This different idea of agency has been rolling around in my head since our conversation. I looked it up and discovered that one definition of agency is: The capacity of a person to act or exert power in any given environment or situation.
Children start out with very little agency. They develop it as they grow and mature. In many ways teenagers fight the hardest of all demographics to develop their agency. They want to know that they have the ability to make their own decision and in fact they are often known to exert their agency simply to prove that they can make their own decisions – even bad ones.
As we mature we develop more agency in our lives. I have noticed that when we are not diligent and aware we can give away parts of our agency without realizing what we are doing. This can happen in our professional lives as well as in our personal lives. When we ‘settle’ or ‘go along’ (different from compromising) we relinquish some of our agency – our ability to act or exert power. Some people on the other hand, over-exert their agency. They spend an incredible amount of energy demonstrating and exerting their power – often with unintended consequences. What then is the balance? We all know people who couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it and we know others who insist on making decisions even when they are not in the best position to do so.
The balance with having agency in your life is to first decide over what things you want to exert power. What are the things you want to influence? Once this is decided, the question becomes how to go about establishing your agency in these areas. A further question to ask is what kind of agent you wish to be.
For instance, I do not need to be the ‘transportation agent’ in my family. At the end of my life I will not measure my success by the kind of vehicle I drive. On the other hand, I am hanging on pretty tight to being my own ‘health agent’. I love choosing my fitness routine and I would have a very hard time turning this over to someone else. I’m betting that there are people who would reverse the above examples.
The point is not so much about what we have agency over as it is about realizing that we make decisions affecting our agency often. It is also about understanding that as agents, the power to achieve our results comes through us. If we choose not to exert our power, our agency, we choose to not achieve the result. It is critical to understand that we must exercise our agency if we wish to keep it.
As I think about agency, I also understand that each of us has agency in many, many areas of our lives. Sometimes we are forced to give up our agency in a particular area. This does not mean that we lose our entire agency; it does not mean that we even lose all of our agency in that area. To return to my example of my exercising, two years ago I was sidelined from running which had been my mainstay of fitness and good mental health. I lost my agency here. I was no longer an agent of running. However, this did not mean that I could no longer be an agent of my fitness or health. I simply had to think of new ways to exercise my agency (literally) in this area of my life.
It has been sobering for me to understand that by recognizing my agency, I am also acknowledging places where I have been careless; places where I have relinquished my agency without meaning to. New thinking is how I grow.
As I have mentioned before, in our family this is the summer of weddings. Our son, Greg, will get married in less than a week. When I think about Greg, I think about someone who is very careful and deliberate with his many agencies. Greg is an agent of kindness. He is also an agent of encouragement. When people tell him about their ideas, the power that he exerts is to listen well and to help them know that he believes in their abilities. He does this thoughtfully, without lying and with kindness. He also does it consistently. He keeps this kindness in the fore when he sets goals for himself too. He is thoughtful about how his dreams will affect others, and he is kind with himself as he approaches new learning curves. Because he chooses to practice kindness and encouragement, he is an agent of kindness and encouragement. What a wonderful way to approach a marriage.
For my part, over this next week I am choosing to be an agent of celebration.
My challenge for you this week is to identify one place where you want to have agency. What is the smallest step you can take to achieve this that will give you the biggest result?
Don’t wait for a great moment to make change; take this moment and make great change.
Finding the tools you learn in these blogs to be helpful? Contact me today to learn more about how we can work together to facilitate the change you want.