The ironic abundance of scarcity

I’ve waited in a queue for five hours for limited concert tickets lamenting that the wait was longer than the actual show. I then turned down plentiful tickets to the same band available at half the cost (and half the effort).

I’ve fussily pored over the best looking fruit turning my nose up at a whole shelf of produce; then I’ve been grateful that the seedy late-night convenience store had even one tired looking banana to eat.

I’ve complained about having the same old boring music to listen to but then have been thankful that the Backstreet Boys was on the radio to break an awkward car silence.

I’ve spent all my life with loved ones, at times fighting with them and cursing their luck; then I’ve stood mourning at their casket wishing I could have one more moment with them; I wouldn’t care who was right or wrong at this point.

It’s the same duration of time. It’s the same brain in the same body. It’s even the same action but we value it differently based on the circumstance. It seems that most of us are only faced with genuine motivation and the confidence to take action when we have run out of choices.

Lack of choice is a powerful motivator and we often engineer it to be that way. When we have plenty of time to do our assignment, we value the time as plentiful and thus of low value. When the printer is jamming with twenty minutes to go (despite our own disorganisation), everything else has to wait. It’s now become of high value and we made it that way on purpose.

Only the other day, I was dining with friends and we felt overwhelmed by the choices on the restaurant’s menu. Despite thinking we’d be impressed with the plethora of options, someone finally said “I wish they just had a few things to choose from. I can’t decide.”

A desire for eggs suddenly became a thirty option configuration. It lost its appeal, its value and actually just caused anxiety.

By limiting choice, we actually create one of the most powerful decision influencers in society – scarcity.

Scarcity is a powerful beast. Listed as one of the Six Weapons of Influence by Dr Robert Cialdini, markets are built and destroyed on the ‘scarce value’ of commodities. It’s the supply and demand type logic. Unless you control the market and you can artificially take a common item and create the perception of scarcity. De Beers the diamond conglomerate are possibly the best example of this. Apple would be a close second.

Apple don’t have ‘less’ iPhones, they just choose to make less because you wouldn’t want it as desperately if it was abundantly available. There’s exclusivity, ego and status in obtaining what is scarce.

It’s a fascinating weapon. People spend their life savings to acquire a moment of rarity. Once they possess it, they often attach a lot of meaning, pride and energy to it. After all, if others don’t know of its scarcity, it’s just another worthless painting (or something) to the common man.

Without a second thought, we will work our fingers to the bone; sacrificing our lives, relationships and humanity in order to obtain, protect and serve our obsession with having a moment with scarcity.

Ironically, when we die, that painting lives on. That book collection still sits on the shelf. The diamond ring is lowered into the ground but won’t decay. As we colloquially say about money, “you can’t take it with you.” The remaining living souls then fight each other to inherit the scarcity we dedicated and sacrificed our lives to. The cycle continues not because it has to but instead out of learned behaviour.

Yet the scarcest thing of all – the beats in our heart, the breath in our lungs and the time on our calendar is the thing we give the least consideration or respect to. Well at least until we realise that it too, is running out.

We eat crap, don’t exercise, stress over minutiae and take pride in sleep deprivation. And that’s just how we treat ourselves let alone our neighbour.

This goes on for a while until one day something happens and we get a life check. Then people do silly things to try and reclaim lost time, relationships and experiences to make the most of what time they had left.

I’m constantly fascinated by the world around me and the steady stream of content created about growing, learning, ageing, prioritising and ultimately dealing with regret, loss and death. It seems that since time began, the youth live for tomorrow and the elderly mourn for yesterday. It’s a broken record.

Every few years, we are reminded of our mortality when someone passes and we have our own close shave with death. For some it serves as a life changing wake-up call; others a temporary stirring.

Let’s be frank – most of our days aren’t spent doing life changing work or making life altering decisions. We re-post motivational stories on Facebook as a half-baked attempt of keeping our humanity in check but when faced with the fork in the road, we err toward what feels abundant. We do what is common, popular, easiest and gives us the safest possible existence.

When faced with someone who is doing life changing work, we justify our lives with the worst saying of all time: “it’s a means to an end”. Yep it sure is; the end of your life. I hope that treadmill is comfortable.

It’s of no surprise why most of the world gets to their death bed with a bucket list and index of regrets twice as long. It’s such a common theme they made a movie about it. Remorse is part of our pop culture and just like scarcity, we choose it to be that way.

I’m not asking you to start your assignment earlier or to stop fighting with your siblings. If scarcity is what motivates us to take great action then perhaps it is better than a life of abundant mediocrity.

What I am asking you to do is to be mindful of which circumstances you let scarcity dominate your world.

It’s one thing to get an F or ask for an extension; it’s another to leave spite in your last words to someone you deeply love. It’s an adventure to camp outside of a ticket stall; it’s deep regret to miss your child’s love because you were ‘too busy’ for them.

Things are plentiful; people are scarce. Moments with people that make your heart sing are the scarcest of all especially because they don’t last forever and can’t be repeated. Despite how much money or power you have, you just can’t buy their touch again once its gone.

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