher started following my other blog on Twitter. As always, when the notice of a new follower hit my in-box at work, I clicked on the person’s name to see if it was someone I should follow back. When I did, I found a link to his blog, The Altucher Confidential.
I don’t know anything about Mr. Altucher, but one post, 10 Unusual Ways to Get Into the Top 1%, contained an idea that really resonated for me. It starts about paragraph six in the post, when Altucher writes, “One investor of mine told me I had a ‘scarcity complex’ – that I always had a strong feeling that I had nothing even when I had many things to be happy about.”
What a great way to describe someone I know. He’s got a scarcity complex. No matter what he has — a wife who loves him and stands by him no matter what, friends who enjoy his company, good health, a home filled with gadgets and books and “things” he once wanted badly, a dog and a little boy who idolize him — he focuses on what he doesn’t have.
As Altucher writes, “The country now has a scarcity complex. ‘The banks took everything.’ ‘The government took everything.’ ‘There are no jobs.’ ‘There is no money’.
“Everyone is in despair. Everyone is scared about feeding their family. Scared and scarred. Greece, Japan, China, Libya, terrorism, Jamie Dimon, Obama, Rick Perry. These are the monsters in the closet at night.”
He’s right. I hear it all the time, from people on all sides of the political spectrum. I think that the scarcity complex is why people are occupying wall street and I think that this idea that “they” (whoever they are) somehow took or hoarded everything that “we” (whoever we are) deserve (or at least want) is where the Tea Party and other particularly selfish and mean-spirited political movements come from.
But this blog post isn’t about politics. It’s about marketing where technology intersects life. And Altucher’s notion of the scarcity complex matters (quite a lot) in the context of both marketing and life. After all, creating the idea of scarcity is a common ploy for marketers — no one did it better than Steve Jobs, who ordered iPhone, iPad, and iPod stocks that were at least 20% below his own sales forecasts in order to ensure lines and “buzz” about new products.
It’s also common to run into people who suffer from the scarcity complex in everyday life. I think it’s all too easy to fall prey to the notion that things would be just perfect if only…. If only I was thinner, richer, younger, living somewhere else, free from a particular worry. And by focusing on the “if only” instead of the good stuff we already have, we wind up being unhappy when we could be happy.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be present in my own life today. And tomorrow, I’ll try to be present, too. To notice the picture our 10-year-old drew at school, and really pay attention to what he wanted to communicate instead of worrying that the half-hour I spend coloring with him will make me miss a deadline at work. To focus on the beautiful fall colors outside instead of the swollen, painful knee that makes me want to crawl back into bed.
I don’t aspire to being among the happiest 1% of the people on the planet, but by ignoring the negative people, places, and things that are out of my control and focusing instead on the things I can control — my own behavior and response to those things — I know that I will avoid the scarcity complex.
I think that the real danger of the scarcity complex is that people get so unhappy that they stop expecting good things to happen — and they miss opportunities because they’re just not paying attention. So I am promising myself to pay attention, and look around me for the good things in life.