The Power of Paucity

My nephew moved to town. Most every physical thing he owns fit into the rental truck that he drove from Wisconsin, where he just graduated college, to Colorado, where he’s starting out the next phase of his life. Yesterday, we unloaded the truck into his new apartment. He has no job, no debt, and no outside expectations. And we adults are jealous. While he and his girlfriend are anxious to accumulate, there’s a part of the adults in his life that longs to be back to the simplicity of starting anew.

It’s not only the simplicity we crave. It’s the feeling of having nothing to lose. By having nothing to lose, the biggest obstacle to action is removed. He can honestly say: “What’s the worst that can happen?” If we start a new business, or quit our jobs, or travel more, or work more, or work less – what’s the worst that can happen?

The thing is, we call can do that. We can capture the motivating excitement and hurdle-reducing state of having nothing to lose by imagining our worst fears of losing it all. (When done as an exercise, it turns out we do not need much help to do so. We often overestimate risk.)

In The 4-Hour Work Week author Tim Ferriss quotes:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” — Seneca.

When inventoried, we’ll often see that some of our worst fears are 1) unlikely to happen and 2) recoverable. Often, upon this closer inspection we’ll realize the permanent affects of the risks weigh far less than initially imagined.


With our young nephew’s big life change this weekend, I’m glad for the reminder of what it’s like to be just starting out. And for the reminder that no matter where we are in life, we can all start new goals, make big life changes if we want, and have the open-ended excitement of a clean slate. And – if the worst comes to be and we lose all that at one time we thought was important – we will probably realize it wasn’t important and can rebuild and start anew. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for our nephew, wish him well, and am sure he will do great things — with nothing to lose.

p.s. If you know of anyone looking to hire a skilled marketing expert in the Denver area, I know one that just moved to town. 🙂

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