Although certain elements of our lives might lie beyond our direct control, such as ageing or how people behave towards us, our ability to direct our lives and shape our behaviours and identities is the gift of agency that makes us human.
In each moment we have a choice of either becoming a victim of our circumstances or taking responsibility for who we are and how we react to every single event in our lives.
It might be a difficult realisation to acknowledge but we are responsible for every single event that has ever happened and will happen to us. It doesn't mean that it is our fault that something bad happened to us when we were a child or that it's solely our fault that we are struggling with some health problems. Neither it means that we are always the main cause of experiences that we encounter. Rather, it is our responsibility to interpret and respond to our experiences. We can choose to blame our friend for treating us unfairly or we can choose to take responsibility for this situation and either talk to them about the problem or simply remove ourselves from the toxic situation.
People and situations are not creating you – you are creating yourself through the reactions and responses to people and various situations.
We are in a constant state of becoming. This process can work in either of the directions – it might be a positive growth or a negative self-destruction. We can either take constructive actions and make growth-promoting decisions, or we can choose destructive behaviours that make us sink deeper and deeper into resentment, bitterness or grief.
In short – everything we do matters and you are what you make of yourself. No pressure of course...
Your daily habits and the way you attend to them define some part of your personality. Another part could be attributed to how you interact with others – the values that you display, your reactions and responses to various positive and negative events, the way you treat others. And still another part is solely defined by what's going on in your internal world: the way you think, information that you consume (e.g. the types of books you read, the types of films that you watch, or the types of music that you prefer), and the quality of your relationship with your feelings and emotions. It all matters – every single article that you read, every single piece of music that you immerse yourself in. It all defines who you are.
You have a choice – you can either shrug your shoulders and state that you are a product of your culture, environment, and genetics, or you can take an active role in creating your 'avatar' and as a consequence – your own life.
How much agency do we really have?
Generally, it has been agreed in psychology that each individual is a composition of factors that lie beyond their control and factors which they have a direct control over. As an old saying goes "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.".
It's important to approach the subject of agency with humility. If such wasn't the case, our agency could be easily transformed into arrogance and never ending frustrations triggered by the repeated failures to change things that lie beyond our control.
Therefore, it's safe to say that there are aspects of ourselves and our lives which we can control, and in fact – perhaps we should even master. The things you can control translate into things you are responsible for. It might be a fact difficult to swallow because it's much easier to explain our past or current circumstances as something that happened to us – e.g., I lost my job or my partner left but I haven't done anything wrong. You're right: it might not be your fault but it is your responsibility to deal with this situation. It's easy to curse the world, curse our ex-partner, curse our ex-boss but the reality is, you are responsible for the new situation that you found yourself in and it is your responsibility to deal with it. Not your ex-boss's, not your ex-partner's.
Maybe you can't change others, at least not directly, but you can change how you behave around them and how you interact with them. You can't change the fact that you lost your job, but you can take responsibility for this situation and deal with it accordingly.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, to what extent the person you are today has been developed through through forces outside yourself, and to what extent has it been created through choices and decision that you have made voluntary?