What to do when the world is falling apart around you?

April 09, 2020

The Step by Step Guide to Staying Sane

By: Boyuan Gao

As I write this, I’m eating a bowl of ramen out of a cup and having some anxiety about when I have to head to the grocery store again. My pantry is stocked, my freezer is loaded, and I could have spent the last 30 minutes cooking a nourishing meal. Instead, I am than stuffing my face with a processed soup base with too much damn sodium, but then again – scarcity

Thinking around scarcity

It really hadn’t dawned on me until this crisis that scarcity doesn’t exist anywhere in the natural world. It’s an incredibly powerful human construct that creates situations like folks throwing punches at the grocery store for toilet paper. Before you judge folks for price gouging and all of that, consider that we’re all products of this cultural default. We are in some way contributing to the experience of haves vs. have nots, whether we’re on the ‘have’ or ‘have not’ side. The existence of one creates the possibility of the other. The point here is that scarcity is created in our minds.

That isn’t to say that if you’re now assed-out because of COVID-19, and you just got laid off. You may not know where your next check is going to come from, and not sure how you’re going to pay your rent. What I am saying is that this concept of scarcity is a product of our collective imaginations and agreements. This is the context behind our economy, our romantic relationships, and even our views on ourselves. Despite the uncertainty around us this is a very opportune time to get to the root cause of this scarcity thinking. Let’s unearth it and create something more sustainable for when we get out of this mess. 

If you’re up for it, which, I hope you are. (What else are you going to do right now? Watch Tiger King?). Today we’re going to do some shadow work relating to the concept of scarcity. And unpack the root cause of where that exists in your personal belief system.


What you’ll need for this is a pen and paper, and some uninterrupted solitude for some deep introspection. This exercise is going to take something and may bring up some uncomfortable feelings or confront something ugly or dark. The purpose is to unearth those elements so that you are not beholden by them unconsciously or consciously. Let’s try to work through whatever personal challenges you’re faced with. 


Step One

Think about a specific area of your life where you are most challenged at this moment, and write out the scenario. I’m going to seed the following two examples throughout the directions so you get a sense of how to do this journaling. Two specific challenge areas:

  • “I’m talking to a guy every day who I know is not available, but I can’t stop myself. It’s gone from DMing to FaceTiming, and we’re even thinking of meeting up in the middle of the quarantine.” 
  • “Now that all of my gigs are canceled, I feel like I have to switch my career, but I am paralyzed with options because I don’t want to make the wrong choice.”

Step Two

What’s your narrative about this challenge? In other words, when you are speaking to yourself about this challenge, what are the actual words that you are saying to yourself? Examples: 

  • “I’m afraid that since I’m single during the coronavirus, that if I stop talking to this guy, I’ll have no one.”
  • “I’m afraid that if I make the wrong choice about a career direction at this age, I won’t have any more time.”

Step Three

Now we’re going to get to the root cause by asking a series of WHY questions. It’s important that you remember to ask WHY to each previous WHY. The point here is to get deeper and deeper into the same challenge.
And avoid switching gears to another topic or issue. The other important note to remember is to answer each WHY by starting with an “I” statement, as in, “I believe” or “I think…” 

Now going back to the top two examples, ask yourself, “Why do I believe this?” 

  • “I believe that at this age, there are only so few good guys still available, and they don’t want to date someone my age.”
  • “Because I believe that most peers are already way ahead of me in their careers, and I don’t want to fuck up again.”

Ask yourself “Why do I believe that?” Be brutally honest with yourself from here on out. We just scratched beneath the surface.

  • “I think there’s something wrong with me, where I just am not good at relationships.” 
  • “I don’t think I’m really good at anything. I don’t have any real skills or talents.”

Why do you think that?

  • “I don’t know if I’m lovable.” 
  • “I’m not sure I’ll really amount to anything.”

And why do you think that?  

  • “I believe I’m unlovable.”
  • “I believe I’m worthless.” 

That’s brutal huh? And we all have a challenge or two in our current lives that come down to something just as nasty. Make sure that you go deep, if not more. 

Now what? 

The big reveal is actually not the entire point of the exercise. It’s just as important to go through the process. The process of doing this shadow work allows us to route our energy to the actual thing. Think of it as something to work on, not just the surface symptoms. It’s actually not really about this trash guy that I shouldn’t be talking to anyway, but rather the ways in which I don’t fully love or even trust myself. It’s not really about “which is the right job?” as much as it’s about the fact that I just don’t think I amount to much in this world. Now, that’s the thing to work on!

Getting to the root of it all

When we got to the root cause, we made a statement like, “I think” or “I believe.” That’s the great trick about this journaling exercise. They are your thoughts and beliefs, and not the truth. We may not always have much control over our circumstances or the external factors around us, but we can always change our beliefs. We can create an affirmation that is the antidote to this belief. We can create a self-love regiment that deals with our sense of unworthiness. We can chat with our trusted confidants and get their take on who they think we are, rather than the story we tell ourselves about who we are. There are many ways, but more on that in a later blog post. You can start by asking yourself, what is one thing I can do right now to shift this belief? 

Now go forth, my friends. Let’s get to the source of our own scarcity. That will help us create a more sustainable and loving world once all of this pandemic madness eventually subsides, and we are tasked with designing a new future

Be safe, everyone!

Boyuan is a Western Massachusetts based cultural strategist and equity designer. Her career has spanned organizations impacting youth development, juvenile justice, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, environmental justice, music journalism, digital media, technology and women’s entrepreneurship, with roles ranging from founder, editor-in-chief, marketer, community organizer, facilitator and more.
Boyuan is the cofounder of Project Inkblot, a Design for Diversity™ consultancy, which partners with companies to create equitable products, services, content, and experiences. Their portfolio includes clients like Rent the Runway, Etsy, SS+K, WeWork and Housing Works. She is also an executive producer and creator of Fit the Description, a docu-series exploring the nuances of race, identity and policing.
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