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Claiming Your Agency: You Have More Control Than You Realize

How to make the most of your agency.

Dan Moyle, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Dan Moyle, Flickr, CC 2.0

Some people are frustrated at their lack of agency. For example, they might want more control over decisions at work, in a relationship, or over what other people believe or do.

Of course, you could try to be more assertive, more persuasive, change jobs, or change relationships, which may get you more agency. But this post's focus is on reminding you of the agency that you have and perhaps take for granted or don't use.

Thinking. What a freeing luxury, to be able to think what the hell you want, conventional or not, passionate or passive. Take a little time to indulge that luxury. Sit in your comfortable chair, in the bath, or in morning reverie, that time between sleep and getting out of bed. Take a minute to think, yes about the quotidian but perhaps bigger thoughts—a relationship, your career, politics, the life well-led as you want to practice it today.

Reading and watching. We have massive choice of what to read and watch, although publishers are exerting a level of censorship of contra-zeitgeist thought that I find troubling. Nevertheless, content today extends far beyond the traditional media such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to Vox, Vice, and Buzzfeed on the Left to American Thinker, Daily Caller, and the long-standing National Review on the Right.

With who and how to interact. Sure, you could succumb to social and familial pressure, but you do retain a fair degree of agency: Do you want to interact more or less with certain family members? With certain people at work? Friends? And you can choose to keep it light or have intense conversations, emotionally, intellectually, or politically. Keep the exchanges brief or extended, in-person, by phone, or yes Zoom. And of course, you have a choice in how much time to spend alone.

Your pace. Unless you have a boss or domestic partner who’s cracking the whip or demanding that you slow down, you can choose the pace at which you want to move through life. People vary in natural tempo and it’s lovely to be able to proceed at your pace.

Appearance. I’m a simple dresser. I wear one of a dozen collared shirts and jeans with clients and, otherwise, one of a dozen T-shirts, including when recording most of my YouTube videos. I enjoy the freedom of not having to dress up. Plus, I feel good about letting my success stand and fall on my substance, not my veneer. If someone dismisses my content because my veneer isn’t to their liking, I don't lament such a loss.

Housework. No one will invade your home to see how often you vacuum, empty the sink, or clean the toilet. It can feel good to have the choices: not just of how often to do such things but the products you use—more effective vs. greener—quieter or more powerful vacuum, quick-and-easy vs. impressive meals. Your home indeed is your castle, with you the king or queen.

Gardening. Except for the weather, you have complete agency over your plants, whether it’s a full-scale garden or just a window box and a couple of houseplants. Choose exotic or easy, aim for perfection or decide that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I'm originally from New York, now living in California, and particularly enjoy plants that only grow here: oranges, bougainvillea, bird of paradise, and that roses bloom eight months of the year rather than just three in New York.

Creative outlet. Most people crave expression. Whatever your creative outlet, you have a freely available outlet: a blog or YouTube. With such vehicles, you have complete agency except perhaps if you want to say something that might elicit criticism or pressure you into self-censoring.

The takeaway

Much is beyond our control, but cherishing and making the most of what we can control can help us keep our stress under control and feel better about our lives.

I read this aloud on YouTube.