August 24, 2019

Change Without Judgment — Getting Over the Threshold (Part 2)

[If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, go back and do it. It’s short, and you’ll be glad you did.]

In his book about story structure called The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler says this about “threshold guardians.”

But on a deeper level they [threshold guardians] stand for our internal demons: the neuroses, emotional scars, vices, dependencies, and self-limitations that hold back our growth and progress. It seems that every time you try to make a major change in your life, these inner demons rise up to their full force, not necessarily to stop you, but to test if you’re really determined to accept the challenge of change.

Threshold guardians are the guards and gatekeepers who stand in the hero’s way, usually early in the journey. You know all about them if you’ve ever tried to make a big change in your life. You start to change and immediately find yourself nose-to-nose with the same old fears and limiting beliefs that have always held you back.

What do we usually do when that happens? We lapse into the same old defeatist thinking that kept us from changing before. What if I fail? What will they think? (Whoever they are!) Who do I think I am, that I should want this? And all the rest.

All that’s normal, and to be expected. It’s part of making big change. But we don’t see it that way. Instead, we judge ourselves for running into these gatekeepers, for having these demons in our psyches. Look at me! I’m so bad! I’m such a failure! I’ll never make it! And so on.

We need to get past our threshold guardians if we want to move on. We do that by first recognizing that they aren’t external. They come from within; they’re the things we create in our own psyches that stand in our way of being and doing something different. Because they’re internal, they’re the toughest barriers to get over. We know how to overcome external challenges; it’s much harder to get over ourselves. And one thing is for sure: blaming ourselves and feeling defeated isn’t going to help.

What is? Vogler’s book offers us a clue:

Successful heroes learn to recognize Threshold Guardians not as threatening enemies but as useful Allies and early indicators that new power or success is coming.

That’s right: our biggest challenges are usually our best opportunities. Instead of beating ourselves up for them, we can learn to welcome and celebrate them. No kidding!

Sometimes, all our internal gatekeepers want before they’ll let us pass is as simple as (a) gratitude (“Thank you for showing up, because that means I’m moving ahead!”) and (b) a simple resolve to keep moving anyway, regardless of the intimidation. Instead of coming at the conversation from the point of view of “I’m so bad,” we come at it from “Wow, look at me – I’m making progress!” And that change in attitude makes all the difference.

To be continued…

Five years ago, Kevin Rhodes left a successful 20+ years career in private practice to pursue a creative dream. He recently gave himself the title “Change Guru” to describe his work helping individuals and organizations to make transformative changes. He leads lead workshops on that topic for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. 
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