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)

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