In sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of an entity (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in any given environment.

– Wikipedia

Sometimes life is not within our control. The proportion of how much control we have varies. I would argue the proportion varies person to person, based on socio-economic background, genetics, and pure dumb luck, among other factors.

For the most part, I prefer to operate under the idea that I have agency in many, but not all matters. I love my job and industry because it allows for a high level of agency. The harder I work, the smarter my strategies, the better I do.

Likewise, budgeting is mostly under my control unless our situation changes. Do I want to be in debt, or do I want to pay off debt? I want to pay off debt, so I make choices to do so. No vacations, few meals out, no shopping = less debt. It’s straightforward and it feels like I am in control, which I love.

Does it mean I am bummed that we’re not going to Disneyland, or Hawaii, or Europe? Sure. But again, my choice. No travel this year means less debt. And less worry. Worry doesn’t have a dollar value, but not worrying is worth something to me. It’s worth a lot, actually.

I was reading Beverly Cleary’s autobiography “Girl From Yamhill” which contains one of the most compelling descriptions of what it was like to live during the Depression.  We aren’t in a Depression (although we recently narrowly avoided one) yet there are lessons to be learned from the book. Build an emergency fund, have the least amount of debt you can – and especially don’t carry high interest level debt.

The past ten years has taught me that you often don’t have control of a situation, but when you have agency, grab it. Use it. Grousing or complaining often about the unfair nature of life is a waste of time. And worse, it wastes other people’s time.

I wish I had learned this much earlier, but now that I have, I hope to never forget it.

How much agency to do you think people have? Do you like to feel in control in most of your life?







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3 responses to “Agency

  1. Pingback: Link love! | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured)

  2. Agency in this sense is a powerful concept. Like you, I wish I might have had a better idea of my agency earlier. Had I the clarity of thinking, the agency, I have now, I might have reduced the negative emotional deficits I accumulated during the darkest periods of my infertility grief. Now I am paying those deficits down by rejoicing in the friendships and connections I’ve made along the way. I count you, JJ, among the riches I’ve discovered…

    p.s. your post reminded me of this David Brook’s column, The Agency Moment: … this line resonated with me most deeply: “He discovered agency by finding something he was good at and organizing his life around that gift.”

  3. Pingback: One…One…One… | Too Many Fish to Fry

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