On the threshold of a dream


When I was younger, where I imagined myself to be later in life was not where I ended up. In fact, when I got to “later in life,” I was further from my goals than ever. I had hoped to move beyond the dismal and into a brighter, more wonderful life. The problem was that I thought I knew how to get there, but I didn’t. 

I was devastated when I woke up to the realization that my dream life seemed to still be so far off into the distance. A career I imagined, things I wanted to be part of my life, and places I hoped to go: when would they happen? Since the life I was living was far less spectacular than the dream I had for myself, what did that mean about me? And why was I bumping up against this time and again, but unable to move beyond my current situation and closer to my dream?

In the Hero’s Journey that Joseph Campbell writes about in his work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” he refers to the Crossing of the First Threshold. In this concept, the hero crosses the threshold twice. Once to go out into the wild (the step into adventure) and once when coming back (return to the real world). At the first threshold, the hero leaves the known limits of his or her world. The hero ventures into a dangerous realm, where the rules and limitations are unknown.

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey

It’s that first threshold that I think many of us get stuck behind. We feel called, because it never fully dies after it is born within us at a young age, but now we have to make a decision. Do we heed the calling? 

We know nothing about what’s on the other side. What we will encounter there. All we know is what we will encounter if we stay on this side of the threshold: safety, the same old shit, the comfort of knowing what is here now.

Campbell writes: 

With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the ‘threshold guardian’ at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in four directions — also up and down — standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant, and beyond the protection of his society danger to the members of the tribe. The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored. The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form - all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.
— From: Joseph Campbell, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

Chris McCandless, the young man who went to Alaska, as described in John Krakauer’s book (later a movie), “Into the Wild,” wrote to his friend from the road:

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy."

Is it true that I didn’t know how to move beyond my dismal life and closer to my dream? Or is it more true that I did know, but had made a different decision? I decided that safer was better. I decided that I didn’t really deserve it. I decided I wasn’t brave enough and wouldn’t be able to handle what was on the other side of the threshold.

Who can blame me? Moving over the threshold requires courage. I was deciding whether or not to stay in a marriage. My fears were real to me: loneliness, regrets, pain, guilt for hurting another, and disappointment for giving up. 

But like a constant knock on my door, there was a whole other world out there, calling me and telling me I was not in the right place. I was not living my dream. I was not being my own hero.

It happened again this year, when I was faced with the decision to stay in a fairly secure job or become self-employed. The pull to be free was very strong, yet the fear enormous. I had doubts about financial stability and about my skills and ability to be a coach. 

I had to let the voices of doubt and fear fade into the background, like white noise. I had to open myself up to my soul’s calling so that I could move forward. I had to face my fears.

What were your dreams when you were a kid? Are you living them? If you’re not and want to do something about that, find out how coaching can move you forward. Let’s talk