As you strive to achieve and advance in your career, you may sometimes get this odd sensation of living in a sort of in-between space where things aren’t quite how they used to be but the future hasn’t fully arrived yet either.
Psychologists call this experience “liminality.” It can feel like a tug-of-war between holding on and letting go with numerous conflicting emotions and desires. While frustrating, these in-between times can also be highly productive in cultivating self-knowledge and revealing new insights if you can resist the urge to hurry through.
A physical and emotional journey
The concept of a journey is often used to describe the trajectory of a career and it’s an apt one. You prepare ahead of time, set off on a new adventure and experience highs and lows as you pursue your goals over a sustained period. The idea of liminality fits the metaphor perfectly, pointing to those times when you are leaving one location but have not yet arrived at the next one.
Liminality can be experienced in physical terms in places of actual transition. That can be as simple as opening the door to your office to start the day, pulling into your garage after work or arriving at the airport to head off on a trip. A lobby is a prime example of a physical place that ushers you from outside to inside and from one type of activity to another.
But liminal spaces are often experienced in psychological or emotional terms as well. They mark transitions from periods in our day or life, rather than from one physical space to another. Getting married or divorced, having a child, getting a new boss or taking on a new role are all experiences that tend to give you the sense of having one foot in a previous time of life and another stepping onto a new stage.
Using the in-between for good
Many people struggle with a sense of limbo during periods of transition, but there is significant growth that happens at these times if you can settle in for the ride rather than rush through seeking certainty. For starters, in-between times provide excellent opportunities for taking stock and considering how you might behave differently after the period of transition.
Even sought-after changes in your career can be jarring because we often define ourselves by what we do. Tackling something new, while exciting, can also bring up difficult feelings of not knowing who to trust or lean on for support, being a novice again and worries about making the grade. That is to be expected in new situations, but you can make better use of such moments when you give yourself permission to see them as catalysts to refine your priorities, revisit your authentic purpose and reinvent your career and life in ways that are more meaningful to who you are now.
“Starting a new job, receiving a sought-after promotion or even heading up a stretch project create these liminal spaces in our lives that have incredible potential to drive personal and professional growth,” says Certified Executive Coach and President of Harvest Your Potential, Inc., Mark Sadlek. “The key is being willing to accept the uncertainty of change at least for a time and allowing yourself to be transformed by the process.”
Another challenge of transitional periods is that they mark endings as well as beginnings. You may feel reluctant to leave a role where you’ve had significant success, enjoyed close relationships with colleagues and built a high-functioning team. “Give yourself time to find your footing in your new role, practice self-compassion as you learn the ropes and strive to reframe your mindset from one of fear of the future to embracing the growth and opportunity you have worked so hard to earn. In other words, learn to trust yourself, your talents and your desire for growth,” Sadlek advises.
As someone dedicated to ongoing professional development, liminal periods will be frequent as you advance in your career. The more you embrace these sometimes-awkward in-between times, the better equipped you will be to utilize them as fuel for learning, growing and preparing for the next transition that is sure to follow.