Recently, I stumbled upon a Tumblr post that piqued my interest and made me feel peculiar at the same time. The post addresses places we come across on a day to day basis in which reality seems to be a bit altered. It addresses something called liminal spaces, which are stages of transition, thresholds, or boundaries.
Liminal spaces operate in two ways. Liminal spaces are quiet, unoccupied stairs awaiting climbers, empty parking lots with abandoned shopping carts scattered like tumbleweeds, airports bustling with people hurrying to catch flights, and train stations where the silence of people waiting is cut by trains rushing past. In each of these places, reality seems slightly off because they are connectors—places that act as transitions from one place to another. Liminal spaces are also those transitional stages we find ourselves in when we’re between two life events. They are those times we’re in between jobs, graduating, retiring, getting ready to become parents, in the process of moving somewhere else, or in between lovers.
Author and theologist Rush Rohr defines liminal spaces as “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence.”
Liminal spaces, these boundaries between our old selves and the unknown, cause us to feel strange or anxious because we are not meant to be in them for extended periods of time. They don’t exist for themselves—they act as thresholds between one place and another. When we’re going through significant transitions in our lives, it can feel like we’re floating with our feet in the air or suspended in time. During these stages, it’s easy to lose a grip on one’s sense of identity and feeling of security.
Carrie Barron, in an article for Psychology Today called “Creativity and the Liminal Space,” explains, “Your sense of belonging, purpose and identity can be compromised if you have to change your job, leave your mate or create a new circle.”
However, if we view these transitional stages as stepping stones toward our growth and success—times in which we can seize opportunity—we can render these sometimes scary stages beneficial. These stages, which might cause us stress and anxiety, can be looked at in a positive light if we recognize that they are essential to our growth.
Rohr also says, “If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.” What we don’t want is to put a stopper on our dreams, or nip our goals in the bud. Getting trapped in normalcy means sticking with a monotonous job that doesn’t make you happy, not taking that opportunity because you don’t want to move from one place to another, or shying away from a significant change because of fear.
If we embrace liminal spaces, and envision them as stairways to success and happiness, those life transitions might not seem so scary. After all, people leave jobs they’ve had for years because opportunity was out there. Your current job does not define who you are; your identity comes from inside you. It is a combination of your experiences, your values, and the way you treat people.
The prospect of being in a stressful transitional stage can make us feel so insecure that it scares us away from making positive changes in our lives. However, it is important to remember that big life changes are essential to our growth and happiness. Whenever you’re facing a life-changing decision, it is important to remember: there’s a good reason you closed that door and stepped over that threshold.