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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I really, really hope you're going to put all of these pieces into a book at some point.
This is a great post, thank you!

I've tried -- without success -- to find yr fiction in my local library because I've become interested in yr... story overall. Without knowing you as a fiction writer, I've become increasingly convinced that you're not a fiction writer -- you're a business maven looking for a platform. Which doesn't mean you can't write fiction, of course.

Just does seem to me yr main thrust is something else and again and again, I keep coming back to that "something else" as publishing in this time of the sea change. I think fiction reading is at an all time high -- Ebook reader owners purchase 30% more books than print readers and novels are by far the largest category. And with libraries now lending ebooks this is going even higher. Dunno. I just see you carving out yr own little empire here for some reason.

You know, you're not wrong. My sense of myself + my possibility has gotten more -- expansive -- in the last couple of years, and I'm utterly fascinated with online creative female entrepreneurship (and have discovered a great community of women). I believe that, with the power of platform, you can develop into a writer-entrepreneur who can write her own ticket (and incorporate an element of social good -- cause integration -- at the same time.) (Not everybody will. But some.) And I've used platform -- I really don't know what else to call it -- to develop a stronger sense of audience and connection to them. What I've realized is that my right readers and the genre I was working in before are not in sync. Which is also why I wanted to use platform to create a different, perhaps enlarged perception of myself as a fiction writer.

Develop a strong multi-platform brand, and a direct line to your readership -- why *not* publish other people as well as yourself (even while still working with traditional publishers), which would give new writers access to your readers and your readers an introduction to other writers they would like...?

I'm a fiction writer who recently hired an online business coach and is following her fascination. I have no idea where it will lead (except to more novels), only that whatever it is, I'm extremely driven to do it.

'Media empire' does have a ring to it.
*Searches fruitlessly for the 'like' button*
******me too****
Instead of, or in addition to, teaching Home Economics in junior high and high school, how I wish they'd taught us about true economics, and all practical matters regarding money. I learned to hand-sew a zipper (ever immensely useful!) but not how to play the stock market or learn about money markets or even simple bank accounts. I guess they assumed our husbands would handle all *practical* matters.
First advice is: spend less than you make every year. In your position, this will do wonders, I know, because I mostly live off my past earnings now.

Second advice: make you sure you have a good financial advisor. Tricky part here is that you can't tell the average from good. My suggestion is word-of-mouth recommendation from friends who have been with the same person for at least a decade. Two best things about mine: slightly better than market returns, and keeping me out of trouble, giving me a lecture every time I try to do something funny.

Funny, I feel compeled to read your blog every time I read about your ex. Kind of like yin & yang.
hi justine, i wouldnt have known about you or your blogs if my boy friend didnt send me a link about your ex. hes an engineer and all that stuff i would really rather not write right now.
he was telling me it was inspiring, but i felt, really disturbed. i didnt like the fast cars or that new woman or your divorce. it annoyed me for some reason..
i sort of had this really weird flash before my eyes kinda thing. i admit i am a bit strange, my myers briggs personality is infp. that would proabbly explain everything.
i wish i could be a writer too, i dont have any formal education regarding that so i never tried.
all in all i should be asleep.
just wanna say i like reading your blogs.
This. Oh YES. All of it.
Hey, I just wanted to say I love your blog and how you are open about your breakup of your relationship with a domineering partner. It has helped me deal with the breakup of a similar partner, but with lower status. Thank you so much for being open because it has help me put into perspective that I am not alone.
Hi Justine, just read your manifesto on dating, and it struck a resonant chord. Well-written, insightful and affirming in the way it always is to discover someone else doing a better job than me of arguing something I've been trying to say for years (the line I especially hate is "Play dumb... men are threatened by intelligent women". GAAAAH. In my view, intelligent women should make their intelligence crystal clear to ensure they scare off men who are threatened by intelligent women. Wheat, chaff, sort one from other).

I haven't Friended anyone new (or written regularly) on LJ for years, but I decided you were worth making an exception for!
Accept failure, sometime it is better to accept that to realize things you have done wrong. In order for you to be successful, you also need to think of the past things that doesn't workout well. Its the best way to never take that path again.

Real Estate Investments
An abundance mentality has less to do with what you can create and more to do with how you can unlock the creative potential of others.

One common myth is that wealth is an individual property, that an individual can be wealthy in isolation. Wealth is collective. Your wealth as an individual is dependent on the wealth of others. I'm referring to the pre-capitalist definition of wealth -- health and well being. We are social organisms. Our well-being depends on the well-being of others. Our fates are tied.

Under this definition, someone with a lot of money isn't necessarily wealthy. They just have a lot of money. In fact, money can ruin your well-being. Rich people frequently gate themselves off from others with money and property, thus cutting themselves off from an important source of well-being. In fact, money might be the opposite of wealth.

I consider myself a wealthy person. I have a great family, amazing friends, and I'm healthy and happy. And everyday I get up and have the privilege of helping people be amazing.

I don't have a lot of money. But I'm really, really wealthy.