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  • Writer's pictureStephen


I listened to a couple of podcasts recently that reinforced and added some nuance to an idea I have been thinking about for some time - Agency.

Here is my working definition:

Agency: functioning in a way that allows me to take both control and responsibility of what I can, rather than living as a victim who is just reacting to life.

(I'll understand if you decide to stop reading, because this idea is really challenging me too!)

If you are still with me, you can see that my working theory presents agency in opposition to victimhood.  Before we go any further it's important to understand that I think this is more like a scale, rather than a switch.  In other words, it's not that I am either functioning with Agency or victimhood, but rather, which direction am I leaning, and how can I tip the scales more in the direction of living with Agency? This is why I use the phrase "taking both control and responsibility of what I can" in my definition.  If I am leaning more toward the side of victimhood, I don't think I have very much control or I am looking for who else is to blame for my circumstances.  But if I am leaning the scales toward Agency, then I'm looking for what role I may have played in what's unfolding, and I look for what I can do to respond to it.

Here's a simple way to think about this: A person who tends to lean more toward the victim side of the scale says, "Oh, no! What am I going to do?!"  Life is happening to them, and they primarily live from a place of just reacting to it.  But a person who is leaning more toward the Agency side of the scale says, "Oh! What am I going to do?!" They see life as just happening, and while they may not have much control over what is unfolding, they are going to take an active role in deciding how they are going to respond to it. 

Using those contrasting phrases, when the victim says, "Oh No! What am I going to do?!" they often feel stuck and left with little choice other than to just blame others and sit in their pain and frustration.  However, when a person of Agency says, "Oh! What am I going to do?!" they are able to acknowledge the frustration of their situation, but don't feel stuck because they start looking for the ways in which they can take control and responsibility for what they can, and then they start taking action.

Again, since this is more like a scale than a switch, rather than ask the question, am I victim or an Agent?, there's more opportunity for growth in asking, Which way are my scales leaning? Do I tend to typically lean more toward the victim or the Agency side in general? Are there specific situations I am experiencing right now in which I am leaning more toward the victim side, and if so, what can I start to do in order to not feel like I am just stuck and out of control? What actions could I take in response to those circumstances that would help tip the scales more toward the Agency side and help me feel like I was actively working to take control and responsibility for what I can? Who could I talk to that would help me see this situation from a different perspective, and how could that help me tip the sales toward being more of an active Agent in my life?

Finally, I want to acknowledge how tempting it is to let the scales tip toward victimhood.  It often feels really good to point the finger of blame and sit in the space of complaining! But, that usually only lasts for a little while, and when I can begin to shift into the space of Agency, the positive, long-term impacts far outweigh the temporary feelings of self-righteousness.

Here's to tipping our scales toward Agency this week!

Be Well,


Center was created to support individuals and teams so they can live from their Purposeful Center.  We specialize in professional coaching and leadership development and we’d love to support you!  Click on our Services page to book a free consultation.

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