Who or What are Your Threshold Guardians?

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at “The Hero’s Journey,”  for a writing course I’m teaching. The Hero’s Journey is a common framework for analyzing stories told throughout history. There are a number of variations of the model, but the most widely known model was developed by Joseph Campbell, in his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. While not every successful book or movie maps onto The Hero’s Journey perfectly (or in some cases at all!), once you become familiar with the model, it’s easy to see how different stories and characters follow some archetypes that date back to ancient times. You may even start to look at how The Hero’s Journey maps on to your own life. After all, the reason these stories resonate with us is because they speak to what it means to be human in some way. And you are the hero of your own story!

One part that has resonated with me recently is the idea of the “Threshold Guardian” – the character(s) or internal conflict that doesn’t want you to leave your comfortable “ordinary” world and step forward into a wider world of adventure. Think of it like a “level boss” before you move on to a greater challenge. In ancient myth, these would be literal guardians preventing the character from crossing a threshold, like Cerberus guarding the gates to Hades, but in modern stories they are more of the ordinary world antagonist that stops the hero from growing. Think of the Dursleys forbidding Harry Potter from going to Hogwarts, Tony Stark’s guilt of failure at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame, or Bilbo Baggins’ desire to just live a comfortable worry-free life. These are minor antagonists, which, once overcome, may even become allies in a greater challenge to come.

This Week’s Tip:

Consider who – or what – your Threshold Guardians are in the workplace. As you work on building authentic and equitable community in your workplace, where are you finding you stopped on your own “hero’s journey”? Who – or what – has been preventing you from moving forward? Listen to their concerns this week, and take some time to show that you understand and appreciate them. Talk about what’s important for you both to find common ground. Work together to remove the roadblocks they are putting in your way, and maybe even to turn your Threshold Guardians into your allies on bigger issues. 

Try putting this into action this week. Share your experience on our Facebook group! And then join our upcoming webinars to learn other practical ways you can make change in your own workplace.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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