Why being at ease with liminality increases your potential for growth and evolution

Life is full of transitions: some unexpected and some inevitable.

When your children are small, it feels like they will always need you.

Then suddenly, they finish school, are grown adults, and start to leave home. One of ours found her wings sooner than expected, and the second is poised to leave. They’re bittersweet moments in life.

Our identities as parents have evolved as they’ve grown, and we’ve adjusted to parenting adults.

That transition has prompted a period of reflection for my partner and me:

  • Who are we now? 
  • How has our value changed? 
  • How do we fill that meaningful purpose gap? 
  • How do we want other people, including our children, to experience us?

I’m sharing this story because it doesn’t matter whether a transition is inevitable, like children growing up, or unexpected, like a change at work that impacts your career. 

We all go through liminality at some time. It can affect us personally, our career or our entire life.

So, what is liminality?

Imagine you’re standing at the threshold of a door, about to step from one room into another. A liminal space is the space that you go through as you move from one room into another, except that step is not a single step and it takes more than a second.

Liminality is that in-between phase where you’re no longer who you used to be but haven’t yet transformed into who you’re becoming.

Liminal spaces should not be stepped through quickly – they should be savoured.

They’re an opportunity to pause and contemplate. Take stock of who you truly are and align your aspirations, priorities, and core beliefs with who you are becoming.

This transitional period has the potential to inspire new possibilities because you’re freed from the constraints of your past identity and haven’t settled into your new one.

Savour being pushed out of your comfort zone and being challenged to adapt and test your limits. It can be a catalyst for significant personal growth

In her book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, Harvard Researcher Herminia Ibarra provides sound advice about managing yourself in this liminal space. 

Here are three quick takeaways:

  1. Allow yourself a transition period of oscillation.” Avoid rushing to hasty decisions by sitting with and exploring the contradictions that emerge. 
  2. Stop trying to find your one true self,” and searching for one ‘right’ identity. Accept that you may have multiple possible selves. Try them on for size and see what fits well in what circumstances. 
  3. Act your way into a new way of thinking and being” to avoid getting stuck inside your own head. Reflection is useful, but you only get clarity when you take action that enables reflection. Experiment with different opportunities to uncover those new possibilities.

One of the biggest challenges you’ll likely face as you embrace this liminal space is the preconceived notions others hold about you. Those perceptions will be based on your past behaviours, achievements and roles. Unfortunately, people sometimes want to hang onto those because it serves them rather than you.

You can hang on to them and treat them like an anchor, or you can:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and reasons for change to help those people bridge their understanding and adjust their expectations.
  • Build a network of supportive people who do recognise and encourage your growth.
  • Be patient with others and be persistent about showing people the person you are becoming through your actions and decisions.
  • Set firm boundaries with the people who refuse to see your growth or who actively undermine your transition.
  • Be kind to yourself and journal your experiences, talk with trusted peers, or ask a coach to walk alongside you on your journey.

As a parent, I’ve often wanted to freeze time and hold onto the past. Each time that has happened, I look at who my children have become and know that has only been possible because I’ve had the courage to let go. 

However, when you’re the one in that liminal space, it takes more than courage to let go. It also takes courage to keep going to become who you are meant to be next.

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