The Paradigm of Plenty

bride standing alone under trees
A few weeks ago, I had the huge honor of having a piece published on my favorite website (this one!). It was a loving meditation about my husband, our vibe, and a few of the nice little things I enjoy about our relationship. It was written in the second person because I was writing a letter to myself to read on a fictional future day when I might be worried about my relationship being good enough, because I am a person who can get worried about such things. I also worried about how to frame it so that people would know that it was profoundly personal, and no comment on any other relationship. At the end of the day I knew that the post was honest and true. I hit send and hoped it was good enough.

But, exposing a piece of yourself—and especially something that you hold dear—to The Internet is difficult. I felt anxious about it all day. When I saw “How To Be In Love” on the screen, I felt a little thrill… but then I began beating myself up over turns of phrase, anxious that it wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t writer enough to have it out there. I psyched myself up for the equivalent of Internet Crack: The comment-o-thon. And then the refreshing began. I clicked that little recycle sign in my browser over and over (andoverandoverandoverandover) about a million times, getting my hit of comments/affirmation as the sun slowly burned its way around the earth. The whole thing reached kind of a fever pitch in the evening (my time), with me laughing and crying and feeling generally extremely wrung out. Brian asked me if I was high because my eyes looked so glassy and red. (Internet Crack, I tell you!) By the time I went to bed the comments had slowed. A final burst came through the next morning. I might have woken up to hit refresh at 4:00 a.m.—not saying I did, just saying I might have.

And then there was round two. A week or so later (after clearing it with me) Maddie wrote a about her reaction to my post—which, for the record, I loved and related to. Round two was harder. Most people said thoughtful things—even if they couldn’t relate to the specifics of what I’d written, or it made them feel uncomfortable. I felt honored that they engaged with the piece enough to think about it and comment. Some people didn’t like the style of the writing, or didn’t connect with the content, and that’s totally cool. It would be a very boring world if we all shared my taste in literature, love, and men.

But there were a few people who felt affronted—even offended—by “How To Be In Love” and they took round two as an invitation to lash out. It being APW, the lashing was smart and subtle—cloaked in irony, intellectualism, and cutting wit. There was a common thread running through it which surprised me: that the piece—and by extension, my marriage—was sickening, disingenuous, ridiculous, false, a lie. Several people were nauseated by the sap. Others eye-rolled. A final straggler said my marriage was messed up if I was too ashamed to be myself.

For such a light piece—I have written far more difficult/controversial things for APW—the scene got surprisingly heavy, and it got me thinking. While I wanted to blow it off with some derision of my own (specifically: “Haters be Hatin'”) that didn’t feel quite right—nor quite true. I thought I recognized something sad, serious, and familiar in the emotion behind those comments.

For all of our celebration of diversity and pride in our individualism here on APW, we can’t help but compare ourselves, searching for benchmarks that will let us know how we measure up. I recognize something that haunts me: fear that what I have/do/am is not enough.

But this, like all of my pieces, is not about other people. It is a piece about me. I am a writer, an artist, a mother, a stepmother, a wife, a lover, an MBA student, a boss, a sister, a daughter, a friend—and so much more. And although I know (in my head) that I’m generally doing a bang up job with life, in my heart, I often worry about having/doing/being enough in every single one of those facets of my being, and I feel like I should have/do/be more.

I worry about letting down feminism, disappointing my mother, impressing my neighbors, excelling at work, being liked by my professors, and remaining irresistible to my husband. I want my kids’ teachers to think I’m a good mom. Hell, I even want the guards at the gate of my apartment complex to think that I’m a MILF. Sometimes I walk out of my house feeling invincible, but all too often, I am plagued with a doubt I am careful to hide behind a façade of smiling confidence… it is an exhausting tilt-a-whirl ride.

There appears to be black hole of fear inside of many of us where quiet self-confidence should live. For me it manifests in the haunted feeling that it’s just a matter of time before I am discovered for the fraud that I really am. Somehow (the mantra goes), I must have everybody tricked, because I’m not really good enough for all of this good in my life to be real. I’m not sure I can trust it. When I look at it written down like that, it doesn’t even make sense. But I have spent enough time here on APW to know I’m not alone in any of this.

At best, that feeling drives me like a hot iron poker to achieve stuff and keep the illusion alive a bit longer. At worst, it has driven me to want to make happy people feel like I’m feeling in those moments of self-doubt (e.g., by making condescending comments about unicorns crapping marshmallows, and wittily poking holes in the confidence of others to bring them down a notch). At its most shameful, I have found myself relieved (or even smug) when others have it “worse” than me. I guess that means I’m winning somehow? That I’m now one step closer to being the valedictorian of adulthood? The affirmation is a drug—I’m addicted to it because it lets me know I’m still okay, still getting away with it. Yeah. Shameful, messed up shit. Talk about dragging something putrid into the light to cleanse a wound.

Being an intellectual person, I find this distorted and destructive internal monologue simultaneously shameful and fascinating. What is the root cause of this pervasive sense of insecurity among some of the most fabulous women I know? And how can we turn this shit wagon around?

Well, after doing a bunch of searching in a bunch of different “-ologies,” I have a theory. I think insecurity boils down to believing, deep down, that we live in a competitive universe where there is not enough to go around.* This belief in a scarcity paradigm is bigger than seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty… it is about whether or not there’s water enough to refill the glass—and whether you believe that filling up your glass empties another glass somewhere.

This cultural backdrop probably finds its roots in the historical Calvinist belief that worldly success was a sign of God’s (limited and scarce) favor. Unlike cultures that venerate humility and renunciation of worldly goods as a sign of spiritual evolution, we venerate those with power and riches. Overlaid on this backdrop is a school system that relentlessly classifies us along a statistical normal distribution curve. It’s no wonder that we believe that the only way to know how we’re doing is to figure out how we stack up compared to everybody else.

The paradigm is further reinforced by marketers who tell us over and over that there is not enough (of anything, really) to go around (supplies are running out!). It’s an implied threat that sells stuff, for sure, as it tickles a little survival switch in our lizard brain that fears famine. The more we believe that stuff is scarce and the more worried we are that we won’t get something that we need, the faster we buy it (and the more we pay for it). The logic goes like this: What is rare is valuable! And to be fair, there are a lot of examples where this is true. Gold. Professorships in our hometowns. Female CEOs.

But here’s the rub—and the source of our suffering: the inverse is not necessarily true, though we tend to believe it is. What is valuable is not necessarily rare.

When I think about the things that I truly and deeply value—Love, Discovery, Courage, Creativity (among others)—I realize that they aren’t really rare at all—or they don’t have to be. There are endless wells of these resources, waiting to be tapped and unleashed. Now, I am assuming a basic level of health and safety here, and there are lots of examples of things that are both valuable and rare. But if I buy into the idea that the most valuable things are rare, then life becomes a very ugly competition indeed as your good somehow must take away from my opportunity for good. And this, my friends, is where we turn the shit wagon around. We can embrace the idea that we live in a universe where the most valuable things are abundant and where success is absolute—not relative.

Now I’m not saying we should go crazy on our credit cards because the bills will magically get paid by unicorns. But I have found that when I am able to put on a pair of abundance-tinted glasses and act as if there is enough good to go around, I feel much more peaceful and joyful, and everything gets easier. Instead of hording, I start to share, and more often than not, I get back far more than I give. Instead of feeling self-conscious and judgmental and defensive, I become uninhibited, curious, and inspired by that which is different than me. This openness makes me more creative. I begin to see society’s expectations as interesting, but kind of arbitrary, and thus adopt the elements that serve my personal journey of growth, reinforce the things I truly value, and support my moral code.

In my head the plenty paradigm sounds like this: “I love my body enough to eat healthy food and go to the gym, and I’ll feel so good afterwards!” Instead of “I am disgusting, but if I beat that pretty bitch showing off on the treadmill, maybe I can leave here feeling okay.” It also sounds like this: “I really appreciate the way that Maddie’s husband listens to her when she is upset, and I love the way Meg’s David rips up a dance floor.” I can admire other decisions/weddings/marriages without making them a referendum on my own—and I believe that their goodness makes mine even better. I can appreciate the moms who make gorgeous bento box lunches, and copy their ideas for a special birthday treat—instead of cowering in the dark certainty that because I brought Oreos late to the bake sale I am clearly a fraud.

The APW editors’ response to the comment referendum on my work was the “How To Be In Love Open Thread.” And it was a beautiful example of the plenty-paradigm in practice. After reading all of those tangled bits of loveliness, I remembered how my husband always fills out the forms for me before I go to the airport—and I got new ideas for how we can show love (insert me singing Tenacious D’s “That’s F-ing TEAM WORK” and fist-bump bombing). It’s a small shift, but the change is profound, and when I manage to put myself in that universe of possibility the feeling that I have/am/do enough after all tends to follow suit.

It may very well be an unavoidable part of our nature to desire and acquire, to compare and to doubt—we are a social species steeped in culture of consumption, and we are thoughtful searchers. But I can’t help but think we would actually live better, have more of what we want, do more of what we enjoy, and be more of what we truly value, if we could just say—and believe with every fiber of our beings: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and SO AM I!

*The United States and most European countries share a competitive and individualistic orientation, but this orientation is not at all universal. Many cultures have a collaborative and/or collectivist orientation that emphasizes social harmony and discourages extreme individuation. Moreover, many cultures venerate ascetics and the renunciation of worldly goods as a sign of spiritual evolution.

Since leaving NYC’s glossy magazine editorial world in 1999, Manya has been living in Sub-Saharan Africa trying to be useful raising money for, designing, and managing public health projects. Manya (who is an American) currently lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya with her beloved husband, Brian, and two daughters, aged 14 and 7. 


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  • Manya, I always enjoy your writing. Thank you for another lovely, thoughtful post. Your level of self-awareness and thoughtfulness inspires me. On my better days I definitely subscribe to the notion of plenty. One of my core beliefs is that the universe is abundant and plentiful and there is enough to go around. However, on my not so better days, I fall into the trap of comparison. Usually it is with people that I am really close to. I feel like I don’t measure up and they are doing so much better than me. I just have to remind myself that we are all on our own journeys and everything comes in its own time, that I am fine, and I practice gratitude, which pulls me back up.

  • Claire

    This piece really resonated with me, especially the part of the black hole of fear where self confidence should live. I clearly remember my first day of grad school, as my fellow students were introducing themselves and their backgrounds, I was thinking, “there must have been some administrative error that let me slip into this program with all these awesome people. I don’t measure up to these people around me. It’s only a matter of time before they discover the mistake and realize I’m not actually smart/accomplished/good enough to be here and kick me out.”

    • Astro A

      The post right below identifies the imposter syndrome, which is exactly what you’re describing. I’m a grad student in astronomy, and folks really are starting to talk about the imposter syndrome. Here’s a great post by a faculty member who has been generally awesome in publicly discussing issues of depression, anxiety, and the imposter syndrome (along with issues of family and minorities/women in the sciences) and how it plays out for someone in academia.

      I think it’s still really relevant all over the place, as Manya has shown us, and it’s so important for people to realize that you aren’t the only one feeling this way. I hadn’t heard of it, but I was totally feeling it from day one of grad school, too, and was floored to hear it was a real THING that other people did, too.

      • Class of 1980

        I’ve been reading about “imposter syndrome” for decades. They used to talk about it in women’s magazines wayyyy back.

        It’s universal.

  • Impostor syndrome, man. Why do we all have it?

    • One More Sara

      I didn’t even realize it had a name… I think it comes from thinking that my teachers, parents and other various adults in my life had it all figured out when I was young (a kid/teen). The older I get, the more I realize that they were probably just as clueless about everything as I am now (of course not before some major bouts of self-doubt). Perhaps if we as adults are more honest with young people about not knowing all the answers, they won’t feel bad about not having all the answers when they grow into young adults.

      • mmouse

        I teach primary students and, each year, there are a handful of startled kids the first time they hear me say “I don’t know.” to answer a question. Sometimes it’s genuine and sometimes it’s to instigate the inquiry process. Oftentimes it’s not even about learning at all, like when they see me buying a school lunch and I admit I forgot my lunch at home. I agree that it’s powerful to see an adult figure admit they don’t know *everything* (although, they should project enough self-confidence to make kids feel safe).

        • I couldn’t agree more with this. I teach struggling readers and am never shy about telling them that I had a really hard time with math in school. They need to know that everyone struggles with something. One time, I had a student tell me that I couldn’t understand because I was probably perfect at everything. So I showed her the huge scab from where I’d just skinned my knee at 20-whatever years old. Kids really do need to see that we’re all imperfect, all still learning.

    • Copper

      For myself a lot of it is that I only ever heard praise of intrinsic qualities as a kid, not praise of effort. I got good grades because I was so smart, not because I worked hard. Talent was praised, not skill. Beauty was praised, not style. So I truly grew up believing that there were naturally haves and have-nots, that some people were born as the favored few that had everything that society wanted, and some of us were just never going to measure up no matter what. Since I identified as one of the have-nots in a lot of areas, my own success surprises me, it feels like a mistake, because I’m not the sort of person the world loves on some basic level.

      • mmouse

        In college I took a psychology course that spent a LOT of time talking about intrinsic vs. extrinsic values & praise. It’s kinda a big deal. Praise tends to be given very generously, without much thought behind the words or there purpose. “You’re so smart!” instead of “You thought really hard about that problem, I like the way you did XYZ to solve it!” And when it comes to body image issues for girls, geez. I read an article a while ago that got me to stop complimenting little girls on their appearance and talk to them instead about their interests. If I do comment on looks, I try to keep it to things like “I like the way you matched the colors in your outfit today.”

        • I heard a piece on NPR that looked at Western vs. Eastern education. In Western education, you’re praised for being bright or not, while in Eastern education, the norm is to be praised for working diligently to find the answer.

          • mmouse

            Manya brought it up a little in her piece, but our (American) education system really plays into the idea of comparing each other for worth. The whole idea of standardized tests is based on a blanket statement of being “smart” enough and gives little consideration for perseverance and other important life skills.

            It’s disheartening for me as a public school teacher, but I’m going to work hard to fit the idea that there is Plenty into my classroom!

        • Copper

          MMouse, I’m sure you’re right that it’s not intentional. I’m sure my parents just thought of things generically, “giving a compliment” not complimenting what someone does vs what they are. But yeah, “I love the way you did you hair!” is so much more accessible and supportive than “You have the most beautiful hair color!” because anybody can spend the time and learn to do their hair in a nice way, but we don’t all start with the same raw materials to work with. And that beautiful hair color will fade and then that person will be distraught because they think they’ve lost something very valuable. It’s taken me til nearly 30 to really begin to internalize the idea that I can make the best of what I’ve got instead of give up because I’m focused on what I’ll never have.

          • mmouse

            Oh yeah, I totally think those types of compliments come from a place of love and kindness. It’s part of our culture, albeit one with hidden side-effects.

      • The book “Mindset” is about this and it totally changed the way I think about myself and my capabilities. A lot of our generation was subject to the parenting advice of making sure your kid had high self-esteem, and so I heard a LOTof “you’re so smart/good at X/pretty/whatever” from my mom (which is totally not her fault!). But so as a result, I often would quit things immediately if I wasn’t good at them my first shot, and my negative talk tended to be of the “jeez I’m dumb” kind instead of the “jeez I messed up” kind.

        Anyways, highly highly recommended. There was also an Atlantic article about this a few years ago, which is where I found the name of the researcher who also wrote this book. Carol something (not like I’m on the internet right now and could google it, I’m lazy).

        • Melissa

          I had, and still struggle with, this exact problem. If something doesn’t come to me easily upon first try, I usually just give up. I’m working–though not as hard as I could, or maybe should be to stop quitting because something requires work in a way that I don’t easily excel at.

        • Katie Mae

          Carol Dweck.
          I love Mindset too. +1.

    • Not Sarah

      The best days are when male coworkers say “I am so glad you’re solving this problem and not me because I have no idea where to even start.” That makes me feel so much better about my own abilities!


    First off, thank you, Manya, for this thoughtful series of posts. I don’t think I’ve commented our your previous ones, but I loved your insights and the conversation they inspired.

    I recently listened to a podcast that advocated applying the paradigm of plenty to business activity. And while I wanted to like the optimistic message, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at it and think “BUT WHAT ABOUT REALITY?!” There seemed to be so many ways that business competition are a zero sum game–especially when the emphasis is on consumable resources–that I couldn’t really get away from a scarcity mindset.

    That being said, I absolutely love the application of the paradigm of plenty here. Applying the paradigm to the intangibles of life–love, friendship, work ethic, special talents, etc–is a great way to create infinite resources and is not limited by the physical realities of life. I think this a great way of having an optimistic outlook while still having a realistic one. Cultivating the good doesn’t mean ignoring the bad–it’s just a way to give our lives a productive, positive focus.

    • meg

      Mmm. Interestingly, I don’t think so, and most of the successful and happy business women I know don’t think so. My core business belief is that there is no such thing as competition. If I do what I do to the best of my ability, I have zero competition, because no one else can be me (or my company). If I start trying to copy other people, then I’m going to have a competition problem. Because of that, I have a great relationship with my closest “competitors.”

      Ariel and OBB and I share business information and tips all the time, for example. If I get an advertiser that’s not a great fit here, sometimes I send them to OBB. If we have a really successful advertiser that needs to branch out beyond us, I often send them to OBB. Plus, I can turn to Ariel for business advice when I can’t turn to anyone else, because we’re in the same niche (more or less). Sure, yes, in theory I’m in competition with OBB. But A) We’re doing different things content-wise, B) We have different business models, C) We end up with lots of different advertisers (with some overlap because people get business from both of us). D) Readers either read both (I was a hard core OBB reader when I was engaged, as was most of the APW staff), or naturally fit with one or the other, which is as it should be. There are a TON of businesses that have started inspired by the APW community, for example. Hence, no competition, and that means this community has made the world a little better… made more plenty, really.

      And I have a great relationship with most/all the major bloggers in the Bay Area. Not only that, we routinely share cold hard numbers. Why? A rising tide lifts all boats. The stronger the industry, the better we all do. The less we’re undercutting each other, the more serious the industry becomes, and the more we all make.

      But it’s not just me. Every photographer and wedding planner etc in my circle (and there are LOADS) that does really well has the same mindset. We’ve got two wedding photographers on staff: Emily and Maddie. They both do super well, are good friends, and don’t think of themselves in competition. Why? They both work hard to figure out who THEY are as artists and do THAT. Hence, they both do bang up business, and have zero competitive overlap. Beyond that, they refer potential clients to each other if they see a client is really right for the other person, not them. That frees them up to take the right client for them.

      So yup. The more I focus on the paradigm of plenty in business, the better I do. And not in any hippy dippy way. I’m not very hippy dippy. In a cold hard numbers kind of way.

      • KC

        I agree with this in a lot of business fields, but it’s important to note that there really is scarcity sometimes (see: local bookstores closing because people are buying books online. see: some small towns which can literally only support one florist/bakery/etc.). When the resources-used are in fact butting up against resources-available (oil; low-cost but decent apartments in SF; employees skilled at a particular technology who are willing to work at a particular price point; jobs; people who are willing to pay a lot of money for gem-encrusted shoes; political appointments), then you really do have scarcity going on.

        What you then emotionally *do* with/about that scarcity and your theoretical competitors is your choice, though; your friend got the promotion (or job!) you wanted and that you were both candidates for? You can be happy for them or jealous/angry/diminished or… ?

        But yes, obviously, making up scarcity when it doesn’t exist, or pretending there’s competition when you’re actually serving different markets (or when it’s potentially a both/and that can boost both of you, as with OBB)… well, making up negativity is not helpful for the individual or the community. And I think it’s awesome that you’re going for the teamwork model instead of the catfight model. :-)

      • Manya

        Meg, I have had the same experience. I started my own business three years ago and my biggest “competitor” actually threw me my first job. At the time I couldn’t believe her generosity because we were working in the identical same space. But lo and behold, there was way too much work for either of us to handle, and we traded jobs all the time. It was truly a situation of “a rising tide lifts all boats” and as we did good work, we actually created a market for our services. It was very cool. Abundance paradigm in action.

      • Kumquat

        Not sure if you and Manya are familiar with SARK’s book Prosperity Pie, but she definitely talks about the scarcity vs abundance paradigm in life and business:

    • The scarcity mindset was a huge, terrifying thing for me for quite a while in my business; when I first started I could only find one other person doing what I am doing; now even some of the big album companies with huge staffs are in on the game. And people don’t tend to buy more than one wedding album!

      What eventually pulled me out of it, on a purely practical level, is figuring out how what I had to offer was different. One of my local indie bookstores is flourishing, and they do lots of things the big box stores and amazon don’t, particularly in terms of personal service, and promoting locally relevant authors.

      I also figured out what I suck at, and where I should send people who need that, which oddly was incredibly reassuring, because it really drove home that different clients really need different things, and so of course I don’t need to try and serve *all* of them.

      (Of course, dealing with the fact that I’m not the rocket scientist everyone expected, *that* I don’t have a handle on. But I’m working on it.)

    • I work in the oil and gas industry. Yeah. Some things really are a zero sum game. Even if you believe that we’re no where near as close to Peak Oil as some claim, there are limits. And you can only hire say, one company for your multi-million dollar frac job. You hire company A, and company B has to let people go, because there is literally only so much work out there in a given field. There aren’t unlimited megabucks floating around to constantly throw around, especially in our very cyclical boom and bust industry. (Oh, sure, ideally it would be less volatile, but until someone figures out how to smooth out oil and gas prices, jobs are at the mercy of the huge market forces that no one can control.)

      Life isn’t zero sum, all business isn’t zero sum. That’s a very good thing to keep in mind. But some things really are zero sum, and it’s important to remember that as well.

  • May

    For me, it is less about feeling like a fraud, and more of a sense of utter bewilderment. What did I do to get so lucky in life? I am not a better person, no kinder or more charitable than the next person. I see my friends going through their battles (lost jobs, lost partners, lost health) and I thank God every day for my lot in life – but it’s the randomness of it all that makes me feel undeserving and unworthy.

    • Yeah. I really hear you on this one. I have worked for many years with some of this planet’s most marginalized people, and it’s really hard for me to wrap my soul around the iniquities and injustices that are the hallmark of our world (including the utter arbitrariness of the relative privilege in my life). I really hear you.

  • I absolutely think you’re on to something with your theory, Manya.

  • Kelsey

    Reminds me of my favorite yoga teacher riddle: “What would you do if you had an unlimited supply of the one thing that everybody wants, and when you give it away, it multiplies?”

    • meg


  • Rachel

    Great post, Manya!

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people characterize competition among women. There is often this attitude of “Ugh, I don’t know why women do this to each other!” and I’ve been thinking lately that….women are not dumb. There MUST be a good reason that so many women feel so competitive. And I think it’s because — rightly or wrongly — we believe in the scarcity model. We’ve all felt the effects of it. The idea that there can only be one woman “at the top” in any given area is constantly reinforced…because, as you said, sometimes there really IS only one woman at the top, and it seems like she gets all the opportunities, all the attention, all the reward. So for me, another aspect of the paradigm of plenty is also taking a look at the systems that keeps scarcity the reality for so many women. I think fighting the good feminist fight so there truly is plenty to go around is an important aspect of this.


      Excellent point. As soon as I saw the “female CEO” mentioned as something rare and valuable, something started to slide into place. Rachel, your point finished that movement off. Of course we believe in the scarcity model. I can only imagine that this is stronger for minority women, as the “one slot to fill” idea is more pronounced, especially in industries like fashion.
      As long as it’s rare and special that women make it to the top of anything, this idea is going to continue to be ingrained. And women are going to continue to see each other as a competitor instead of a colleague.

      • Oh wow, this is really interesting. I want to think more about this, because I have recently seen some pieces on how women do better in the workplace when they help each other (now I need to hunt them down and rethink about them in the context of these comments). Perhaps by believing in the “one-slot shot” and behaving badly towards one another we actually perpetuate the situation instead of calling bullshit on it. THANK YOU for giving me another dimension to consider.

        • when you find them, will you share them please?

    • Emily

      I agree, the scarcity model makes sense. I also wanted to throw another (half-formed) theory into the ring.

      (Warning, stereotypes coming. But hear me out.) While men often feel successful when they accomplish things alone, women are often more community-driven. We talk out our problems with friends and family and try to use their experience and opinions to help form our own and decide what’s important. Together. This is why we are (again with the stereotypes) often more willing to ask for help.

      It’s all well and good when you live in the 1800s and your community is the seven women in your town. But nowadays, our community is sometimes the Internet–ie, the whole world. And we look to every women for inspiration on how we should be ourselves. “Oh, she works. I should do that. Oh, she stays home. I should do that. Oh, she cooks fancy meals. I should do that. Oh, she wears stripes. I should do that.” And we drive ourselves crazy because on the Internet you can never see the forest for the trees–no one can do All The Things, but we try to do it ourselves, and we get pissed when someone else seems to be pulling it off.

      • Class of 1980

        Dissenting voice here – I don’t think the backlash against Manya’s piece is because of scarcity thinking. I think it’s because our society is so rigid in its models of what life should look like, and it’s lack of imagination.

        I constantly see derision on the Internet whenever anyone famous has anything to say about their relationships or life choices. If the readers don’t “get it” personally, the person is subject to ridicule.

        A lot of people have a narrow idea of what a successful relationship looks like. But if there’s one thing life has shown me, it’s that successful relationships comes in many flavors.

        There are couples who have made a lot of mistakes, but who manage to overcome them. There are couples who do everything “right”, but who can’t stay together.

        There are going to be couples who never fight and who are very mushy with each other. There are also going to be couples who fight like cats and dogs and then make up like nothing ever happened.

        That last example came from a memoir my mom recently wrote about her early life. Her parents were friends with a couple who were known for their knock-down-drag-out fights, and for finishing the fight and walking out of the room hand-in-hand like love birds.

        Who is to say what the model of a successful relationship looks like?

        • k

          I remember reading a very interesting article a looong time ago about a study that basically found that what mattered in a relationship far more than whether you fought or how you fought was whether you fought the same way. That is, two people who yelled and screamed and made up were happy, and two people who talked things out logically were happy, and two people who avoided confrontation by venting to friends or going running were happy, but when a yeller was married to an avoider or a talk-it-all-out person, they were not happy because it was hard to impossible to process things in a way that worked for them.

          I have definitely had at least one huge crush that I never acted on because I was close enough to the person to know that the way they fought would never have worked for me.

        • Rachel

          “I constantly see derision on the Internet whenever anyone famous has anything to say about their relationships or life choices. If the readers don’t ‘get it’ personally, the person is subject to ridicule.” Ugh…ain’t that the truth.

    • KC

      I also agree that a scarcity model contributes to wanting to pull people down, but I think there are additional “rational” reasons for this terrible behavior.

      For one thing, I think there’s an element of “we’re all judged by the visible ones” – so those on top *had better* perform so well that not even the worst misogynistic creeps can negatively judge them (and hence us), which is also obviously not a realistic standard. I suspect this is an element in a lot of in-group shredding – “you’re representing us badly!” – from other groups I’ve seen.

      When a group is a majority, there’s not nearly the pressure to be “right” or perfectly representative all the time at being “the X one” (female in a mostly-male field, religious or racial or cultural minority, handicapped, etc.), because if there are lots of other “specimens” available for observation, people are less likely to assign attributes to your group based solely on your individual actions. (plus, stereotypes self-reinforce with additional data: see XKCD:

      This is maddening, but it also makes some sense, since humans build patterns based on available data (whether it’s good data or data from sitcom input…) and their available data is pretty limited, so actually, yes, other people in “your group” can affect opinions of you, however unfair that is on an individual level.

      There’s probably even more layers going on, too. Interesting stuff.

      • “I suspect this is an element in a lot of in-group shredding – “you’re representing us badly!” – from other groups I’ve seen.”

        While I’d agree that the pressure is there, how awful is that when you think about it? If a woman wants to follow an unusual or high powered career, or does something incredibly big where she is in the public eye somehow having the pressure of representing all women just isn’t fair. It takes an awfully brave person to face that head on, and to shoot for her goals even knowing that’s the sort of pressure she’ll face.

        • KC

          Oh, absolutely. Things don’t have to be okay-at-all, systemically, to be rational/logical/the-way-things-work (see “poorer people live in areas of cities more prone to flooding due to that being the only place they can afford to live, and hence lose everything more frequently than rich people” – seriously, what? Not okay.).

          How to fix those things that are-that-way and are really totally unfair… well, those are always interesting questions.

          This particular one could, I think, be mitigated by people everywhere working harder at remembering that a sample size of “one” is insufficient for generalization, by having that sample size *be* greater than one (non-token diversity), and by more careful media treatment (media that doesn’t unduly weight things or that doesn’t assign X action by a particular person to their gender).

          But yes, those who are willing to stick themselves out there anyway, despite fear and probable mudslinging, are pretty impressive to me. Personality type/experience/training can help with not taking things as personally (some people can’t cope with firing people *at all*; others don’t lose any sleep over it; so not everything affects everyone identically), but that only goes so far!

      • KTMARIE

        I heart XKCD! Excellent reference

      • Hannah B

        Wow….it just kind of hit me that this is a big way racism and sexism are related. Or, probably, the heart of bigotry. I was taught that one of the benefits of white privilege is never having to be “the” unwilling or unwitting standard by which another person of your race will be judged. Like you point out, women are often in the position of representing “all of us”…something we know is impossible. And since we’re awesome we get mad when someone fails and our names are on the line. Interesting!

    • meg

      You know, it’s interesting. In my mid-20’s, when I was working in arts organizations, I made the stated decision that I wasn’t going to take another job with a woman boss (and I felt pretty terrible saying that). What was happening over and over was this: the bosses I had were in their 40s or 50s, and they had come up through the ranks in NYC arts institutions where it was TRULY a scarcity model for women. Only one women was going to make it as a token, period. So what happend is that instead of supporting younger women coming on, they would SHRED you. It sucked to the point that you’d lock yourself in the bathroom crying. After a few rounds of this, it became really clear what the problem was, but also that I couldn’t keep living it on the day to day. So I switched to working for men (better…)

      But now because of those experiences, as a boss of all women, I’m SUPER focused on what I need to do to be a feminist boss, and support women coming up through the ranks. I train my staff to give opinions, and back them up. I work with them to meet their specific goals but then go beyond them by playing to their strengths. I make them ask for their own raises, and then often make them ask AGAIN when they under-ask. I may only be affecting a teeny tiny handful of women, but it feels like what I can do.

      So, yes, I couldn’t agree more, Rachel. We have to keep working on the systems that are creating a false scarcity model for women, because they tear us all down, and make us the worst versions of ourselves.

      • KC

        I find that working for people who do not feel like they have to Prove Something is happier all-around. :-)

        But that is one legacy – from “quotas” or whatever – that those who are “in” often want to make extra double certain sure that you are so good and so tough that no one will be able to say that women in X business are only there because of quotas. Which sometimes leads to helpful mentoring, but more frequently leads to destruction (since, also, hazing is sort of self-perpetuating – I had to suffer to get in, so you’re going to suffer just as much? I admit I don’t get the logic on that one, but I’ve seen it enough that I think it does happen.).

      • Manya

        This is interesting Meg. I worked for a NIGHTMARE of a boss who was a woman in her 50s and she was absolutely intent on shredding. Your post has given me a new way of understanding what might have been going on there.

      • I had the same experience working in a law firm – the women partners would shred you and I liked working for the men. Now, 10ish years later, the women I am working for are younger and a lot more collaborative. It is so much better. If (When!) I am a boss, I will consciously be supportive.

      • are you *sure* you don’t need to hire more of us?

      • KEA1

        I had a sense of this at my all-women’s alma mater, especially in the sciences: the value judgments on grades and on career goals, all this coming *from the faculty*, could be absolutely horrid. Those who didn’t aspire to grad school were looked down on, those who didn’t get “good enough” grades (and in this case, the GPA necessary to qualify as “good” was generally quoted as anywhere from 3.5-3.9 or better…preferably better) were looked down on, those who weren’t stellar scientists from the get-go were looked down on…this at a college that supposedly encourages women to explore their academic interests, and helps them develop their abilities so that they can go out and succeed. At the time, it looked as though the older faculty were the worst perpetrators of this disdainful attitude, and it now seems even more to be the case–the newer faculty realize that there’s a better way. But I think older science faculty have a tendency to play the “I had to work 24/7 in grad school so you do too” card on men as well as on women, and I have the suspicion that the harsh environment in my undergrad was born a bit from the sentiment of wanting the graduates of our program to be SUPER prepared so that they could excel in an impossible environment. I’m really glad that the newer faculty are equally eager to prepare the undergrads to excel, but are doing it from more of a mentality of, “here’s how to call BS on anyone who tries to insinuate or explicitly tell you you’re not capable” and trying to help them work to improve the environment from within rather than just assimilate to excel.

    • Copper

      Rachel, this reminds me of a study I saw a few years back about how women in sexist workplaces became cattier and meaner to each other, instead of to the men who were actually enforcing the sexist policies. Because of scarcity, each one was saying, “well if only one of us can succeed it sure better not be HER!” This really rang true for the place I was working at the time, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. We’ll do better when we work on the system causing this, not when we snap at each other to try and get ahead.

    • Not Sarah

      And this is why I make a super conscious effort to mentor more junior women. I truly believe that this isn’t a scarcity fight, that we can have as many women here as we can find. If we keep mentoring and have a great team environment, we’ll attract more women. I also spent most of my life completely oblivious to the fact that software was full of men, which probably contributes a lot to why I’m still here, about 10 years in ;)

      My team of software developers is soon to be 1/3 women, which is pretty d*mn awesome, if I do say so myself. I am stoked!!

  • carrie

    ” I think insecurity boils down to believing, deep down, that we live in a competitive universe where there is not enough to go around.* ”

    So much this. This is the stuff that puts me at fever pitch when I’m fretting, which quite frankly, is too often. But seeing this kind of stuff put into words and acknowledging that it’s a thing gives us power, I hope, and we can start to push back.

  • I’ve been running for almost four years. I’m still not fast at all, but I’ve run five half-marathons, three ten-milers, and lots of shorter races. And still, not that long ago, I had the thought that with my new reflective arm band, I looked like a real runner. Because apparently I still think I’m passing myself off as one and most people running by can see through me. So yeah, impostor syndrome all around.

    Thank you for writing this. Such a good reminder to us all.

    • Corrie

      Oh man, me too. I’ve run 3 full marathons, 2 half marathons, and a number of other shorter races, yet I still feel like an imposter and dumb down my accomplishments by telling everyone how slow I am when they express how impressed they are. Why do I do that? It needs to stop.

      • Cleo

        Preach it. People say things to me like: you must be so fit, and I say — I have endurance, but not speed or strength. Or — what’s your best marathon time? Me: 5 hours 15 minutes, so really slow.

        In my messed up psyche, it all boils down to the fact that I think if I can do something, it’s not that big of a deal.

        • Corrie

          “In my messed up psyche, it all boils down to the fact that I think if I can do something, it’s not that big of a deal.”

          YES. THIS. I think this is exactly what my problem is in life. If I can do it, it must not be a big deal. Also, everything else you said. On a fun note, we have the same marathon PR’s! Solidarity-slow-marathoner fist bump!

          • Cleo

            yay!! fist bump!

            usually when people say “I’m so slow” to me, before knowing my info, they give their PR as 4 hrs 30 mns or something that seems unfathomably fast to me (for me to be able to do)!

          • Lib

            Ugh, I know. It trained for four months for a 2 mile, open-water swim last year and swam it way faster than I expected. Instead of feeling elated and proud afterwards, I felt a little let down. Since I did it with relative ease I figured it must not be that hard.

          • CII

            At an otherwise very unhelpful presentation I once attended, the speak said that there are only two words that should come out of your mouth when someone praises your accomplishments: “Thank you.” No “buts,” no “wells,” no justifications. There was a lot of eye-rolling, and “well, duh” comments made (and I thought them, too), but when I tried it, I was
            (a) SHOCKED at how hard it is for me to do, and
            (b) how good it can feel to just take the compliment.

            It still makes me uncomfortable, but I try to say something that at least is positive / relates to the accomplishment (“Thank you. I think it really worked well when we did X.”), on the future (“Thank you. I would do Y this way again.”) or on promoting someone else when that’s appropriate (“Thank you. I really appreciated Z person’s effort on A.”)

          • I can’t comment on the open-water swim down there, but wow. open water is both my favorite and my nemesis. I have no direction sense so it is very hard for me to not swim in circles. huge kudos to you!

          • Cleo

            Replying to CII —

            I love this advice. And it’s SO HARD. I tend to be good at talking about myself, but just taking a compliment is so weird.

            Similarly, I have been challenging myself (based on an article a friend posted), to stop using the word “just” unless I’m talking about fair/unfair or as I’ve used it above (referring to a singular act).

            I never realized how often I use it as a crutch, to diminsh my requests — “I’m just checking;” “I just wanted to let you know;” etc. Taking away “just” is scary. It means I’m confident about what I’m saying. That my checking or my point is important.

      • I definitely do this- except I do it when people call me “smart.” I was valedictorian of my high school class. BUT it was only a class of 112. BUT I was a big fish in a small pond. BUT the only classmate who could beat me left school, and had finished above me the year he left.

        I don’t like it when my partner calls me “smart” (despite my early tactic of completing crossword puzzles to impress him). What does that word even mean?! I didn’t graduate college with any kind of honors, did poorly in easy classes only due to laziness, have not pursued post-secondary education, and fall well short of all the markers I generally use to classify people as “smart.”

        So at what point am I “smart” when really, I could work harder? I could learn more, I could read more, I could study more. So how “smart” am I? (really, I want a precise answer to the quantity of smart-ness I possess)

        • mmouse

          This is why I dislike the word “smart” and try not to use it! Smart can mean so many different things, but it’s so narrow all at the same time.

        • This is why I love the idea of multiple intelligences. My husband will tell me that I’m smarter than he is and I disagree. He can look at an engine and understand how it works and how to fix it. I can hear a word and know how to spell it. Our intelligence is concentrated in different areas and really can’t be compared. Also, he is super-disciplined and hard working, while I lack self-discipline and internal motivation. So he achieves more. Clearly, “smart” is neither descriptive nor the most important factor.

    • I just started running this year, and I’m training for my first half marathon. (because I’m a woman of extremes and as a brand new runner training for a half marathon is totally reasonable). Last week, I was running by a store front and caught my reflection and I had this amazing moment where I realized I “looked” like a runner. It was funny, b/c appearing a certain way gave me this huge boost of confidence, in many ways more than the many miles I’ve been logging, like I was tricking passer-bys into think I was a runner so I needed to keep up the appearance.

      • Cleo

        Haha! You’re not alone. The first race I trained for was a full marathon… (literally went from barely being able to run for 2 minutes at a time, to marathon-ready 7 months later…it was brutal).

        The good in that was that training for any other race felt like a piece of cake comparatively.

        When this is over, you’ll be able to run a 10k in your sleep! :)

        • Wow! Glad I’m not the only overly-ambitious nut job. (If you never run, you don’t quite get what 13.1 miles means, when you pay your entry fee for that race.) This week is a turning point; none of our runs are less than 4 miles for the next four weeks, and I’m feeling pretty nervous. So thanks for the encouragement!

          • Bee

            You’ll do great!!! I recently ran my first half marathon, and let me tell you, I was terrified! What that fear translated to was me being extra diligent with my training, never missing a long run and then running the race in just under 2 hours. And all along I always told people, oh I’m not very fast, I just want to finish… it’s almost like a coping mechanism, a protection from perceived failure.

      • I was running for about 2 years, but had never done anything longer than a 5K and a few triathlons when I was all “Dude. I am running a marathon.” So hurray for being women of extremes!

        Sometimes I still feel imposter syndrome about running (“I’m not a runner because I don’t run every day, and I am not fast, and I have other hobbies”) but I have never once felt imposter syndrome about being a marathoner.

      • I also went from zero to half-marathon. (I did run a 5k along the way, just to have one race experience before the big one.) And yeah, everything else feels pretty easy after that. I feel like a slacker on days I only run three miles until I remind myself that for most of my adult life, I was completely incapable of running three miles. Or really, probably one mile. I keep running half-marathons because having a race coming up keeps me motivated to run.

        I realized that when I see someone running, it never occurs to me to figure out whether that person looks like a runner. He or she is running and therefore is a runner. Why is it so hard to apply that to myself?

      • Aubry

        I totally get that as a dancer! I vividly remember the first time I was en pointe in an arabesque (classic ballet pose, leg out behind you) and saw myself in the mirror and thought “holy crap, I look like a dancer!”

        That is something I love about rewarding things that take a while to master, no instant gratification! In this world it is a bit of a scarcity. I also understand people complimenting me and me brushing it off . I try really hard to just say “thank you” and nothing else. I still feel proud every time I look at a good dance photo of myself, i have worked long and hard for that line!

    • I’ve been running off and on since 2009 and have been sidelined for months due to various injuries (turned ankle, achilles tendonitis, sciatica, exercise asthma) and/or lack of time. As a result, I’m essentially continually on a Couch to 5K program. I’m also about 75 pounds overweight. My wife can attest to you how *obsessed* I am with workout gear. Because I want to look like a “real” runner. Because that might save me from others’ derision. So, yeah, I understand this.

  • Elizabeth

    Have any of you read Brené Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly”? She writes about this exact idea of believing in abundance and having the courage to be vulnerable: truly celebrating what is good in your life, being creative, and being truly present for all the tough stuff. I highly recommend it!

  • Kristen

    I don’t know when the magic switch happened, or how I rewired my brain overnight, but I found several years ago that I was so conscious and aware of the happiness in my own life, I no longer got jealous or felt inferior in the face of others “good stuff”. A huge part of this was realizing that for myself, all the negative reactions I had to the good news of others was 100% because of my own unhappiness.

    Even though life has not been all sunshine and cotton candy since the initial switch, I’m still very focused on my own happiness and the things in my life that are hella good. It keeps me level and now when I’m confronted with the things that used to make me sarcastic and snarky – like other people’s happiness – instead I am happy for them. Because I know what happiness has brought to my own life and I know how good it feels.

    Reading this wonderful piece by Manya, I am once again filled with gratitude that I figured this out and felt compelled to share how I did it with others, in case it might help someone else.

    • I wholly believe that being able to share in others’ joy invites more joy into our own lives. Also, it just feels so much better than sinking into envy/jealousy/etc. If I ever feel myself sliding that way, I specifically recall all the good things happening to me and remind myself of the dreams I am working towards. This enables me to fully be present in happiness for the good fortunes and opportunities of my friends.

  • Corrie

    Manya, thank you so much for this lovely, introspective post. You are one of my favorite contributors to this site and I always find myself holding onto your thoughts and advice long after reading your contributions.

    As someone who majored in Sociology and International Studies, I always find myself asking questions like this and seeking to understand how our social and cultural constructs influence these destructive ways of thinking. I particularly enjoyed this post because I struggle with fears of not being enough (I swear you must have been inside my head during those smug and self-doubtful moments) even though I am generally a ‘paradigm of plenty’ kind of person and try to employ that in my interactions with others. And then I shame myself even more for thinking those negative thoughts because I’m not following through internally with how I carry myself around others. I think you are right one the money with your scarcity paradigm theory and I’m going to use this to move forward, continuing to carry myself with gratitude, striving to acknowledge and appreciate instead of compare, and telling myself that whatever I have/do/am in a particular moment is ENOUGH, and the extras that I can manage are just icing on the cake.

  • So thought-provoking — thank you, Manya, for your words (which are so much more than “good enough”)!

    The scarcity paradigm makes perfect sense to me. Growing up, especially as a teen, I used to scowl if a compliment was paid to another girl — as if calling her “pretty” meant there wasn’t enough “pretty” left for me. Worse, saying she was “smart” had to mean I was dumb. Pouring water into her half-full glass meant mine would be dry as a bone. No water left for me.

    That’s not true, of course. I used to chalk it up to simple jealousy (and maybe it’s a bit of that, too), but I realize now it’s deeper and more insidious than that. Thank you for vocalizing something I’ve always felt, but never had a name for.

  • Brieanna

    Manya, I wrote my first (and thus far only) post on here in the theme of The Good, and it wasn’t just the anxieties of, Am I a bad writer? Are people going to like what I say? Is it really appropriate for me to be writing on this site? Is this post really appropriate? etc.

    There was a fear that I would anger people, that people would think I was taking Brain Injury lightly or that our relationship would be seen as unrealistic… I think this is because in our culture we don’t like to express our feelings in words(especially good feelings). I’ve never been very good at it myself, so I think it’s more than just loving materials that our real problem is that we are expected to “SHOW” our status and feelings not to talk about it. Good feelings especially seem to be a sin to talk about, and when you talk about only or mostly good you come of as either boastful or naive to problems. Which is really unfortunate…

    I read your post and loved it, and I’m sorry it received so much criticism, its hard but try not to take it too personal …

    • Thank you so much for these kind words, Brieanna. Very much appreciated. This is such a wonderful and supportive community in so many ways. If you take a look at happy hour each week, it’s clear that we really do celebrate each other’s good…

  • KM

    This definitely resonated with me – thank you for another piece of beautiful, thoughtful writing. Hoping my wife is placed in Nairobi someday so that I can look you up and buy you a drink in gratitude.

    • This made me smile. Is your wife in the state department?

      • KM

        My wife works in child protection emergency response, currently in Jonglei South Sudan (and I’m a lawyer in NYC). I send her your writing all the time! And will for sure share the dialogue between you and Meg below, as we’ve been having similar discussions about complicated feelings as some friends in the States are buying houses while her work in SS and my pro bono work in NYC show systemic inequities are so jarring in the US and worldwide. But I do think I’m getting better — and throwing a wedding helped me work through some of this — at recognizing the silliness of being envious of love and close friendship and joy and pretty things. Of these, there is plenty to share and should always be celebrated.

  • Where I first noticed that I was buying into the scarcity model was when my peers started buying houses. How was everyone else able to afford a house? How come so many people I know had parents who paid for their education or contributed to a down payment and I didn’t? Obviously because I didn’t have any help getting there I’d never be able to have a place of my own.

    Over the past few years I’ve had an internal shift calling bullshit on that thinking. Yes a lot of my friends with houses had help from their parents. But I don’t know their whole picture and either way it doesn’t matter – I’ll get there when I get there, and the fact that friends and peers got there first doesn’t take anything away from that.

    Do I still get wistful when someone has something that I want, whether it’s the tangible or the intangible? Sure I do. I’m allowed to want more in life, and to wonder about other experiences. But when that wishfulness starts to turn into jealous and tearing people down I try to remember that the rabbit hole I’m falling down there doesn’t do anyone (least of all me) any good.

    • meg

      It’s funny, I’ve read every single comment and been like YES PLENTY. But on this one my brain sort of came screeching to a halt… possibly because I’m thinking a lot about this myself, so this is my shit. Because yup, it’s happening all around us, and yup I’ve gotten all my best things by knowing my parents were not going to be able to help out financially (hey, APW), but still FUCK. (And mostly not fuck for me, but for all the people we grew up with who are going to be locked out of the real estate market forever. We’ll get there eventually, lots of people we know don’t have a prayer anymore. And once upon a time, families without a ton of resources COULD by homes, which is why we owned a home when I was a kid.)

      But here is the part that made my brain screech to a halt here: we’re living in a time of vast wealth disparity. The people with more get more, the people with less get less. And to me that’s a different question, not one that falls into the emotional paradigm of plenty matrix.

      Anyway, I’m really curious about Manya’s thoughts on this, as someone who works in NGO’s in impoverished countries, trying to fix these sorts of problems. I know she’s going to be wise.

      • rys

        I think everyone probably has one arena in life where we want to say “Yes, plenty!” but something gets in the way, be it emotions or structures or past experiences. For me, I’m all “plenty” when it comes to work (which, as an academic in the humanities often makes me the odd one out, since collaboration is not the norm and grants/fellowships/postdocs/jobs are super scarce), money (I have enough to live in and while more would be nice, I didn’t enter my field for the high pay), vacations (friends going cool places, awesome I can’t wait to hear all about it), houses (wow, real estate is affordable in some parts of the country), and the like.

        But — and there’s always a but, it seems — I haven’t been able to squash the emotional monkeys that toy with me as people around me partner off and leave my single self in what feels like the dust. I mean I love attending weddings and I love celebrating people finding other people, but there’s still annoying screeching in my brain feeling like the supply of single men my age is constantly shrinking (sort of true) and I have the worst luck ever when it comes to dating (feels really true). This emotional spiral ain’t pretty, and I’d love to be able to shout “plenty!” or “my chance will surely come” (and other people saying that has become super aggravating because well, it might or it might not) and have the spiral flatline, but my mind doesn’t work like that. Oh, how I wish it did!

        • meg

          I totally think this is true. Totally. On an emotional level, I 100% agree with you, and get what you’re saying.

          But I’m also talking about huge economic injustices in this country. It’s a country where we DO have enough to go around, but the way it’s being spread around is extra extra extra plenty for those that already have plenty, and SCRAPS for those that don’t have enough. So sometimes it’s a paradigm of: this system is fucked, and we need to work to fix it.

          Having grown up in an area where almost no one’s parents could help out on anything, and then gone to NYU where almost everyone’s parents could help out on everything… and how that played out, I can confirm that the system is rigged.

          On a personal level, we still get farther with the paradigm of plenty. And often, people without a ton believe in the paradigm of plenty, because if there are no resources, you have to work together to create anything worth having, no time to tear each other down. Probably because of that, there are plenty of people who have done well for themselves from my hometown, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t rigged (and that there are not many more who never got a chance).

          IE, sometimes our anger points to where there are problems: sexism in the work place, economic injustice. But because there is plenty in the world, the question is then, how can we FIX it, not how can we just tell ourselves it’s an emotional problem and really everything is fine.

          (Someone else may have far more coherent thoughts on this subject, since I’m still working to untangle mine).

      • Manya

        Meg, some interesting questions here. I’ll try to tease them apart and offer some half-baked thoughts. No promises of anything wise!

        1. Yes, I think there’s a distinction between the abundance/scarcity emotional paradigm and global wealth disparities. Though thoughts of one inevitably turn to thoughts of the other. I think another commenters alluded to this in wondering why is it that she was so arbitrarily blessed. She felt bewildered by the seemingly random abundance of her life when others face suffering and scarcity. I feel this way all the time (and we’ll probably rent forever!). I also think RYS is right when she says that there are areas for each of us that are harder to let go of… probably because they are symbolic of some other deep emotional need (usually related to feeling safe).

        1. Growing wealth disparities in the US and all over the world. Yes. This is a fact. A fact that is sickeningly evident and raw in emerging markets/developing countries, and increasingly visible/tangible in the US, where it is, indeed, getting worse. I think our tolerance of it actually goes back to that whole Calvinist thing that I alluded to in the original post. We could go down a serious political economic rabbit hole here, but I’ll just say this: there is actually enough to go around, it’s just not going around, and the issues are systemic. It’s very very troubling. This same phenomenon is also present at the macroeconomic level: i.e. the lowest quintile in the U.S. is living at a standard that is so far above the lowest quintile in, say, Togo that it’s hard to even wrap your mind around the disparity. And when you do manage to wrap your mind around it, and allow yourself to look life as a child prostitute living in a Togolese slum straight in the face, the entire world appears to be made of funhouse mirrors (with the US being a pretty fat one). It can twist your soul in two, if you let it. Or you can do your best to do something about it, and letting go of resentment you are holding on to about your individual experience of deprivation seems to me to be a good place to start. Get angry enough to get active, yes! But resentment only serves to tear us apart and leave us hopeless and helpless, and that just doesn’t seem like an option to me. So I’m choosing to believe that small actions might accumulate and create big results.

        2. I’m not sure how this thought is related, but I just feel somehow it is. The single most important lesson that Africa teaches me over and over is that ease and joy are two separate issues. I think I grew up believing that success and wealth begets ease, and ease begets happiness. But in the places I have been blessed to live people have been able to hold two parallel truths in their mind: 1. Life is hard and filled with suffering. No matter what. Because it is Life, and that is its nature. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, or failing in any way if life is hard. It means that you are living the human experience. Shit, Angelina Jolie just had a double mastectomy, ya know?! That’s thought one. and thought 2. Joy is a choice. Always. Growing up in the US, I think I believed that suffering necessarily cancels out joy–by definition really. But here I see people, every day, able to hold these two truths/experiences simultaneously. Disconnecting these two ideas is kind of mind-blowing, but I have found it to be extremely liberating.

        Not sure if any of these thoughts address yours

        • meg

          Well, that says it all, and there is probably no point in saying anything else, though I will anyway.

          After further thought, perhaps my point is this: what we’re talking about here is the emotional paradigm of scarcity that we fall into: If she’s pretty, I can’t be. If she’s successful, there is less success left in the pool. If her husband loves her like that, and mine doesn’t love me the same way, my relationship is fucked. Etc. However, the reason the paradigm of scarcity is hardwired into our brains, and makes us behave in such nutty and unnecessary ways, is that REAL scarcity does exist (even when it’s man made). There really is not enough money or food or jobs for a lot of people. That’s real. And when in you’re in that situation, you’re hardwired to fight for your own survival… or you won’t survive.

          The problem comes when we flip that model over to things that are not scarce, and in fact multiply when shared: love, success, joy, whatever. But that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that there is no scarcity in the world, and systems don’t need to be fixed systemically.

          The fact that at this point in many parts of the US, it’s near impossible to buy a home if your parents can’t put down the enormous downpayment points to actual widening of income inequality, and an economic injustice that should make us angry enough to want to fix. However, on a micro level, we may get upset about that because of a paradigm of emotional scarcity: if my friends have joy in buying a house their parents helped them buy, there is less joy for me. And THAT is where the monster inside us comes in, and that’s where we need to re-adjust our heads. The problem isn’t our friends and us, the problem is widening income inequality.

          • Manya

            EXACTLY. YES, MEG. THIS IS IT. I love how we’re hashing it out here, and you have really brought it home for me. THANK YOU! (I’m actually crying. True story.)

          • rys

            Yep. I think we’re taught that what applies in one realm applies in all realms (or at least most). So when we see and know and fear and want to destroy real scarcity (e.g. inequality, poverty and all their attendant real problems like food scarcity, shelter scarcity, water scarcity, medicine scarcity, transportation scarcity, job scarcity, etc), we apply that fear, resentment, concern, worry, etc to everything in our lives, even to arenas where that evidence and reality is irrelevant.

          • Class of 1980

            Economic disparity is something I think about constantly, though I don’t talk about it here.

            I’m at the starting point in trying to understand it, and I intend to learn more. At this point, I don’t think society has the slightest grasp of the reasons. Many people blame the people who are suffering and aren’t interested in any further thought on the subject.

            The part of the problem I’m most interested in, is our money system – U.S. and worldwide. We have a system where a handful of people have access to newly created (out of thin air) money. They reap profits on an unreal fiat currency before anyone else can even touch it. They benefit from a system that creates inflation.

            At the same time, you can no longer just put your money in a bank and reap a decent return. We as a society don’t even talk about the ramifications of this on personal financial security and retirement. We have come to think it’s normal and necessary to risk your nest egg in the stock market. We have come to think low interest rates are good. But people used to primarily save for retirement at their bank where their money could really grow and was available for lending purposes in the community.

            Multi-national corporations have ways of securing vital natural resources from third-world countries, thus diverting their potential profits from their own resources.

            Corporations are also finding ways to place patents on natural substances that will block future competition that might use those substances.

            The whole economic disparity issue is incredibly complicated, but I think it’s the most important issue of our time. Money works in the world like the flow of blood through the body, and we are choking off entire organs.

            Side Note: On the affordable house issue, you can’t get around the fact that it seems to be a state issue. Young people can afford houses in many states, but not in a handful of states. Why?

          • “if my friends have joy in buying a house their parents helped them buy, there is less joy for me. And THAT is where the monster inside us comes in, and that’s where we need to re-adjust our heads.”

            This is exactly what I was getting at, except you’ve certainly teased out some of the more complicated issues surrounding it.

            I’ve been lucky because I do get snippets of financial support here and there from my mom, and while she hasn’t been able to pay for those things she does support me in other ways that give us financial opportunities. Two years of living with her will mean that my husband and I will be able to buy a house hopefully next year on what’s essentially two minimum wage jobs. I’m also lucky: minimum wage in Canada is a living wage. Not much more than that, but still.

            On the other hand, I compare my situation to my friends whose parents have the resources, or my cousins whose parents make salaries that put them in the 1% and I will never have the same advantages they did. I can get mad at that, or I can appreciate what I have and do the most I can to get where I want to be.

        • Rachel

          Manya, I would looooove to read a post on point #2 above! I often wonder if previous generations, who weren’t exactly taught that happiness was the end goal in the same why my generation has been, were happier. There’s a lot of pressure to be happy, and I think it’s pretty counterproductive. I’d love to hear more from you about joy vs. ease!

          • Manya

            That will be a challenging piece… But I’ll work on it.

          • Yes yes yes! One of the biggest lessons I have learned from leading laughter yoga is that there is a BIG difference between happiness and joy. And now I try to arrange my life such that I am cultivating joy, not seeking happiness.

    • Cleo

      As someone who does get help from her parents (and is grateful for it), I’d like to give my perspective on this specific example.

      My parents paid for my college and grad school because it was important to them that I graduate debt free, but because I wasn’t studying anything where my schooling would be enhanced by studying abroad, they refused to pay for that. So I took out a loan for a study abroad program in Morocco because traveling outside the lower 48 was important to me.

      Most of my real-life friends don’t know about the fact that I get a modest monthly allowance from my parents because a lot of derision and eye-rolling and calling people spoiled who do get this help is bandied about in an abstract sense.

      This allowance allows me to pay for rent, bills, food, and a couple extravagances (i.e. a new pair of pants when my old ones rip 20 minutes before a meeting, true story) because I’m working in a field that sorely underpays lower level employees.

      I’m nervous about sharing this because my inner monologue is telling me “Well, get a better paying job. Who cares if this is the field you love? You’re almost 30 and you still get money from your parents, you spoiled brat?!”

      In truth, I’m lucky to have parents who believe that I’ll have success in this field and are willing to help me until I get a promotion and a raise (which should be coming very soon). Also in truth, if they told me that they wouldn’t be able to send me this allowance anymore, it would be tough, but I’d be able to make it work.

      I’m nowhere near buying a house and I’m not significantly closer to doing so. The end result of this allowance is that I don’t have to scrimp as much as I might have had to otherwise.

      But also…but also… None of this diminishes my accomplishments. None of it.

      I still got a post-high school education and graduated. Twice. I’ve still written novels and screenplays that are on submission with editors and production companies, respectively. I’ve made what some might consider an ill-advised career move, because it’s in a field I’m passionate about. And I would have done these things regardless whether my parents helped me. Sure, their financial help makes my life easier, but their money didn’t buy what I’ve done.

      • “None of this diminishes my accomplishments. None of it.” YES. It’s so easy to knock yourself down when you’ve had help coming up. It makes it hard sometimes to feel like your own person, I think. Kudos for realizing that being accomplished doesn’t mean you have to have done everything absolutely alone, and for realizing that having had privilege doesn’t make your accomplishments less valid. And since this post has clued us all in on plenty, I’m sure you’ll be spreading that privilege around and helping others once you’re able.

      • Sara

        I am also fortunate to have parents that were able to pay for my college education. But because my friends have struggled/are struggling with school debt, I never mention it to people. I’m somehow embarrassed by the fact that my parents were able to keep me debt free while my friends pay their loans – which makes no sense! My parents are proud of the fact that their children are all school-debt free and my insecurities about inadvertently shaming my friends with large loans shouldn’t be the issue. As you said, I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished with the opportunities they gave me instead of belittling myself for getting some assistance.

        Funny enough, when I taught overseas, my dad bought my car loan so that he wouldn’t have to send a check in every month . So now I pay him, and he charges me interest. A better interest rate than the car company though, so that’s nice. My friends that know of this arrangement think that its hilarious that he charges interest on the loan.

      • That’s the thing, that as much as it’s frustrating that I didn’t have that same level of help and support that a lot of my peers have benefited from, it doesn’t take away from what they’ve done in life. Yes, there’s a certain amount of privilege involved in having parents with those resources but it shouldn’t be a knock against your accomplishments.

  • Emily

    “The valedictorian of adulthood”. YES.

  • Carly

    As an aside Manya (I’m still mulling over your post and perhaps will share thoughts on that later), I was blown away by your previous “How to be in love” post. So much so that I sent it to my partner who “loved it” and kept quoting lines back to me. It rung so true for the both of us (with the exception of the Kenyan setting – my jealousy monster rears up right…about… now.) that we’ve been mulling over using an edited version as a wedding reading – with your permission of course. It resonated with us that much.

    • Manya

      That is so awesome. Please use it if you would like. What a huge honor. Thank you.

  • APW Lurker

    “I am disgusting, but if I beat that pretty bitch showing off on the treadmill, maybe I can leave here feeling okay”

    So much this. There are so many days after a good spin class that I want to tell the women in the front row how great a job they did of setting the pace for the class or even after a great soccer game, I want to tell the girl that was matched up against me how skilled a player she is but I just can’t. Because in my head that reads as “I’m inferior and you are above me”. That for some reason there are winners and there are losers in situations that don’t have to break down as such.

    • Rosie

      A while ago I started forcing myself to give these kind of complements and in doing so I started dismantling the false confidence I had gained from not admitting to myself or others when they had done well or better than me. It helped me to grow a real confidence in who I am and what I do, because I wasn’t always afraid of others being better.

  • This was a great post. When I wrote for this site, I also couldn’t resist reading through all of the comments, looking for both affirmation and the inevitable criticism, and getting some kind of weird pleasure from it both. I’m a college lecturer, and stumbling on my rate my professor page was one of the more psychically traumatic experiences of my life. I just care very deeply about how people feel and what they think and sometimes don’t do a good job of separating these things from what I think and feel about myself. My entire engagement I have been going out of states of depression, anxiety, and insecurity, because the impending marriage has put my choices under a magnifying glass in ways that I wasn’t prepared for. Will my cousins I grew up with and don’t see much anymore think I don’t care about them because I chose to invite current close friends over extended family to my wedding, if I talk too much about my fiance and my wedding will my friends get sick of me and pull away, why am I not as comfortable feeling and sharing my joy as pain and regret and frustration, are we spending too much on this event when we don’t own a house and friends around us our buying homes and having babies, does my partner resent me because my getting a PhD is holding us back financially, when are we going to be completely independent from needing help from his parents, will I feel like a failure if this wedding I fought so hard to have doesn’t go smoothly, will becoming a professional scholar mean I have no time to actually work on the injustices that I read and write about, do I have to let my family of origin go through deprivation and hardship so that I can build a better financial future for my own, how in the hell am I going to get everything done to run a marriage, career, household, life when all I want to do sometimes, ok, a lot of times, is do absolutely nothing and retreat into myself. So yeah, its hard when you feel this way to compare yourself to other people, who seem to be doing all of the things you are struggling to get a handle on. I just try to see jealousy as a good thing. If I feel jealous of someone, it is usually because there is something about them that I want or admire. So, if I have access to someone that I have these feelings about, I make them into a mentor or a friend, and I have gotten some great relationships and life influences out of this, which alerts me to the way in which I have sometimes avoided closeness with the very people I needed to know because of my own fears of being exposed as not quite good enough. It is scary to tell someone, particularly someone you’re a bit intimidated by that they inspire you, but there is great freedom in it too.

    • Ellen

      Sorry on my phone didn’t mean to report your post! Just wanted to say I felt like you were me reading that post. I also teach at university and constantly fear that my students think I’m not good enough. I just finished marking 150 essays and while I’ve done it many, many times before I still worry excessively that I’m not giving them the right mark. I just finished my PhD (but not yet found a full-time job), and have long feared that my partner resents me for holding us back financially. In fact I know he does in some way. I struggle with the guilt that my decisions have prevented us from being able to buy a house yet, or have babies ( if we decide we want them, that is something we both fear we aren’t ‘good enough’ to do). Even moreso since I decided I don’t want to pursue a career in academia, so it is hard not to believe it was a big waste of time. Even down to the not-inviting cousins thing! Though I am kinder to myself about this and other wedding-related decisions. But yeah wow, that was very spooky!

    • Manya

      Yes! The twinge is good… it’s a wake up call! And the thing/person who caused the twinge is very much worth examining, investigating and perhaps emulating and befriending. This is a beautiful meditation, thank you so much for sharing it.

  • NB

    Whoa. Manya, this is awesome, and will keep me mulling on it all day. Thank you.

    (And thanks, APW, for being a forum for these things)

  • Kate

    In high school, my favorite teacher and mock trial coach had a motto of “When everyone does better, everyone does better.” This meant lending a helping hand to your competitor, and doing what we could to have everyone compete on a higher level (for those who don’t know, high school mock trial is fiercely, fiercely competitive). It is some of the best advice I’ve ever received, and has helped me put away scarcity fears.

  • I love the footnote at the end, it really pulls out an underlying theme of competition in our society. I was raised by my Buddhist father who grew up in Thailand and India, so I’ve never fully understood the cruelty of competition and consumption. I’ve always disliked competitions to the point where I always just play “Zen mode” on my iPhone games. And it seems to be rampant in women too. I saw a news anchor speak once who talked about the strength of female friendships and described her “Aha!” moment. After years of viewing all other women as competition, she realized that it hurt when people put you down, and you can have girlfriends without being adversaries. So to everyone, you are wonderful women (or men!). This is your life, not anyone else’s and to reiterate Manya, you are enough.

    • CJ

      “I’ve always disliked competitions to the point where I always just play ‘Zen mode’ on my iPhone games.”

      You mean I’m not the only one who does that? I actually asked the developer of my favorite Android sudoku program if they could add an option to turn off the endgame statistics so I could enjoy the game without having to constantly try to beat my times. (They added that option in the next version, by the way. Sudoku 10’000 for the win!)

  • Ellen

    Manya, thank you as always for your thoughtful writing! This post made me think of the research of the excellent Brene Brown. (Check out her recent books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly or her TED talks…) Daring Greatly in particular is about the current culture of scarcity and what we can do to shift to a different mentality.

  • Meghan

    Wonderful post! Really made me sit up and pay attention – thank you so much for your smart analysis of this crazy phenomenon. I’ll be working applying the paradigm of plenty to my life today. :) I’m sharing this post too!

  • I’m glad someone wrote about this topic, because I’ve felt that way for much of my life, like I was arrogant to seem happy with what I have in life — that I didn’t deserve it.

    But I made a choice in the past few years to not think my self as something to hide, but to speak-up, share my story, be proud of myself – and allow other people to make the choice if they want to like me or NOT like me.

    Like your experience w/ APW, I wrote a tell-all article for Huffington Post ( about my body-image and how I didn’t think I was bad for being overweight — a perspective that is so opposite mainstream, but I had to tell MY story. I was terrified for being so honest, raw & vulnerable.

    But that is what Love is too – I live with the mission to Love, wherever that path takes me.

    Your theory is called Law of Abundance, which is perhaps the final frontier for each well-to-do person to understand, because it’s the only way to reach pure self-actualization. I’m lucky to be someone who get’s the principle and applies it, but I’m also blessed to believe I deserve to understand and live it. You teach others by example and show them the sky is really the limit when it comes to being true to themselves and reap the rewards of living from your center.

    Thanks for writing <3

    • Copper

      Rachel, I know this is a pretty late comment and you might not see it. But just in case, I wanted to say THANK YOU for that article! I’m a chick who’s been to therapy and couldn’t manage to recognize my inner critic, because it was disguised as a Repairer! I’ve found that the single most common thought in my head starts with, “If I could just ________” so my criticisms get disguised as goals. I truly did not see that having a Repairer (I’m calling mine Miss Fix-it from now on) is the same thing as having a Critic. So I just hand a little mindblowing moment reading what you wrote over there.

      • <33 Copper, thanks & that is SO awesome to hear you've realized how Miss Fix-it is actually holding you down! :) For me, it was like a breath of new-life when I realized I didn't have to keep trying to fix myself..

        Lemme know how it goes — I'm on Twitter @RachelTheCoach

  • I didn’t realize that American culture venerates having wealth as a sign of favor from God or the universe. That’s a fascinating insight! Though I grew up in America, it was with a very Indian mindset and I struggled a lot with my parents being upper middle class. It felt like you couldn’t be a good person and have money! Quite a different perspective, I guess.

    I’ve always been against comparing.

    I think we get taught to do it by things like when people tell you “Be grateful, your life could be so much worse. Like that person.” [Point to person with a disability]. It sounds like a good life lesson. Be grateful because you don’t even realize how lucky you are, but I see two problems with it. 1) Assuming that someone with a disability must have a crappier life and 2) When you encourage people to feel better about themselves by comparing to people who have it “worse” then those people also have to compare themselves to people who are “better” and the competition feeling takes over. Why put yourself in the lineup at all? Be grateful because you have good things, not because you have more good things than you perceive someone else to have!

    How do I measure success in life? By checking in with whether or not I feel happy, satisfied, fulfilled.

  • April

    Oh, I could read a book of Manya’s writing all day long! Such a thought-provoking topic today – thank you so much for sharing it.

  • I’ve thought about this topic before (indeed, it probably take a lifetime of mulling over), and I seem to always come to the same sticking point: Where is the line between believing you are enough and wanting to be better?

    I constantly circle around that question. For each area of my life, for each good quality I possess or am lacking, where is the balance? When do I know I’ve reached my personal apex, so that I can celebrate it and rest contentedly, knowing that while others may reach higher, I’ve done my best and done pretty damn good at that, and this is what “my best” looks like?

    Where *exactly* is the balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement? Where does “I am/have plenty” give way to “I have the potential for more”??

    • For me, I think I do definitely believe in self improvement. I see all of my life as a journey towards perfection (enlightenment) and so each moment is a step on the way. I give myself credit for doing the best that I could with a particular moment, knowing that I will try to do even better the next time (but not beat myself up about it if I don’t, knowing that there will be more opportunities).

      The key for me is that none of that requires comparing my progress or abilities to anyone else. Comparing makes me miserable because I assume I’m not doing as well as someone else, but if I can remember that my journey towards perfection is my own, it takes the sting out.

      I hope that doesn’t sound super weird :-/

      • That’s a good thought, I hadn’t put it in the context of enlightenment. That’s not necessarily a part of my belief system (which is a work in progress), but it’s a vantage point I hadn’t considered.

        I think I get caught up in fearing that I really *don’t* have that many more opportunities to “get it right” or that screwing up now is really going to screw me over later.

        Still, I’ll continue to think on that, especially if I can hold the thought of enlightenment in my mind at the same time as a less rigid definition of perfection.

        • Yeah, I wasn’t sure if my point of view would be helpful since it does come out of a particular belief system. Believing in reincarnation really takes the pressure off for me!

          But the other thing I think about is that all of us are in the process of learning and growing and figuring out our lives. And I figure if we ever did get it all worked out, what would there be left to do? If you’ve got your life completely settled and buttoned up, there’s no room left for learning and growth, right? :)

    • Copper

      Maybe the only way to know where the line is, is to cross it now and then? When pushing yourself to be/do better just pisses you off and doesn’t actually accomplish things, then it’s time to turn back. But as for how to recognize where the line is without crossing it, I am clueless.

      • Le sigh, I figured that might be the case. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an easy answer :-)

  • LondonSarah

    Perhaps, if there is *enough* for everyone, the reason that I haven’t been picked for something, or had a more interesting job, or been happy today is not that there wasn’t enough for me left over, or that you got it instead of me, but because I need to make more effort to go and find it and stop sitting here waiting for recognition to land in my lap… Think I’m going to have to work on this.

    That, and, recalling that I make my choices, you make yours. I must remember that when you get married before me, when you are made associate before me, when you have a baby before me. Much easier I think when there’s a theoretical framework I can place all of this in. Thanks Manya!

  • I’ve spent a long time thinking that I’m not enough, that there isn’t enough, that I can’t be enough. The last couple of months, though, something has shifted for me. Perhaps it is this amazing life I am getting to live right now, with all of its abundance and love. It feels like right now anything is possible.

    My husband is a big part of this. He keeps reminding me that anything is possible. For him it’s a faith in God that leads him to believe that we can do whatever we want, have whatever we want. I think his belief in me gives me confidence.

    I’m trying to remember this idea of prosperity with the people that I manage.

  • mmouse

    What a wonderful post, Manya, and such a compelling concept! Two things really stuck out a me.
    1) That the idea there isn’t “enough” in the universe is what makes shy away from being happy about the good in my life. I always think “I’m so lucky…” or “It’s so wonderful that…” and then immediately think “Now that I acknowledged it, it’ll be taken away!” It’s something I knew about myself, and am working on (hello, having a baby who is undeniably wonderful & constantly having to remind myself to enjoy him, not be afraid he’ll be taken away), but it’s great to have an idea of *why* I would think this way.
    2) Oh my stars, this is why I am SO SENSITIVE to what people (especially my husband) say to me. I get very insecure when people make suggestions or corrections, because it plays into my fears of not being “enough”. In fact, it’s something I skirted around a few years ago during some therapy during a rough time in my life. My therapist wanted me to think about *why* words mean so much to me. She’d be so pleased to hear about this breakthrough moment!!

  • Randal

    Manya, your writing is a pleasure. I’d like to offer some biological insights to bolster your thesis.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m a geneticist and believe in human evolution (i.e. not a creationist). Also, I know the following will be controversial. However, in the year since I’ve adopted this hypothesis, I’ve been unable to disprove it.

    Hypothesis: As the beings who bring all human life into existence, women were made for sex and sex-related activities. I believe it is the most primal of instincts unrelated to personal survival. Moreover, unlike men (who can “hit it, then quit it”… sadly), women are in it for the long haul. Childbearing and child-rearing are inherently long processes. How important, then, to make sure you “lock in” the sexual partner of your choice, so he doesn’t leave you high and dry to fend for yourself and to raise children alone.

    Your Paradigm of Plenty applies to today’s world magnificently. However, there is an evolutionary mechanism in damned near all women on the planet to constantly feel inadequate. Why? If you feel inadequate, you try harder. Your female ancestors had to make sure they tried hard enough to win a man and to make sure they kept him from other women. You wouldn’t be alive today if they had failed. So, there IS a genetic mechanism that makes you want to compete with other women and to frequently feel inadequate even though you (and all of the women reading this post) are magnificent!

    We also have genes that say, “Any excess in dietary consumption should be saved for a rainy day.” So, most people on the planet struggle with weight when exposed to 1st-world abundance of food. How is this related to the previous comment? Both (and many more) are remnants from a different time, resulting from DNA 1.0… you know, the DNA that evolved animalistically over hundreds of thousands of years.

    The 1800s were the century of Chemistry. The 1900s were the century of Physics. This century is the century of Biology – when we learn to alter a bunch of junk DNA that has no place in human existence (and, in many cases, hasn’t for 10,000+ years), leading to DNA 2.0!

    Until then, dear ladies, when you are feeling competitive with other women and especially when feeling inadequate, realize that your genes are making you feel this way and that you are much, much better than you think! Moreover, today there IS plenty. There is no prize for being “the best.” In fact, if you magically became “the best,” you would always live with an emotionally-damaging, but vigilant, eye on those who are creeping up on your golden pedestal. How much better to recognize and rejoice in the plentiful abundance of talents/skills you already have without the need to look towards others to find YOUR metric of success! YOUR metric of success is your own; you define it! Embrace it and be happy!

    Thank you for such a stimulating article, Manya.

    • rowany

      Sorry I’m also a geneticist and I’m much more hesitant to apply evolutionary principles to personal experiences. I believe science is best for the ‘how’ questions and not the ‘why’. The reason why they’re hard to disprove is because they’re not good hypotheses – there are way too many other factors. Also I’m a transposon biologist so I take issue with my subject matter being dismissed as ‘junk DNA’.

      I would point out though that an easy counter-argument to your hypothesis: that there are no gender differences in prevalence of imposter syndrome. It’s also prevalent in minorities, for whom the evolutionary perspective would not apply.

      “Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Langford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors.”

      • Randal

        Hi Rowany. Thank you for your input. I agree science is more useful when focusing on “how” than “why.” It is inaccurate to indicate that science is incapable of answering “why” questions, however. Simplistically, the traits we possess today exist due to some evolutionary advantage they conferred upon our ancestors. Polymorphisms indicate that different phenotypes are capable of meeting the same function.

        For instance, “why” do you think there is a skin color difference in those from different ethnic groups whose ancestral homes are at different latitudes on the earth? It isn’t hard to see that people with extra melanin production thrived near the equator and were more resilient to the harmful effects of sun exposure. Nor is it hard to see that those with fairer skin were able to produce more Vitamin D in latitudes with less sun exposure and survive while their darker-skinned relations perished. In fact, most darker-skinned people at northern latitudes have a strong reliance on fish – food with some of the highest Vitamin D content.

        “Why” is sickle-cell anemia found in African populations at much higher rates than others? Sickle-cell anemia confers protection from plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.

        I’m not sure how you interpreted my statements regarding “junk DNA” as an affront on transposon genetics. That seems quite a leap from my statements and was not intended. But you can’t seriously be advocating that humans don’t have junk DNA – DNA whose purpose has passed. Instead, your comments seem dismissive of Behavioral Genetics.

        I believe both males and females suffer from imposter syndrome. However, I believe the manifestation is different, anecdotally. You are right that this is a Randal-hypothesis and has not been researched – but I was clear about that in my initial post.

        For instance, Manya talked about self-doubt. The way she described the manifestation of her self-doubt is one I’ve heard from many, many women. It seems centered on where the woman fits compared to other women, generally. Remove the competition and most women will not be plagued by nearly as much self-doubt. The men who I’ve spoken with regarding self-doubt (and my experience with it) is different. It seems more focused on personal competency and achievement. Without competition, I still feel it deeply, at times. Do both groups experience both? Absolutely.

      • Randal

        Sorry, I just reread your comments and have no clue why you stated, “It’s also prevalent in minorities, for whom the evolutionary perspective would not apply.” My ideas broached gender… something found in all ethnic groups. So, I emphatically disagree.

        • APW: the only wedding blog where geneticists duke it out.

          I love this brilliant, diverse community :)

    • You might enjoy reading Sex At Dawn. It is a fascinating look at popular evolutionary theory and the ways it may have been misinterpreted. I’m about half way through it now and it is really challenging me! (in a great way)

  • Senorita

    The whole scarcity concept is alive and kicking (and biting and scratching) in medical education. I selected a school without any grades whatsoever specifically because I was seeking a collaborative learning environment. However, the lack of tests seemed to have the opposite effect. Since we didn’t have exams letting us know right out where we stood, everyone felt the need to constantly compare themselves against their classmates. It’s sort of like taking an advanced foreign language class where everyone is talking to you to sus out if their Spanish is better than yours. Since entering med school I constantly felt like I was always on the shorter end of the stick in those comparisons. I changed my decade-long specialty goal to one of the “life-style” specialties so I could scoop up more of the scarcest resources in medicine, time with your family. Now in the midst of preparation for my board exam (I’m going to have to block APW soon) the whole thing came to a head last night. When my fiancé came home I announced that I was now aiming for perinatology because there is nothing I love more than a pregnant lady who really needs my help, and I Am Good Enough. I hadn’t even gotten the words out before I was choking out a hysterical version of Oprah’s dreaded Ugly Cry.

    The thing is, dermatology residencies *are* limited, and there is only so much research funding to go around. However, I think the idea here is that there is so much good that is plentiful. No matter what I’m gonna be treating patients and 11-year-old me (hell, 21-year-old me) thinks that is pretty bitchin’.

    So Thank You Manya for being exactly what I needed to hear today.

    And P.S. Your last piece was amazing. A marriage like that doesn’t happen by fairy dust, it takes consistent work and attention by the people in it. No one should ever be embarrassed of building something so beautiful.

    • rowany

      I’m sorry that you have felt that way about medical school. There are definitely gunners in every school, but at mine (which is also pass fail), everyone would share notes (the younger students now have a collective google doc for all the classes). I think it depends on whether someone is willing to standup and share that “plenty paradigm” with others, and then it will perpetuate. Perhaps you can find other friends and mentors who can give you a better assessment of where you are at rather than making you fight to feel like you are ‘good enough’?

      • Mira

        Exactly, exactly, exactly this. We had just a couple amazing personalities in my class who kept everyone grounded and helped us all remember what’s important. One of those amazing people sent the whole class an email halfway through our month of dedicated study time for Step 1, which honestly, is what got me through that tough, lonely period of med school.

        Senorita, I’m so sorry your class has a different personality than mine and Rowany’s — but please remember that your community as a medical student is larger than just your classmates at your school. It includes our classes, too! In that spirit, I tracked down the email that arrived unprompted in my inbox after two very tough weeks of Step 1 prep. I hope it helps you keep your eyes on the prize, as it helped me:

        Hey Team,

        We’re doing it! From morning to night and then in our sleep, we’re learning new things and calling what we already knew to the forefronts of our brains. I hope that each one of us is able to appreciate a harvest of knowledge from these first two weeks of hardcore studying.

        And I also hope that we’re all hitting our stride emotionally. I know sometimes I feel like enzyme names are not going to be that practical in my future and sometimes I feel like my brain has turned to mush. But I was remembering what someone told us — that this is a special time in our training when we are free to learn the foundations of medicine. These few weeks are ones that we can dedicate to understanding why one little amino acid can change the way a person experiences life and why a drug can cure a disease. In our studying, we get to appreciate lifetimes of discoveries that have made medicine what it is today.

        So in this next push, if you’re feeling disconnected from the material, maybe you can step back and ask what you want to know about how medicine works. By making our learning meaningful, I think we’ll remember more and be more personally satisfied by the experience.

        Finally, let’s have faith in the process. The admissions people saw what this takes in every one of us. That practice test score may not be the target score yet, but it will be. And we’re going to match in places that will be right for each of us on our paths to becoming independent doctors.

        So best of luck in these coming weeks. May the light of why you want to be a doctor shine and guide you to success on Step 1.

        Let’s rock this!

  • Del

    In Australia we call this ‘Tall poppy syndrome’, which is an integral part of our culture. If you talk about your successes … let’s just say “tall poppies get kicked in the shins/cut down’. It comes from a good place in history: maybe you were an aristocrat in England, but here in Australia, we’re all equal. You may have seen it manifested by the way Australians insult their best friends (technically a compliment), or having out national heros be an outlaw (Ned Kelly) and a suicidal swagman (Waltzing Matilda).

    Tall poppy syndrome functions in a positive way in many facets of our society such as my CEO is not a better or more important person than me – just has a different job.

    But unfortunately, like the principal of scarcity, it has spread to other areas of society, such as happiness and relationships. If I stand up and tell my friends/family that my fiancé and I have had one fight in 4 years (and only after my grandmother passed away and I was exhausted), we will be cut down.

    But there IS enough happiness for everyone! One person’s happiness does not take away from another’s.

    “A smile is something if you give it away then it comes right back to you. It’s just like a magic penny, hold on tight and you won’t have any. Lend it spend it give it away and it comes right back to you. “

    • How interesting!

      If everyone needs to be equal, then I guess everyone will just have to be blissfully happy! :)

  • Hannah B

    There are so many amazing comments and conversations happening right now. My 2 cents on a tangent to the income disparity convo- the idea that the gods favor the rich can be traced back earlier than Calvinists. This might be the root of it in the United States, but I also learned about this in my Historical Jesus class in college. An alternate view on the “It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of the needle on a camel than enter the gates of Heaven” line (paraphrase mine) is that, rather than bashing on rich people, Jesus was throwing his First Century audience for a loop by indicating rich people weren’t the favored ones, in this life or the next. Revolutionary thinking. Non-Roman thinking. Jesus Seminar Biblical conference line of thinking.

    Greek and Roman mythology are full of tales about people prospering because the gods love them and dying horrible deaths or being forced on insane suicidal journeys because they angered someone on Mt. Olympus. Perhaps the Calvinists made the innovation of saying God’s favor was limited. Point is, this idea that the deserving have and the undeserving don’t because God/ Jupiter/your mom said so goes way, way back.

    It strikes me that the paradigm of plenty – being happy for the good that happens to others rather than upset it didn’t happen to us – is the flip side of the “Golden Rule”/ Jesus’ commandment/ ancient eastern philosophy. Love thy neighbor as thyself, treat others the way you would like them to treat you, etc..Be happy for the fortune of others as you would have them be happy for you; cheer your co-worker’s raise because that means your company has money to give raises instead of layoffs. After all, when a player scores a touchdown, the whole team shares the points. (I’m from Pittsburgh: football is life.)

    It also strikes me that life would be a whole lot nicer if everyone stopped thinking that joy was finite and earn-able as opposed to infinite and create-able .

    Thanks, as always, for the stuff to think about.

    • Great points. It seems humanity has always grappled with the question of inequitable distribution of wealth. Cool. I really like the way you summed it up too:
      “It also strikes me that life would be a whole lot nicer if everyone stopped thinking that joy was finite and earn-able as opposed to infinite and create-able.” EXACTLY.

  • LWC

    Goodbye, APW.

    I have now reached my limit of navel-gazing, drama-club narcissism. A post about the response to the response to your original post? Really?

    It’s the most APW post ever written. Well done.

    • meg

      This is possibly my favorite mean APW comment of all time. Hilarious.

      I actually removed it because it was in violation of the comment policy, blah blah, and then put it back because I enjoyed it so much. Thanks for the giggles LWC. I won’t see you around, I guess.

      • d-day

        What I love are the 32 exactlys on this comment. How are there that many people who read this whole post, hated it, but still read all the comments closely enough to see this comment and say, “Yeah! Me too!” I just.

        My favorite mean comment will always be the pointy-head one.

  • Molly P


  • Since I’m adding my two cents woefully late, I haven’t read any of the other comments yet. I didn’t want them to cloud my response which is this: Manya, you have so eloquently written that there is enough of the important things. While reading your post I finally started breathing again. I have had a lot of anxiety lately and haven’t been able to breathe. Feeling the comparisons, the judgements of me not just may actions, the weight of isolation, and grief. But, what you said here, there is enough, enough love, compassion, courage. Just, thank you for allowing me to breathe if only for this moment.

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