Facing the Fear of Not Enough

fear not enough

It’s hard to be generous when you feel you don’t have enough. The fear of running out is deep, insidious and ingrained; and it presents itself in many guises. Giving in to this fear is to avoid risk, to burden yourself with precautionary excess and to restrict your enjoyment of life itself. It’s time to change your mindset.

On a two-day, 850-mile drive between Austria and Wales, I found myself faced with a traffic jam leading up to a lane closure about a mile ahead. One lane of traffic was almost at a standstill as the other crept steadily ahead, filtering into the first at the last possible moment. For once, I took the bull by the horns and stayed in the moving lane. I crept guiltily past a few cars but, afraid of running out of time and space, slunk back into the slow lane with plenty of room to spare.

‘That’s you all over’, said my fella, ‘you’re always afraid of running out’.

Ouch. His flippant, throwaway comment hit one of those sore spots I’d rather not acknowledge. So many of my self-defeating actions are symptomatic of that deep, underlying fear of not having enough.

You can see me bottle out of moving to the front of a traffic queue because I’m afraid that I’ll run out of room before I can change lanes. Observe a fridge full of leftovers where I’ve put a little of each dish away for later, and beautiful stationery never used because I’m afraid of the time when it’s gone. Watch me getting ready to go out and you’ll see that I pack too much food, and too many clothes, ‘just in case’. I hold back my best writing ideas because I lack the confidence of knowing there’ll be more. Receiving an invitation from a friend, I’ll often turn them down or cut the occasion short because I sense a lack of time.

The list goes on.

Somehow, though, saving something for later doesn’t help. It just serves to prevent you getting the best out of life. The poverty mentality doesn’t just reinforce your perception of lack; it creates new absences that feed the fear and make it grow.

Take the example of the stationery – I love it so I never use it. So I don’t actually have stationery. So I have to buy more that isn’t so precious, meaning I share only substandard stationery with people who deserve the best. Not only that, I’m placing higher value on the thing itself than on the pleasure of using it, or the pleasure others will experience on receiving it. My cupboards contain unused stationery, guilt and disappointment.

And the other examples – I enjoy creative cooking with what’s left in the fridge, but how often have I held back on full enjoyment of a meal the day before? How often have I been burdened by a heavy bag rather than travel light and risk getting it wrong? How many times have I had a bored, wasted day because I have turned down potentially time-consuming (fun) opportunities?

Take a moment to picture the worst-case scenario: you’ll have to wait a few moments for a gap in the traffic; your diary will fill up with enjoyable, productive activities; you’ll be a bit cold or have to buy more food. So what? Not exactly life-threatening!

Further down the road, in another country, another lane was closed and another two sets of queues crept their way forward. I’d like to say I learnt my lesson and cruised forward to the very end of the queue before slipping into the other lane, but it wasn’t to be; the fear of not enough has a powerful grip that is hard to override.

The vicious cycle can only be broken by wholehearted enjoyment of what you have, by taking risks and using everything in your possession for its intended purpose: stationery to be shared, food to be eaten, time and friends to be enjoyed. A Buddhist teaching tells you to treat a cup as if it is already broken – that way every moment you have it is a blessing, and the moment it goes is already accepted. No one need ever regret the loss of something used to its fullest potential.

Photo by Victor Bezrukov

11 thoughts on “Facing the Fear of Not Enough”

  1. Very original approach to the topic. I enjoyed your stories, and can relate to being cautious about running out of lane.

    About a year ago my wife bought a ton of these really cool icebreaker mints that I just really enjoyed. She ended up giving away most of them to her mom to give out to all the grand kids and I was a little upset. I didn’t want to run out of the cool candy I was so enjoying at the time.

    So I took three packages out of the ones that were being given away so I could have them as my own stash. To this day I only finished one of them.

    Because of my fear of running out I probably looked like a greedy snob who just wanted a bunch of candy for himself.

    Your advice is well taken. Worse case scenario I could have gone back to the store and got more. Sure the deal may not have been there, but it was only a matter of saving a dollar or so.

    Lesson of the story. Don’t sweat running out of the small stuff. Enjoy the Journey.

    I think it takes a conscious effort to get out of your typical day to day fear of running out and to just enjoy what you have.

  2. I can’t believe someone else has the stationary problem. I bought a ton of gorgeous stationary while I was in Japan, and now it’s in a large plastic tub that I never, ever open. If I need to send a letter, I always print something from my computer.

    When it comes to material things, I think we put too big an emphasis on what we have, rather than the experience of using it up. Giving away the stationary would probably give me greater happiness than having it, but somehow, I feel like I lose something if I keep it.

  3. I agree with Bryce! This one, Meg, is so original. Reminds me that what’s written from the heart, from one’s experience and from one’s view of things, always stand out.

    I particularly liked the ending. “No one need ever regret the loss of something used to its fullest potential.” As people are often to wrapped up cold over senseless “saving” and “keeping”, they’re actually just depriving themselves of the higher value of things, the purpose of relationships and people, and even the learning they could get if they didn’t hold back.

    Lesson? Every word has its meaning, every object has its purpose, every relation has its reason… express it, use it, have it… It might be too late once you’ve realized their value… and they’re not yours to say, express, make use of and possess.

    Thanks for this, Meg. I am so looking forward to more original posts from you!


  4. Excellent post! . Vibrating to the energy of lack and limittion appears to be an ongoing issue. From generation to generation we can see the way this belief has played out over time. And now surely is the time to transcend this illusion. Thank you Meg for making it all so clear.

  5. The theme of your post is very original and well thought of. Very often than not we fear of running out on money and save money like hell . Instead of saving money and loosing sleep over it one must enjoy with that hard earned money . Besides money which is a very common commodity when it comes to running out , I would also like to share my own experience . As a grown up teenager I used to collect a lot of tattoos and would never give it to any kid who would come over to my place. When I was a little older I realized that keeping them in the cupboard was a waste and so one day I gave the whole collection to a kid . That made me feel happy .
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  6. I suffer mightily from this fear of running out even though I live in abundance. I’ve been told this phobia, neurosis, whatever, results from scarcity while growing up. Maybe. In any case I believe this author has successfully identified one key to overcoming it: “Take a moment to picture the worst-case scenario…”

    What is the worst, really, that can happen? Guaranteed, it’s not that bad. The pain of the worst that can happen is nothing compared to what you lose by not using things to their full potential. Fairly easy to recognize intellectually. Now, to live it!

  7. Your post really hit home for me. I am plagued with this same fear of running out, and I just recently discovered this about myself. I was always so proud of myself for being so prepared, for being the one people could come to for “extras” if they didn’t bring enough, for having my husband and kids fully armed with earmuffs, gloves, hats, thermals, extra layers, for having a constantly stocked pantry. I started recognizing that I was so obsessed with keeping track of all of these pieces of clothing when we went on a trip that I didn’t enjoy the vacation itself. I was so concerned about running out of food that I was afraid to use what I had to prepare good meals, and sharing a bite of food off my plate with my husband or kids was Never an option. And I, too, have a box of really fun notecards and stationary that I never use and go to the plainer ones when sending a letter or note. I even notice this in my housecleaning. I never completely finish cleaning a space, always leaving a little something to tidy up for later, so I’m not left with idle time or nothing to do. I’m happy to have come across your blog and see that I am not alone. I do think I’ve been missing out on fully enjoying moments in my life that have been controlled by this fear of not having enough or of running out. I’ve always been obsessed with time, having enough time, using time efficiently, having everything flow systematically. It takes all the fun out of the actual moment. So thank you for your wonderful post. It was very enlightening.

  8. This is all well and good (and please know that I agree and relate to every example provided). I’m still not much closer to naming the cause of this behavior, though, and I’ve never been able to let go of an impulse unless I reach a place of completely understanding it.

  9. So glad I found this! I suffer from this and can relate to your stationary and driving analogies. For me, to the point where I am afraid to read the books of a single author because of “what happens when I’ve read them all?” And again, I just read today how it’s important to laugh, and that some people watch a funny show or movie to make them cheerful and I caught myself thinking I’d like to do that however, but…. “What happens when there aren’t anymore unique and funny things people do that make me laugh”, as if I would have seen all of the antics at some point.

    The stationary but I can overcome, however and perhaps, it’s a lack of commitment because of a fear of abandonment? Your thoughts?

    1. I have just read all your comments after googling fear of running out of things. I googled this because my wife too has had this problem for a long time. We got married 13 years ago when she told me about her last marriage where her husband left her, clearing out her bank account and any savings, her larder and fridge etc when she had a 3 year old daughter and three dogs to feed. Traumatic would be an understatement. So, we live in the country about 5 miles from any shops, and we gradually got to the stage that we are stocked up excessively to the point of heaving. Anyway I trained as a hypnotherapist many years ago but never had the time to practice it, so I am researching now in order to formulate some suggestion work. However, it does seem to be on the lines of OCD which is very difficult to cure. But I would suggest to all that have this problem, to firstly try to track down a good Hypnotherapist who has been trained by a reputable organisation and who has a good track record. Good luck to you all as I do understand what you must be going through.

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