Justine Musk (moschus) wrote,
Justine Musk

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

-- cross-posted from tribalwriter.com


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.



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