Do you have favourite words? Words that resonate with you by how they sound when you hear it, see when you read it, feel when you say it aloud?
One of mine is “liminal” which can mean, according to the Oxford dictionary, either “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold” or “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.”
It's the caterpillar in the cocoon, waiting to transform into a butterfly. It's the child on the verge of adolesence. It's the volcano before it errupts.
I first embraced “liminal” as a state of being as a university student in the age of post-modernism, when nothing is certain and everything was possible. I have come back to it in times of transition and change, consciously and unconsciously.
The liminal space can be when you are open to change but not yet committed to action. Or you may have committed to a process but waiting for something to begin. You are neither in one world or another. You are on the threshold or cusp.
These times include finishing school, travelling overseas, before committing to work; accepting a new job in a new city, planning the move, but not yet begun; or knowing that it is time to move on from one role to another, but not sure which way to go. It may be when you need to change strategy or direction, have come up against an obstacle or crisis, or are about to enter a new stage of development.
The first few steps of the journey may be known, but you are held at the gate by internal or external forces: commitments to others or self, old fears or beliefs.
You may recognise the liminal space by various feelings including confusion, anxiety, restlessness and excitement. It may be a familiar feeling and you may want to avoid it, distract yourself or fight against it. You may also become addicted to the liminal feelings and not make the commitment or action to move on.
Father Richard Rohr describes the liminal space as:
…when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
The challenge as a leader is to be able to stand in the unknowing and hold faith with the journey. This is a great time to get support to allow you to understand the emotions of ambiguity and change, and gain the most from this stage in your and your organisations development.
The risk of retreating to the familiar path is that you will never know where your new journey might lead.