An Agent Without Agency

I know people who have watched the Matrix films more times than they can count.

Perhaps it’s because they love the story of the hero, and they revel in what Neo manages to overcome. Perhaps it’s because the films are complex and they spot something new every time. Me? I’m fascinated by one character: Agent Smith.

Agent Smith is an agent of the Matrix and the main antagonist.

He comes across as pitiless and single-minded, with a strong focus on finality, conformity, purpose and inevitability. He also seems resentful and self-serving, despite the politeness and professionalism on the surface of his interactions. That’s when he’s not using brute force and rage to tackle problems.

What is beneath all of that?

If you know the films, you know that Agent Smith detests the Matrix and its inhabitants. He’s desperate to escape from it, and often feels like a prisoner. His ultimate wish is for the end of existence.

With incredible powers of invincibility, Agent Smith is much faster and stronger than other agents. But what does he actually do?

Without knowing this, it’s impossible to know his ikigai.

In researching this article and thinking about Agent Smith, I realised that he has a teleological approach of ‘purpose’. That is, he’s been designed to do something; to fulfil a function outside of himself. But his purpose could be so much more.

I began to wonder how I would coach someone who didn’t appear to know what they were good at, what their purpose might be, or why they were here, living this life.

Ikigai is important in this, yes. But it is only one tool. We also need to be in flow. When people are in flow, they connect with what they really care about.

Coaching Agent Smith

How do we get Agent Smith to start thinking about who he wants to be, instead of who he’s been defined to be? We ask powerful questions, and get him to talk, hopefully leading him to his purpose, step by step.

Ideally, we want Agent Smith to move from one belief to another, on his own.

Here’s what a coaching session with Agent Smith might look like (we are, of course, pre-supposing his answers, shown here purely for illustration purposes):

  1. When you feel resistance, Agent Smith, what is your belief?

I am a prisoner of the Matrix.

2. When and where do your beliefs show up?

Each time I receive an assignment.

3. How does this belief empower or disempower you?

I feel a high level of frustration that turns into anger.

4. What evidence do you have to make this belief true?

I don’t feel that I’m responsible for my actions. I’m not free to do what I want to do.

(This is more a feeling than a fact, because Agent Smith has never tried other possibilities or options to feel free. Here we might ask further questions about his definition of freedom. Is it freedom of thoughts or actions? Does he feel he isn’t free to have his own beliefs? Does he feel he’s been pre-programmed, unable to free himself of that?

5. What other belief could empower you?

Even if I’ve been programmed, I have the power to choose my own thoughts and take back my power, so that I have control of my actions.

6. How would you feel different, having this new belief?

My frustration and anger would subside.

7. What are the actions you could undertake with this new belief, to stop the old belief from holding you back?

I could take some time for myself, away from the Matrix, for contemplation and self-reflection. I could think about who I am, who I want to be and how I want to show up and be remembered. This might allow me to define myself differently.

Questions can be very powerful. When we’re coaching, let’s use them wisely so that individuals can reach answers on their own. This creates flow, and leads to purpose.

Your call

Which character from popular fiction do you think could benefit from coaching?