The liminal space. Exploring transition and transformation
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Liminal space has been described as the space between now and the next stage, between what is, and what is to be. It's a space of transition, of waiting, and of transformation. But it has other characteristics that are less attractive. It can be disorientating and ambiguous. Embraced positively, the experience of the liminal space can be extremely powerful and one that frees us from a past we are growing out of and into a future of greater fulfilment.
The liminal space as a space of transition
I do a lot of work with people in work transitions. Some of these transitions have been accelerated by force of circumstances whilst others lead me to conversations with people just taking a moment out of their lives to take stock. I agree with William Bridges,
that there is an important distinction between a transition and a change. The latter can be purely physical and external – I move from Cambridge to Leeds – whereas the latter is psychological and internal. I may have changed where I live, but if I still hanker for flat countryside, punts and insist with speaking with long vowels I clearly still have some transitioning to do.
A transition brings us to a place where we live by different motivations and aspirations, and have different success criteria for what’s important to us. It leaves in the past some aspects of life that may be good to remember and to learn from but are no longer the main drivers of our focus and direction. The early signs that you are entering a liminal space
Early signs that you may be heading into liminal space are what, from Bridge's work, have sometimes been called the "five disses." You may have a sense of disengagement, the feeling that you don’t really belong any more. You may, for example, find that the values of the organisation or community you are part of have changed, or that your job or vocation has lost a degree of its challenge. Maybe you are outgrowing it. You may notice a degree of dismantling – your normal way of working and acting isn’t having the same impact it once did. Or is there a growing sense of dis-identification? People ask you what you do or what you are part of and, when you reply, you have the feeling inside that the person you are describing is not really “you” anymore.
You could be experiencing disenchantment such as when the hopes and aspirations that took you into your role, or the people you partner with, don’t look like they are ever going to materialise. You’ve hit the “nevers” (I’ll never be CEO, never be a partner, never introduce the new initiative I so believe in). Or is it just a growing feeling of disorientation – you thought you knew how your organisation or community worked, you thought you understood its culture and your place within it, but the more time you spend there the more you feel lost.
Practical and existential liminal spaces
Discovering liminal spaces is common in careers and usually and indication that it's time to explore new opportunities. Sometimes these liminal spaces are even more challenging when they relate to deeper questions of identify and purpose. If you were taken out of the familiarity of your workplace or the people you relate to, what would be left? How much of who you are is tied up with where you are? Again, it's a reassuringly normal part of being human to face these crossroads moments when we have to set the direction of the next phase of life.
Coaching in action
Coaching provides a powerful opportunity to make sense of these moments. I will help you avoid the temptation to rush through your liminal space as quickly as possible, and instead enable you to explore it fully. This could take form of a life review, career reassessment or, for people exploring questions of faith, applying principles of spiritual direction.
How close are you to a entering a liminal space?
Have another look at the five indicators that you might be entering a liminal space. Write them out on a sheet of paper and rate them on a low to high scale of 1-7. This will start to give you and indication of how far you are into your journey of transition.