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Leaning Towards High Agency

“When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something? So, how am I going to get past this bouncer who told me that I can’t come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience? You’re constantly looking for what is possible in a kind of MacGyverish sort of way. And that’s your approach to the world.” – Eric Weinstein on The Tim Ferriss Show

I was brought up to follow the rules. Thinking that adults knew something in this world, I would follow rules of behavior and take no as the answer. Fall in line, do your part, don’t question things… passive, low agency characteristics.

But I also grew up bending the rules ever so slightly in my favor, or breaking them outright. At four taking my three year old sister for a walk to visit my grandparents a mile or so away across a busy road? Let’s do it. At eleven or twelve taking my dad’s Playboy magazines and trading them with the neighbor’s dad for his Penthouse magazines and charge money for the other kids to read the articles? Seemed okay to me.

But somewhere along the way you slip into the workforce and pick up obligations. Maybe you enter middle management and start following the HR playbook. And slowly, over time, you become passive and decidedly low agency. You become… sheepish. But somewhere inside you that inner maverick chafes at the wool coat. And then you listen to a guy like Eric Weinstein talk about high agency, you hear the example of the main character on The Martian finding a way. And you understand.

“It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable.” – Sarah Blakely, Spanx

We generally accept things the way they are. But what if we questioned things a bit more? What if we tried a different way to do the thing that didn’t work the first or second time? What if we developed higher agency within ourselves to set our lives in the direction we want it to go? To be more Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sara Blakely or Elon Musk or Steve Jobs in our own careers? In our own lives?

“Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.” – Elon Musk

I think it starts with where we are right now in our lives. Living through a pandemic in our own way with Zoom or Teams, a laptop and a mobile phone at the ready. We’re all dealing with restrictions on travel and social distancing, some with a much harder hand to play than others, but as the stoics would tell us, we must play the cards we’re dealt anyway. And what do we do next?

“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

While we were complaining about shortages of toilet paper there were thousands of people figuring out a vaccine to make this problem go away. Right now, there are people building companies, writing the next great novel, inventing things or doing critical research that will outlive us all. The next big thing, created in the same time of COVID that you and I are living through. So what are we doing with our time? How are we going to work through whatever it is that isn’t working and finding a way through? A way to finally get it right?

“There is an awful lot of fails before you get it right.” – Elizabeth Isabella, Scripted Fragrance, an Etsy business featured on CBS Sunday Morning

I heard the Eric Weinstein interview on Tim Ferriss a few years ago now. I had the High Agency dogma reinforced in a George Mack Twitter thread a while back now too. In general I’ve leaned into higher agency in my own life. But still have a lot of fails before I get it right. Don’t we all? Keep trying.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

We might not ever get to a point where we’re mentioned in the same list as Schwarzenegger or Jobs or Blakely or Musk, but then again, maybe we will. But only if we pivot more, find a way forward or through, and shake off the passive. Time marches on. Will we?

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