Sunday, September 22, 2013

Agency: Remembering You Have It

I have recently become enthralled with the word of agency. And, I am not just talking about an office full of paperwork where you sign on the line. Agency is also a term that encompasses our power to choose and act. 

Lesser used definitions of agency read as follows:
(from the online Miriam Webster dictionary) 

the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power 


a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved

Ultimately agency is about our personal power. Agency is how we exert ourselves in the world, making choices about how, what, where, and when we do what we do.  We each have agency over our lives. I describe it to my students to remind them of the fact that they can walk out of the dance classroom at anytime.  No one is holding a gun to their head.  It is there choice to be in the room.  It is their choice to learn.  It is their choice grow and improve. And, it is their sense of personal agency that gives them the power to make these and other important choices.

Feeling like a victim is completely un-fun.  When I find myself feeling pressed for time, or frustrated with my work load, or just plain exhausted, I remind myself of my agency. I remind myself that I have the power to make my own decisions, and I am not a victim.  What this does is shift my thinking away from the heaviness of the moment and put me in a place of power.  I get to choose whether I want to do my work or not. I get to choose if I want to nap or not. I get to choose whether I write this blog or not.  These are all my choices.  

But, agency is coupled with the fact that there are real consequences to all that we do.  In order to not be a victim, we must be able to process the fact that certain behaviors come at a cost (and some with a very high price tag).  For instance, it is my choice whether to skip out on a meeting or a rehearsal, but that choice may mean losing out on the big picture. It may mean losing a friend, losing a part or loosing a job.  

But, in knowing that it is my choice, I get to ask myself "is it worth it?'  

This is the key to finding your own sense of autonomy and self worth.  Being a victim is essentially a cop out to owning our power and putting ourselves first in a giving situation.  When we complain as victims we have given up our agency.  Unless you literally have a gun to your head (or other life threatening situation), you have the choice.  

I have had a gun pointed at me. I was mugged when I was 21 in Solana Beach outside a club at 2am. In that moment, I had little agency.  I was a victim and as a result got my purse stolen but stayed alive.  That was a real-victim situation.  But, the rest of my life when I have felt like a victim, I have actually just made myself a victim. I chose the self definition of victim so I wouldn't have to own my personal power, so I didn't have to own the possibility of making a mistake or otherwise upsetting those around me (disappointed teacher, angry boyfriend, critical boss).  

Believing in your own autonomy and exercising your personal agency is tough!

It means that you have to love and respect yourself enough to make a decision.  But, when you make a decision that is rooted in your own self trust and self love, it feels good. It feels right.  It lets you go to sleep at night with a sense of ease.  There is comfort in knowing that you have a choice.  And, when I realize I have a choice I am reminded of what is really important.  Yes, I may feel stressed from a day at work, but I love teaching, and I choose to be there.  Even on the toughest day, I choose to be there.  When I feel tired and like I don't want to exercise, I am reminded that I exercise to feel better.  Or, when I am tired and just want to sleep, I can choose to do exactly that.  

Right and wrong is irrelevant. Honoring of yourself and acting in congruence with your values and life purpose is what matters.  

Knowing you have the choice makes the choice a lot easier.  


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