The First Discovery of Personal Agency

There comes a moment, usually in adolescence or early adulthood, when you discover that you have agency. You discover that you have some control over your life — that you can improve yourself and your situation. I can set goals! I can be the best version of myself!

It is exhilarating. For my 13th birthday my Mom gave me Sean Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It had a profound influence on me, not because the content is new or profound, but because it was the first time anybody had told me about planning, emotional intelligence, attitude, persistence, and so on. I read about these concepts and felt a rush. Hark, the potential of self-determination!

Had I a blog at the time, I would have shared my lessons from this and other self-help books, and perhaps even tried to add my own spice to the stew of theories.

I didn't, but many teens and Gen Y folks of today do. They are for the first time discovering their power as agents in the world and have decided to share their excitement by blogging, reheating self-help principles, and linking enthusiastically to each other. More delicate matters, like introspection into personal strengths and weaknesses, get self-protectively channeled into de-personalized generation-wide theories.

At some point, you learn that some of the Tony Robbins axioms don't hold up, or are counterproductive, or are vague beyond use, or simply not very interesting compared to other topics of study. This is part of the maturation process, right?

I wish people didn't mock them in the meantime. I'd rather have young folks writing posts saying, "Make a list of 10 goals today!" instead of "Life sucks, stick your head in a bucket of water." If I had a blog when I went through the initial personal growth self-discovery stage, I'm sure I would have been writing stuff as cheesy and naive as what's coming down the pipe today. Hell, maybe I still am.

So let's understand and accept the phenomenon for what it is, recognize the worse alternatives, and move on.

(hat tip Cal Newport for brainstorming this idea over lunch)

12 Responses to The First Discovery of Personal Agency

  1. Jenna says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while but never commented. I enjoy it very much. At the same time, I want to say that “7 Habits for teens” is also a very inspiration book for me. I picked it up when I was 18. I just hoped that I had picked it up earlier. Now I’m 21, but I still carry it around with me whenever I travel/move to other places.

  2. Andres says:

    Definitely is a good attitude towards writing even if it’s cheesy, but I don’t like people using self-dev as a new way to make money.

    Specially young kids leaving comments on popular blogs to get traffic.

    I liked your conversation with C. Marshall about 43 folders and how isn’t more about the tips but the “do it”… and less commercial hype

    I’m interested in successful people, and sometimes is difficult to filter them

  3. Charlie says:

    Apologies in advance for the nitpick…

    Isn’t it “down the pike” (not pipe)?

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    My understanding is both are correct.

  5. Reader in Sweden says:

    Lately I’ve been going more oldschool in personal development, looking into all those “cheesy” and “obvious” things like self-discipline, positive thinking, habits, writing stuff down, etc. It’s a nice break from elaborate lifehacks, evopsych mindhacks and over-the-top lifestyle designs :p

  6. Reader in Sweden says:

    I think I’ll make a point of reading all those “embarassing” self-help authors that we suave lifehackers of today try to distance ourselves from. Again, as a nice break from my usual sophisticaded reading, and as a historical tour of the genre. I already have Tony Robbins’ “Awaken the giant within”, what are some other good picks? :)

  7. Dan says:

    Hi Ben,
    I am learning from your blog entries. You also mention that there are teens that are blogging about their exciting journey. Will you like to share some of their blog link with me. I guess i am also one of the teens Gen Y you talking about out there. =)

  8. Dan says:

    Yes, the NLP and NLPish stuff is rather hollow without emotional imtelligence.

    (It’s “Steven” Covey ;-)

  9. Dan says:

    Oh, “teens”, never-mind, and apologies to Sean, I ‘ll go practice my reading now ;-)

  10. Aatash says:

    I’m a teen working on a blog, and it makes me blush to say that it might fall into the “personal growth self-discovery stage” category you’re referring to. You say that it’s better than the alternative, where teens dump negative emotions into blog entries, but is there a better, third alternative that teen bloggers should shoot for?

  11. Ben Casnocha says:

    The “third alternative” is every other type of blog that’s out there….there are many types of model yours after….

  12. Aatash says:

    I realized that right after I made my comment. :)
    I guess the hard part is choosing the right model.

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