The Most Precious Resource is Agency

10 months ago simonsarris.substack.com

7 min read

reasonably easy The world is a very ductile place. When I read biographies, early lives leap out the most. Leonardo district attorney Vinci was a studio apprentice to Verrocchio at 14. Walt Disney took on a number of jobs, chiefly delivering papers, from 11 years old. Vladimir Nabokov published his beginning book ( a collection of poems ) at 16, while hush in school. Andrew Carnegie

The world is a very malleable place.

When I read biographies, early lives leap out the most. Leonardo da Vinci was a studio apprentice to Verrocchio at 14. Walt Disney took on a number of jobs, chiefly delivering papers, from 11 years old. Vladimir Nabokov published his first book (a collection of poems) at 16, while still in school. Andrew Carnegie finished schooling at 12, and was 13 when he began his second job as a telegraph office boy, where he convinced his superiors to teach him the telegraph machine itself. By 16 he was the family’s mainstay of income.

Readers (and often biographers) tend to fixate around the celebrity itself, when people became famous or fortunate. But the early lives, long before success, contain something revealing. Before you grasp, you have to reach. How did they learn to reach?

In my examples the individuals were all doing from a young age, as opposed to merely schooling. And while they may not have wanted to work, the work was nonetheless something that both they and society felt was useful: something purposeful and appreciated. In a sense they had useful childhoods.

Do children today have useful childhoods?

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Agency is the capacity to act. More subtly: An individual’s life can continue, with a certain inertia, that will lead them on to the next year or decade. Most people today more-or-less know what they are going to be doing for the first twenty-or-more years of their life—being in some kind of school (the “doing” is almost more “being told what to do”). Beyond that age there is of course the proverbial worker, in modern stories usually an office worker, who is often so inert that he becomes blindsided by a sudden yank of reality (that forces him out of his inertia, and in doing so the story begins).

Gaining agency is gaining the capacity to do something differently from, or in addition to, the events that simply happen to you. Most famous people go off-script early, usually in more than one way. Carnegie becoming a…

Simon Sarris

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