We are often told “you have to believe in yourself”, but this is often easier said than done. Yet, our sense of personal agency is often deeply connected to our success in the workplace and it both impacts – and is impacted by – our experiences in the world. So recognising our abilities to do certain tasks or achieve certain goals within particular contexts is quite important really, despite the cliched and offhand way in which the advice is often administered.
Personal agency is related to our sense of control over our actions and our environment and as such is closely connected to our sense of self-efficacy.
Our life experiences play a significant role in defining the building blocks of these inner dialogues. And as such, it’s important to stop and take stock of where you are at and how you have arrived there in order to understand where you are going and whether you want to end up there.
Feeling trapped in a cycle of poverty, for example, can severely impact a child’s perspective on the opportunities out there for them.
Despite government programs that offer Commonwealth supported places at university and student loans that can make attending university possible for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, it is not just financial barriers that prevent these students from setting their sights on tertiary education. It’s not enough to claim that “everyone” has the same access to public education growing up and therefore “everyone” has access to the opportunity for tertiary studies.
Government-driven quotas aiming at university enrolments meeting a 20 per cent quota for students from low socio-economic backgrounds by 2020 draw attention to the continuing issue of perceived opportunity students. But it doesn’t address the fact that what is keeping these students from attending these courses is often founded in a stunted sense of personal agency from a very young age.
Seeing programs such as the Future Moves program run by Charles Sturt University to engage students from primary school through to high school in opening their eyes to the possibility of further education has played a powerful part in driving the personal agency of students who attend.
My son’s school has participated in this program. Teachers have exclaimed at the difference in the children and the sudden realisation that university (or TAFE) is a genuine option for them if they work hard.
It is the self-belief that drives their self-efficacy and sense of personal agency – they believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and this spurs them on to continue their journey. This sense of agency and self-belief is also a vital part of the way we perceive ourselves in the workplace.
What is keeping these students from attending these courses is often founded in a stunted sense of personal agency from a very young age.
So many of my clients come to me to seek support for a specific application and they shrug their shoulders and say, “I mean, I don’t know if I would ever have a chance at this job anyway,” and have almost talked themselves out of even submitting their application before their bum hits their seat in my office!
Fragile confidence and self-doubt hampers so many of us and it impacts our work in ways that we don’t even realise without sitting down and actually thinking about it.
Whether you have grown up being bullied at school and your self-confidence is low, whether you were a jock at school and have worn the image of being dumb as a result, whether you experienced poverty and lived without high achieving role models, whether you lived under the thumb of a highly successful parent who expected perfection from you … whatever your story, your sense of personal agency is shaped by your life’s experiences.
However, the good news is that you are actually in control of it.
Your ability to take the wheel and steer yourself in the direction that you want to go is entirely within your grasp, but it involves taking responsibility for yourself and your goals and being willing to become an active participant in your life; rather than letting things happen to you, you need to grow the influence that you have on your own life and begin to control the things that happen around you.
Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” Something to think about, isn’t it?
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au