Where Is Your Agency?

27 February 2012, by A. Cedilla

Quick, what comes to mind when you hear the word “agency”?

Alphabet soup? FBI, CIA, MI-6, NSA, NCIS…the cloak-and-dagger definition is a no-brainer, what with all the spy films out there, but looking up the word itself can give you two definitions:

  • One defines an agency as an organization responsible for and serving a specific function. For example, the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — also know as the ATF — deals with “the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.” You may have heard of it being referenced a lot on CSI: Miami. The IRS is also an agency, and you know what it handles, right?
  • The other definition of agency puts it as ‘having the faculty to move in and influence the world.”

It’s the second definition that we’re talking about here.

“Talk to my agent.”
If you’re an agent, you represent someone and you’re acting on his behalf in business dealings. If you have an agent, you have someone working to protect and further your interests, whether it’s promoting or selling a screenplay, a manuscript, paintings or some other result of your creativity or inherent skills and abilities.

When I ask “Where is your agency?” I am asking you to examine how you are acting on your own behalf. How are you looking out for your best interests?

We’re not about the Mission Impossible level of secret-agenting ( and yes, I know, I made that word up.) Asking yourself that, out loud, can be quite edifying: “What do I need to do to take care of myself? What course of action is open to me that will be in my best interests to take? What’s stopping me from taking it, and how do I remove those hurdles?”

There are many times it feels like were at the non-existent mercy of a very big world that couldn’t care less about this teeny little thing called Your Life. The credit card companies just want to keep you chained to the cycle of borrowing money (which you may have little hope of paying back in full in the near future), the banks are slipping in little “non-active account” charges, the utilities, rent and groceries are gnawing bigger holes in your pockets, and that’s not even covering what you have to do at work. So what does agency have to do with all of this?

If I speak of someone “being deprived of his own agency,” then that person has been stripped of his capacity to act for himself. He loses his power to act in the world.

As a punitive action, a prison sentence is one way to strip someone of his agency. On a lesser note, have you ever been grounded as a kid? That’s another way. And there are other common, insidious situations where you end up feeling powerless.

  • Maybe you’d been raised to believe that it was acceptable to give your agency over in the service of others, and that to act for yourself was to be selfish. This is especially true for women.
  • The way you were raised may have conditioned you to not even think you have other choices open to you or that you can make a difference. This is called learned helplessness.
  • At the current speed of life in industrialized nations, stress coupled by the demand for an instant resolution can make it hard to think clearly, or see clearly. You mentally draw a blank, and stall.

How do you deal with this? Like the old Carnegie Hall joke say, “Practice, man, practice.”

Take the time you need to think clearly.

  • As an immediate recourse, if you’re time-stressed and being pressured into a dense ball of meat, it’s hard to get any thinking done. Get out, get away, go somewhere and do something that helps you unclench and breathe easy.
  • For long-term benefits, establish the habit of setting up slices of time to think, meditate and reflect on the day. Think of them as mental-health breaks, where you reconnect with your best and truest intentions for the day so you won’t get pulled off-course.

Get the information you need to make a good decision…but don’t cling to the idea of “the perfect decision.”

  • Who is accountable for what information or action? A clear picture helps guide the decision process because you’ll know who to contact for help or clarity: the gate-keepers, the deal-makers, the bean-counters, the information specialists, etc.
  • When taking the time to do the research, focus on the final goal/s and work your way backward. When you have the clarity to know what you want, things that you need (to get, to do, to commit to) somehow fall into place so you can make it happen.

Decide with the end in mind.

  • You have a goal that can shift the direction of your life in a better way. You believe it’s worth it. If making it happen is going to be uncomfortable, you have to choose to bear the discomfort it will take every day to get to the goal.
  • Try to take a different approach to seeing things. There’s a problem? Look for the things contributing to it and set long-term, incremental repairs so as not to upset the system beyond your control. Looking for a solution? Maybe there are very small things you can do to ameliorate the situation immediately, and small, consistent actions that can train you out of contributing to the issue.

You are a force for yourself in this world. Your decision and commitment affects the direction of your influence. Never forget that.

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