(4) Crossing the First Threshold - The Door Is Open, and You’re Already Through It
Updated: Mar 3, 2022
In the next area of the Hero's Journey, which Joseph Campbell calls "Crossing of the First Threshold", the Hero leaves behind what is known and adventures into the mystery of the unknown, from the Ordinary World to a puzzling Special World.
We find "Threshold Guardians" who test us before we continue our journey, and if we pass the test we're ready to go.
When we accept the challenge of the "New" and go past what we believed was true and static, the environment changes.
Sometimes it's a dark place, other times it's filled with light and colors.
In any case, beyond the threshold new rules apply. We might not understand the language. Beings (human or not) look or are different from the ones we were accustomed to.
Stay open and receptive to the proper way to being into that new world.
Don't give anything for granted. Stay curious, observe, and listen.
These may look like external changes, but it's from our inner world that a new reality is emerging.
This has happened to you already.
Do you remember when?
In the Telemachy, the set of the first four books of the Odyssey that focus on Telemachus and on the Hero's Journey that will turn him into a man, the Crossing of the Threshold comes when the boy sets sail for Pylos and Sparta, in search of news about his father.
It's a physical detachment for him, both from the Suitors' presence, as a need to connect to his own identity independently from the frustrating current circumstances that he was experiencing, and from home, as a sign of search for personal freedom and independence.
It will be a journey that will nourish him with heroic stories about his father and, through them, with the rediscovery of his own roots - Odysseus left when Telemachus was just a baby, so the boy has practically no memories of him.
Everything starts when Telemachus commits to change, the universe "conspires with him" providing him with Mentors and synchronicities, he manages not to be distracted by his Threshold Guardians, the Suitors, who would convince him not to depart, and he finally steps into a new dimension, through the sea.
"Blue Pill or Red Pill?" Orpheus asks.
Neo has just been told that what looks like reality is instead "The Matrix" - a world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth, the truth that we are slaves in a prison for our minds.
Morpheus has been looking for Neo for his entire life.
Neo could be "The One" who will save humanity from the slavery of the intelligent machines who have created the Matrix. Humans are kept sleeping and used as sources of bio-energy to feed the machines, and in the meantime the Matrix keeps them in the illusion of living while they are fed with a simulated reality modeled after the world.
"This is your last chance, Neo. After this, there's no turning back".
In Morpheus' hands, two pills.
"You take the blue pill. You go back to your life. You wake up in your bed, and continue as nothing has happened."
"You take the red pill, you remain in Wonderland, and I show you how deep it goes"
Morpheus is both a Mentor and a Threshold Guardian to Neo.
He tests Neo's desire to find what that guy has been sensing for his entire life - the feeling that we're living into an illusion, and that the truth is beyond the veil.
Discerning the illusion from the truth can be destabilizing and scary, and we might need a push.
That's why threshold guardians don't necessarily have a negative connotation.
Rather, they can push us into taking a decision. They help us bring clarity into what we want and into what we want to see.
And once you see, you can't "un-see". There's no turning back.
Neo swallows the red pill.
The two of them move into a separate room. Neo is crossing his First Threshold.
The place is filled with computers and equipment set up to sense where the real Neo, his real body, is physically located in the intricate electrical infrastructure of human cocoons created by the machines.
The signal is found. Neo wakes up, and the adventure in his "true life" begins.
Joseph Campbell noted that in myth and stories there is always a match between the threshold that the Hero crosses when starting this part of the Journey, and the one that they cross when returning from it, back into the Ordinary World.
Moses arrives through the waters of the Nile river and is adopted as a foundling by the Pharaoh's daughter, and through the waters of the Red Sea he leads his People out of the Egyptian slavery.
Through water Odysseus and Telemachus, separately and in different times, embark on their own Journeys, and through water they arrive back on the coasts of Ithaca.
On her bed Dorothy starts her adventure to the Land of Oz, and on a bed she wakes up when she's back home.
Through a job interview in English with a bit of a German I crossed my First Threshold, and through a job interview in English with a bit of a German I crossed my Return Threshold.
Let me tell you about that.
I had waited for so long to answering to my call, that when I did it, I was propelled through multiple significative thresholds within a couple of months.
Registering for VAT had been my first Threshold.
A new (fiscal) language, new (fiscal) rules and duties, a different perception of my identity and of the world "outside".
Threshold Guardians: the Italian Revenue Office.
My "Accountant Mentors" took care of everything, and the process was to me like a breeze.
Just a few weeks later I officially launched my first Udemy online course. Second Threshold.
I was officially becoming an online instructor and a public figure.
A new language for me to master (online media), new rules (of social media, plus the strict ones for the instructors of the Udemy platform), a new way to interact with people (online communication with students plus other instructors), a new dimension of mankind to interact with (students from all over the world -114 countries and counting so far, with their 30 different main languages).
A new identity for myself, so immaterial yet so profoundly groundbreaking.
And the content of my course itself - Agility used at personal level, something that I had been exploring and using myself for years, but that I had had never heard described nor proposed by other authors - a frontier breaker in itself.
Threshold Guardian: Udemy itself, with a very precise quality checklist to ensure that the online course created satisfied their internal standards and the customer requirements.
By following their rules, my course was accepted and made public in a matter of 24 hours.
A few weeks later I was invited by the Agile Entrepreneur and his team for a job interview at their office in Central Italy. Third Threshold.
Traveling in train to reach their premises as a metaphor of the journey. Change in location. Change in language, the one of IT and Software Development for a guy raised in the Construction sector. A conversation on Agile mindset, methods, and tools, for a guy like me who had become an expert in predictive project management and who had then taken the leap.
And a striking comment right after the interview.
"You know, Danilo," told me the Agile Entrepreneur, "it's been so difficult for us finding someone raised within our Software Development industry who can articulate the agile principles and its implications on people and on the work so clearly and effectively as you have just done".
All the time and effort spent on studying, learning, and experimenting was all at a time making sense. All the feelings of not having been able to reintegrate within my original industry, and desperately sensing that the only way out was a tricky re-birth leaving behind my old skin.
All was finally making sense.
Threshold Guardians: the Entrepreneur and the team leaders I had the interview with.
And one week later I was signing my first Freelancing Contract with them.
Third Threshold and ¾. (Harry Potter, cit 😄)
One more week, and I was contacted, out of the blue, by the other Entrepreneur I mentioned in the previous article, who was looking for instructors with a job profile exactly like mine for courses on traditional and on agile project management.
With the contract just signed, I had to give up the opportunity he was offering to me.
Luckily, he had the patience to keep chasing me until the time to work together would come.
The Universe had kept silent for 2 years, and now the fireworks had started. All at once.
I went through my Fourth Threshold the subsequent day.
Trip to Basel, Swiss city at the intersection of Switzerland, Germany, and France, for a job interview with the final Client that the Software Development Company had contracted me for.
Physical change in landscape, with the beautiful green fields along the railway. A sense of cleanliness and order in the city.
Change in the physical traits of people around me.
Change in language, in a city where you can hear people speak German, Swiss German, English, and French.
Threshold Guardian: the final Client. The Agile Entrepreneur had already presented me in advance, but the job interview was far more than just a formality.
"A multinational pharmaceutical Company like that one can choose whoever they want, so play full out," the entrepreneur told me. And so I did.
And I listened to them, presented myself, got questions, replied, proposed. They witnessed my fluency in English, language that would have been used on the project. Everything was flowing.
And, just before closing, I raised the bar.
Exactly three years before, by using Agile techniques, I was able to get a certification in working-level German, in 90 days, starting almost from scratch, and without moving from home. I mixed agile methods with the mindset used by polyglots, and I even publicly recorded my journey in a blog.
And so, as a final touch, I used with the Client those few sentences in German that I still remembered (I hadn't had many opportunities to use it since then), proposing that I would have worked again on the language should have it been useful for our collaboration.
I wanted to show them that I would have had the flexibility and the international mindset to shape-shift, when necessary, in order to serve such an international project in the best possible way that I could.
And, with a smile, they appreciated.
So, with a bit of a humor and a bit of a German used during a job interview in English, I passed through the final stage of the First Threshold in my Journey.
(For a curious coincidence, five years and a half later I would pass my "Return Threshold" in exactly the same way. More on this later.)
I had closed behind the last two desperate years of my life.
I had entered four parallel new worlds in a matter of two months, each of them with their peculiarities. I now needed to understand where I had landed and how to familiarize myself with the new environment, and it was time to explore and start making the most out of them.
I was going to enter the next stage of the Hero's Journey, that Joseph Campbell calls "The Belly of the Whale", a place of introspection, learning, where the Hero is totally absorbed into the transformation. We will explore it in the next post.
My ability to shape-shift to survive in the job market had just started building up, and later on would be put to the test in quite some dramatic ways.
At that time, it wasn't clear to me yet that the most profound change was happening in my inner world, of which the outer world was simply a reflection.
I yet had to discover that, in order to navigate uncertainty and constant change, such clarity would have been paramount.
Had I known it, my Journey would have been much more fluid and enjoyable... but the fact that right now I'm sharing this with you, gives sense to all what I went through afterwards.
Does this sound new to you, or you already have such a clarity?
What were the main Thresholds you've crossed through your life?
At those times, when you crossed them, were you even aware that you were leaving your Ordinary World for a Special One? Was it a choice or were you forced to do it?
Did you notice the changes on multiple levels that the new environments brought with them? Location, Language (either metaphorically, as a different industry or niche or group, or as real spoken language), Rules, People... How did you deal with them?
Who were your Threshold Guardians?
How were you able to overcome them? Did you fight them? Did you solve any riddle? Did you make them your allies?
What did you learn from passing those Thresholds?
Is this post lighting you up? Are you willing to Open Up to Your Potentials?
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