Friends who have served me food at their places are sometimes irritated if I only put a small amount on my plate. “Are you sure you don’t want more?” they ask, trying to be a good host and feed me plenty. “Let me finish this first”, I say, “and then I will take more”. Which I usually do if the food is good.
I learned this as a child. My parents and grandparents wanted to ensure I wouldn’t put food on the plate, not finish it, and then it would go to waste. Eat small quantities first. There’s always more. And there was always enough, including leftovers, to carry forward to the next meal. On the odd case that we finished everything they cooked, they were worried it had not been enough.
The first time I fully realized this was a conversation with a flatmate in college. He grew up with four siblings. They were not very poor, but he told me that he and his brothers sometimes fought over food and had to ensure he was getting his fair share. I don’t have memories of fighting over food with my sister.
It goes beyond food. I can’t remember any time we discussed money in terms of whether we could afford a necessary purchase. My parents did not have affluent backgrounds. They came from families that left East Germany, and my grandparents had to build a new life in the West from scratch. But they did well for themselves, getting stable, well-paid jobs and being able to purchase a single-family home for me to grow up in. They could afford what they and their children needed. However, they were never “trying to keep up with the Joneses”. I don’t know anyone less prone to conspicuous consumption than my parents. The financial advice I indirectly got from them was that you could build wealth if you don’t need luxuries and live below your means.
From what I’ve described above, I have gained an abundance mindset. Sometimes when people hear that I’m a freelancer, they tell me they’d like to do it, but they’re worried about paying the bills if there’s no steady paycheck. One of the reasons I’m pretty relaxed about my entrepreneurial journey is that I am literally unable even to think that not being able to put food on the table could happen to me. (However, being too laid-back is a problem, too, which is why I sometimes stay too long with projects that are not financially viable.)
At carnival parades in Germany, it’s common for the people on the trucks to throw candy toward the people watching the train, and then the children try to catch or collect them from the ground. I never did this as a child. Of course, the main reason is that I didn’t even like eating 90% of the sweets they threw at the crowd. But I’ve also felt something cringe about fighting for scraps like this, especially if it involves competing against the other children trying to reach for the same stuff. I’m not trying to sound classist, but I felt this is somehow below me.
In school, I was always among the kids with the best grades, and I didn’t have to exert unreasonable effort to get there. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying it because it fueled my abundance mindset. When I started university, I remember the dean of the computer science department telling us that there were simply no unemployed folks among their graduates. We CS students were irritated about the law and theology (!) students who apparently hid books in the library to get an unfair advantage over their peers while we liked helping each other.
I strongly believe in competition, but only if it’s fair play. We should win for our merits and never by putting anyone else down. Besides, I think most of the “games” in the world are positive-sum and not zero-sum. We should lift each other and increase the overall size of the pie instead of fighting about who gets the bigger pieces.
Because abundance makes me feel I have everything I need or could have it if I wanted to, I don’t need to assert dominance. I don’t need to engage in fights. If things get too heated, I can be the first to step down and remove myself to help cool things down. If we meet on a narrow path, you can be sure I’m the one who slides to the side to ensure you can pass. If only two pieces of pie are left, I will take the smaller one and leave the bigger one to you.
Why am I writing about all of this? Am I trying to say I’m a better person? Of course not. That would contradict this piece itself. So here’s the reason.
Recently, I wrote about being single. In the article, I said that my singleness results from a “combination of a lack of opportunities and a lack of desire”, but at the same time pointed to “some thoughts and attitudes towards dating and relationships in my mind that hold me back”. And my abundance mindset could be one of them.
First, the idea of abundance means there’s little pressure to find someone quickly, even as one gets older and the dating pool shrinks. You will subconsciously assume there’s always “plenty of fish”. Of course, it helps you stay relaxed on a date, but that can also mean a lack of seriousness in actually “closing”.
Second, the dating market is limited. There is no abundance. And it’s a zero-sum game if you’re assuming monogamy because everyone will end up with one partner. The only way to ensure this partner is good is that you are willing to compete for them, even at the expense of other men fighting for the same woman. And I sometimes feel multiple men courting the same women can be as cringe as the children fighting over the candy from the carnival truck.
Third, it is not a market based on fair play. I’ve seen people of all genders throw good manners out the window and are willing to play dirty because the prize is worth the cost. The desire to score the hot girl or the handsome guy overrides behavior patterns appropriate for interpersonal relations. It’s no wonder I don’t feel like playing.
I don’t consider this my primary blocker, but it is certainly relevant. I will follow up with more thoughts on others, but in the meantime, I’m curious to hear your opinion, too.