I wish I had written this. She expresses my experience with Millennials. Please read it and acknowledge all the millennials in your life.
My mom is the mother; and I am the young daughter (many years ago).
I’m going to be self-indulgent in this post and selfishly promote my book. I may have been the protagonist in my story, but mother was the main character in my life, as well as the other main character in the coming-of-age memoir I published three years ago, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away (paperback version) or Kindle version.
As I have explored the concept of agency in human development here on my blog for several weeks and go further with an example from my own life. I know Mother provided the “curriculum” for me to grow assertive, self-reliant and unafraid—in other words, to develop a sense of agency, in order to be the CEO of my own life. Travel trips, living in other cultures, and being on my own all generated agency that has served me well into adulthood.
Mom propelled me into the world, where she had rarely gone herself. She married two weeks out of high school and had me 21 months later. By age twenty-three she had two baby boys in addition to me. She and Dad situated our family in Piggott, Arkansas (northeast Arkansas) on a plot of land and in a house they built and moved into the month before I was born. At age thirty-seven she became the administrator of the nursing home that she and dad built with another couple and opened in 1966. She became the second largest employer in town.
Mother’s domain extended to the First Baptist Church one mile from our house. She taught Sunday school forever. She held every position possible in the women’s missionary union (WMU). She was leader to different children’s programs. She sang in the choir. She served on many committees and chaired most at some time over the years. And she always showed at potlucks with tasty treats.
Our family did not travel much, took very vacations. Mom and Dad were busy working, raising us kids, and active in the life of our church.
In first grade, my teacher placed a seashell to my ear and I traveled to the ocean to hear the surf for the first time. My third grade teacher read the adventures of the Box Car Children that I relived each night before dropping off to sleep. I toured the world in fourth grade geography, where I learned Switzerland was a country without its own language and Japan, a country with a language of pictograms I could not read.
But moreover, I built a curiosity about the world at church, through mission studies and missionaries who visited our church. Sometimes religion can narrow our views of the world, but in my case the church expanded my outlook on the world, and in turn developed my worldview.
Poignantly, my mother launched me into the world, discerning that travel is fundamental to exploring the world, though she had never done so herself. Mom, progressive and enabling by standards then and now, proved to be an instrument of me growing up strong, independent, and resilient. She trusted me, but more than that, she trusted the process of becoming an adult. And she entrusted me into the hands of Jesus Christ in her prayers.
Mother knew what Mark Twain expressed in the “Conclusion” of The Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of Men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Before I was twenty-one I took many imaginary trips, along with ones in real time. Travel became my herald, mentor, and shadow. I prized the strength and wisdom that travel offers. And now I relish life’s lessons, learned—those treasured, even those squandered.
I dedicated the book to my mother, Gaye Wiley, wise beyond her experience, who provided me the means to learn about how to make my own decisions; how to act and behave in ways that were caring, compassionate, and smart; as well as, providing a safety net until I had developed sufficient resilience to get up on my own and try again.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!!!
To purchase the paperback version of my book go to: https://www.createspace.com/4766298
To purchase the Kindle version go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JU4WITI
Madison Winstead, my Cousin Keith’s daughter, signed on with her local university to swim with their team as a high school junior last year. This year as a senior she asked her future college coach and then the NCAA the unthinkable—permission to suit up and swim with the team in competition this year.
Why did she ask? Why did they say “yes” for the first time in NCAA history?
THE ANSWER TO WHY
Madison’s mother, Shane, has a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Her mother wanted to see Madison swim just once in college competition. So Madison after talking to her dad, but months later secretly went to her future coach and proposed an unlikely scenario. The coach and Madison took the request to the NCAA and got the answer everyone wanted.
She suited up and swam as a high school student with the college team, before entering college, Saturday, April 22, 2016.
This is a classic example of “agency” in the growing life of Madison. (See her story aired on NBC’s Today Show.)
Other sites tell the story from different viewpoints, if you are interested.
Madison decided her mother’s desire was worthy of pursuit. The family, which also includes her brother Clayton, has dealt openly and proactively with the outcome of this medical diagnosis. They are a remarkable family.
In researching the concept of agency, I found that there are three different angles on agency: business, philosophical, and sociological. As I have written before there is the business side of agency, in which one entity works on the behalf of another entity, like a health agency or advertising agency. This definition fits Madison, as well, because she became the agent of making her mother’s wish come true.
MADISON’S OWN STYLE OF AGENCY
On the other hand, Madison has learned to make decisions for her own life. She chose, using a careful and thoughtful selection process, the college-swim team she wanted. She knew the coming years would be difficult, some of which may be without her mother. She wanted a team that would support her during the anticipated loss.
Madison also had the courage and determination to ask the improbable question and enlist the appropriate assistance. She did this on her own without her dad’s knowledge at the time. She went prepared to her coach. She followed guidance of a mentor and helper, her coach. She did the follow-up work with the NCAA. She waited patiently and respectfully.
Agency as I use the word here is not a business term, but as Wikipedia says, “In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” Wikipedia goes on to describe agency as “one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will.”
Some of us develop a sense of agency growing up and others of us after we are adults. Some of us develop it in one area of our lives and not others. Some of us develop agency for good outcomes and others of us for illegal, unethical or immoral outcomes.
Madison has developed a sound sense of agency at a young age in making things happen for herself and her family. May she learn to master the sense of agency in other areas of her life that prove as useful as it has in this part of her life.
Cheers to Madison who gets it—agency!
I want to follow-up on the idea of “agency”–of bringing things about in one’s life that are positive, productive and energizing. We can tackle this exercise by brainstorming other words or phrases that mean something similar. Brainstorming is more fun with others, but I will go it alone for the moment. (Feel free to join me when you get this.)
- Making something happen that you desire
- Creating what you want
- Manifesting (heard this word today — love it!)
- Generating outcomes
- Building an attitude that serves you
- Finding ways to overcome obstacles
- Seeking productive solutions
- Expanding options
- Discovering possibilities
- Garnering assistance
- Accepting champions
- Utilizing mentors, experts, and others who can help
As you can see, I generated plenty of ways to articulate “agency.” Of course, I am looking for the positive side of agency.
We may want a million dollars and decide to rob a bank. That IS manifesting what you want in life, but it comes with negative consequences. So let’s be clear.
I’m talking about when a person displays “agency” that person is seeking legitimate ends through legitimate means. Am I splitting hairs? I’m trying to be clear.
It is not me wanting to buy a Hummer, when I make $32,000 a year. It is not me desiring a pair of shoes that I will wear one to three times and pay $150 for them–especially if I’m making only $32,000. But agency could be me deciding to learn the piano at age 42 and making the required adjustments around family and work life to make it feasible to do.
Agency is a young woman wanting to study abroad as a junior in college and being willing to cover part of the cost by working; to apply for a scholarship, grant or loan; and ask mom and dad to help with part of the cost, if that is possible. It includes initiating and completing the application on time, even if she needs help. And if a young woman demonstrates agency she will do any other preparation necessary for the trip.
Does this short essay get us any closer to understanding the concept of agency? And why is it important for us to understand the concept?
I have a thing about “agency,” which I wrote about in my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away. For many of our young women particularly, but also young men, I believe they have difficulty in acquiring a sense of “agency” for themselves in today’s world. “Agency” is not an often used term, but it seems to capture much of what I think is needed for young people to develop as they come of age. (My concern and interest is primarily young women, so I will address them.)
I want to explore this concept for several days in a row on my blog to see if I can bring more clarity about it for myself and for you, my reader. Hopefully we can discover its ingredients to growing up and maturing in our society. Here goes!
When I speak about the agency of a young girl, growing up, maturing and coming of age, what do I mean? Think with me in terms of a “travel agent.” What is the role of a travel agent?
An agent researches and selects a destination; sets up an itinerary of sites to see and things to do; arranges lodging, food, and transportation; develops a budget to generate the cost for you; creates reasons and benefits of why one should go to that location–all to minimize your work in getting ready to travel.
Much like a travel agent, a young woman learns through experience, how to make things happen for herself. Even failure becomes a powerful learning tool. Each young woman is capable of becoming her own “agent.”
She can determine a destination that appeals to her and check the things she wants to see and do there-decide if it is a worthwhile journey. If still it’s still an attractive destination, then she can determine if she can afford to go. If so, she can schedule transportation, make arrangements, and generate the cash to finance the trip.
Once she is there she makes the most of her research and what she learned from others who have been there before. She will learn what she likes and doesn’t like about the place and the trip. Failure and success will inform her next adventure in life.
Over time, this sense of “agency” becomes more refined and more productive for her. We often call this “growing up.”
What do you think?