threshold time between what was behind me and what was in front of me. The old stuff didn’t work like it used to. The new stuff ahead remained unclear. But I knew I had to move.

Threshold signs and times

Threshold times vary in length and intensity. You don’t go through only one. The stages of life are cyclical in nature, and we revisit them even while we are going deeper and moving forward. I’ve been in several threshold times, and the last one has taken several years.

Let’s first look at the concept of threshold time. In order to do so I am going to borrow the idea of liminal space from anthropology. A young boy goes through an initiation that pushes him out from the women’s world where he has previously lived and pulls him into a man’s world for which he has strong desires and no experience. The initiation is a gate-way into the next stage. The boy has to put aside childish ways and prove his readiness to be a man. These young boys experience what anthropologists describe as liminal space: an “in-between situation and condition that is characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.”

Taking that definition above as a guide, we would say that threshold times encompass three sets of time: past, present and future.

  • Past: what helped get us here is the same thing that will hinder us moving forward
  • Present: priorities shift, subtly or suddenly, and we wrestle with letting things go and
  • reaching for something else
  • Future: we envision change and experience longings for it

Certainly for all of us threshold times come when we move locations or change jobs or achieve life markers such as degrees, career changes, marriage, divorce or widowhood, and having children. In these cases, the transition is clear and often we know exactly what to do in the threshold space between what we once did and what we will now do. We polish our resume. We pay off our debts. We get paper work in order. We join groups whose passion meets our standards. We lose weight and whiten our teeth. We do whatever it takes to settle us enough so that we can confidently go to the next thing facing us.

But transitions aren’t always that clearly marked.

Sometimes the boundaries are fuzzy, and yet we sense change is in the air, as seen in the examples below. While I give specific examples for men and women, young and old, they can be for anyone at anytime.

For women, a threshold time is when they are done raising their children and their self- identity changes to ….. what exactly? What is going to give them significance now?

For men, a threshold time is when they see for the first time a room filled with trophies yet emptied of friends.

For young leaders, a threshold time is when they hit the wall and are gripped by the chilling knowledge that they can’t share it with others or stop to recuperate.