When working with a client on a career move – whether that be career acceleration or career shift – there is always one ingredient I look to instil more than any other, because I know from experience it will be the difference between success and continued stuckness.
That ingredient is PERSONAL AGENCY.
A sense of personal agency is not that easy to define – but we know it when we see it. Determination. Commitment. Conviction. Steel. Proactivity. Creativity. A calm intensity and a strong sense of self-leadership. This person is an agent in the world – and they are creating their future.
That already sounds good, right? And even if a career move is not our immediate agenda, we could all do with enhanced AGENCY.
So, how do we do that? Here are 4 ideas.
#1 Make daring requests
Ever asked a stranger for a favour and marvelled at just how ready and willing the world is to help? Ever been asked – and then delighted to contribute? This is agency at work. And the world wants to help us. If we’d but lift-up our heads and make a bold and daring request.
So, do it. Make at least one daring request this week. Better yet, do it now. Today.
Make it a request (informational questions don’t count – you’re asking for them to do something for you). Make your request specific. Tell them why you’re asking (truth is best). And be detached from the outcome. Your game is won in the asking, not in getting a “yes”.
A final pointer: your daring request must properly test the boundaries of your comfort zone. Else it’s not daring enough to enhance your sense of personal agency.
#2 Go on adventures
When we’re full of busy-ness and whirling around in unfocused action – as can so-easily happen when we’re contemplating a career move – the temptation is to say we can’t possibly take time out. Far too much to do.
But that’s exactly the reason I want you to slow down: to regain the perspective that tells you you’re on the right path; and to instil you with the energy and motivation (motiv-ation, reason-for-action for those that struggle with that word) to pursue that path.
So, take a little time away from career and go on an adventure …
Where “adventure” is defined as: something out in the real world; with the potential to be fun, exciting and enjoyable; and having the following 3 qualifying characteristics.
- It’s important it not be part of your regular routine, but something fresh (either new or unvisited for some time).
- It’s important you can do it in the next few days – booking something for 6 months’ time doesn’t count!
- And it’s important you not think too long and hard about it – more important to do something as opposed to the right thing.
On that last point: this is about retraining ourselves to be an action-based human being again. So, the exact content of your adventure is less important. But you’ll find that out when you go on your adventures!
#3 Connect beyond your circle
“Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
It always pays to connect with other people. But to really instil a sense of powerful, personal agency, take that idea one or two steps further and branch-out beyond your immediate circle.
- Warm-up by talking to your immediate network (who, as a consummate networker, you’ve been regularly in touch with, right?).
- And then, take the spirit of those conversations and reach-out to the next level: people you know vaguely or have some connection with, but who are not part of your inner circle. Perhaps a mutual connection or someone met at an event.
- And then, just to really stretch the discomfort (!), look to connect with someone you don’t know personally but who is well-known and respected in your sphere.
Now: what are you going to talk about? Well, this is about connecting and interacting. And as humans, we are expert in that – if we can only get over our awkward social conditioning.
So … reflect on amazing conversations you’ve had in the past and notice what makes them work. Reflect ahead of time on what you have to offer your counterpart. And make good use of the truth – if only because it’s the easiest thing to remember.
#4 Shift the perspective
In our careers – as in most areas of our life – it’s easy to operate under a context we just don’t question.
A context is a way of seeing the world. And that world view strongly informs our behaviour. That is: given the way we see the world, we behave a certain way. And those behaviours have (or perhaps more accurately, had) good intention and purpose – but now, no longer continue to serve our primary goal. So: shift the context, upgrade the behaviour.
Here are 5 context revisions to experiment with (no need to say this these are “truth”; just sandpits to play-in for a while!), whilst you develop your strong sense of personal agency.
- Your network gives you access to everything you need. No more excuses about who you know. You know everyone you need. You just haven’t reached-out enough or in the right away.
- The world wants to support you. Human beings are instinctive problem solvers. And we crave to feel useful. It feels good! But we forget these significant truths. So, reverse the context that we’re all out for ourselves. Instead: decide the world needs you to put your requests out there!
- There is no single, “right” answer. Drop the eternal search for the One Right Answer and the thought that, until I find it, I’m losing or failing. Emboldened career moves are about looking far more broadly than a single answer.
- Failure is feedback. There is a world of difference between temporary failure and permanent defeat. Instead, view failure as the valuable learning and direction-setting gift that it is. Seek it out. And use it to continually strengthen your position.
- Not dealing is the painful part. Our first instinct is to move away from a negative. But that’s a confusion of our long-term/short-term, pain/pleasure associations. Notice that the pain is in the NOT dealing (despite the short-term relief). And the real (long-term, “for good”) pleasure is in dealing with the pain point and eradicating it!
What contexts have you been living in that could do we a perspective upgrade to get back to agency?
Instilling a sense of powerful personal agency
Agency, by its very nature, is not something we can instil purely through research, reading, reflection and other passive strategies. It’s something that requires us to be out in the real world. Quite literally an agent for change, creating our future.
So, if you’re considering a career move but are hesitating, start by checking-in on your sense of agency. And where that sense is anything other than powerful, take that as a surefire sign of insufficient action. Real-world action is your key. Everything else is there, then unlocked by agency