By Sheila Ferguson

As a therapist, I am constantly working to improve my own life as I support others in building “agency” in their lives.

Sociologist, Anthony Giddens believes that there is a dynamic relationship between agency (choices) and structure (chances). Giddens refers to humans as “knowledgeable agents” with the capacity to understand the circumstances and consequences of their actions.


There are many times in life when we must invoke our sense of agency to change our lives for the better. It can occur when:

  • we realize that our salary has plateaued, and we need to ask for a raise, look elsewhere for better-paying employment, or gain more marketable skills,
  • a marriage or intimate relationship lacks affection, contact, or contentment,
  • family is growing, and we need a bigger home,
  • a work-life balance needs adjusting,
  • repeated breakdowns signal the need for a new car,
  • friendships are one-sided, co-dependent, and draining,
  • our energy is not focused enough on our academic activities to result in good grades and advancement,
  • paths and mobility are hindered by various forms of discrimination including racism, sexism, or ageism.

Moving On When Something Does Not Feel Right

Always be ready to make a change when something does not sit right with your mind, heart, and spirit.

Juan Malaise is a 27-year-old Cleveland-based assistant manager of a café where he has worked since his high school years. Now a decade later, he is torn about whether to stay or move on. The business has survived the last two years despite the pandemic due to its location near an area hospital. But recently he has felt exhausted and trapped at the family-owned restaurant. He also feels financially strapped, and that he is not living up to his potential. In recent years, the owner and his wife have been in failing health causing a need for him to often cover for them, which has prevented him from completing his Culinary Arts and Business Management studies at Tri-C.

Juan is now at a critical choice point. The upside is that he is employed, has the title of Assistant Manager, and has gained considerable skills in foodservice and hospitality management. The owners have made a verbal promise that he will inherit the business once they retire, yet they have not put it in writing. He is currently living at home with his parents, feels pressured to drive an old car, maintains meager savings, and struggles to pay his own health insurance.

We recently discussed some strategies that could help turn things around. For example: 1) Hiring someone to support his part-time work at the café in order to finish his degree. 2) Leaving the café to pursue his education while working another job with set hours and a more solid wage. 3) Moving past the fear of asking his employer for a signed contract and/or written buy-out plan to assure a fair transfer, and 4) Seeking career counseling to assure that he is charting the best path forward.

Accepting the Call to Change

The call to change can come at any time. It forces us to take a fresh look at ourselves, our circumstances, and our growth potential. It makes us ask: “Am I doing my best? What could be different, and what do I need to do to bring the improvements I am seeking?”

We must do the work of actively changing our circumstances. It is as simple as that!

Kia Garner is a 32-year-old graphic arts designer. This past year she received recognition for developing two award-winning designs for the marketing firm where she works. Over the last year, her story was featured in various industry and trade publications, and local businesswomen’s magazines. She was declared an emerging star! However, back at the firm, it did not translate into prestige or a financial increase. Kia felt empowered, but her boss was determined to tamp down the value and significance of her work.

Kia made the decision to launch a job search for higher-level positions. Eventually she received a call from a large firm in Columbus. They were seeking a senior-level designer paying $40,000 more than her current salary. After researching the job, and conducting her due diligence, she accepted the position.

The moral of the story is to recognize your value and what you have to offer. Believe in yourself while perfecting your skills. Do not wait around for accolades. Press forward to receive the financial rewards that you deserve.

Become your own rainmaker by considering these steps:

1) Realistically assess the problem and what is missing, then conduct the needed research to create your next steps.

2) Be kind and forgiving of your past choices, failings, and errors. Chalk them up as learning experiences.

3) Give yourself permission to make changes, fall, and get back up again.

4) Find confidence in your decisions and celebrate your progress.

Agency and Social Theory – Giddens