The Hero's Journey: Crossing the Threshold

indiana jones last crusade leap of faith

Author's note: This week is the fifth in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The fifth stage is Crossing the Threshold. At the threshold, the adventure begins. At the threshold, we are standing between the choice to do what always has been done, and the choice to find a new way.

In order to make a difference, we have to do something different. Our choice is not intention, but action.

What makes the threshold different, a defining moment in the hero's journey, is that once we cross the threshold, we cannot go back. To cross the threshold is to commit wholly to going beyond everyday leadership and an "ordinary" life.

When I was in high school, I had hoop dreams. At least once every single week, I would pop in a treasured VHS entitled, "NBA Superstars (1990)", and watch as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and others dazzled with their basketball prowess, set to the top music of the 1980's. (You can find a few YouTube clips here.)

Forty-five minutes later, I would be out on the driveway perfecting the moves I had just seen on the video (with much longer shorts, by the way). Thirty to sixty minutes after that, I would be back in the house playing video games or watching MTV (back when the channel's initials stood for Music Television).

I had accepted and embraced the Call to Adventure-in this case the siren's song of Berlin's "Take my breath away" eloquently accompanying Michael Jordan's aerial acrobatics on my television screen, but as the time came to commit to Crossing the Threshold, I approached it, stared at it, and eventually turned away. I chose to not do something different than my friends, and thus did not become something different than my friends.

It is not just a funny story about a 5'10" 13-year-old in Nebraska who had a delusion about playing big-time basketball, it is a familiar theme for many of us and our organizations.

Each and every one of us experiences the Call to Adventure, from a desire to challenge a culture of alcohol abuse, apathy, hazing, or homophobia, to an urge to mobilize people to address the challenges in the world around us, such as access to education, disease, human rights, and poverty.

Each of us faces the choice to commit... or not. As human beings, we like to give ourselves "outs".

To Cross the Threshold, it is up to us to act. Up until that point, we may be encouraged, inspired, or motivated, but it is not until we Cross the Threshold that we commit ourselves to consistent, persistent, and purpose-driven action.

We want to become the best and to stand out, but we oftentimes look to the left and to the right to see what others are doing.

We want to do more to serve others, so we oftentimes go once to "see how it goes".

We want to revolutionize how our organizations do business or engage our members, so we oftentimes pilot a policy or program and reassess in a couple of weeks or months.

We want to transform how others see our organization's mission, purpose, or activities, so we oftentimes float a concept, idea, or program to see how it's received.

When we want to revolutionize and transform ourselves or our organizations, do we dip our toes in the water to test the temperature, or do we jump in with both feet? If you are just testing the water, are you truly, wholly committed to swimming? Or maybe you are content to recline by the pool...

A friend of mine once wanted to create a culture of physical fitness in his organization. As an officer, he could have mandated a new program outright, or he could have suggested it at a meeting, waiting for his peers to cast their votes for or against.

Instead, he announced that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he would get up at 6 a.m. and go down to the banks of the Mississippi River to go for a run or to practice yoga. The first week, he and his roommate were alone. A couple of weeks later, he had a handful of "regulars". By the end of the semester, many of the members had participated at lease once.

The point is, if my friend had given up-if he had not committed despite a slow start, he would not have succeeded in getting more members active.

As human beings, we like to leave ourselves outs. If you get caught in a tough spot, it's better to have left a door open, a way out.

"When you follow your bliss... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else." -Joseph Campbell

Those of you who know me (or who have seen my basketball acumen on display) may argue that I would not have "made it" anyway. Maybe, or maybe not, but I will never know for sure where the journey may have led me.

To live an extraordinary life, you cannot make ordinary choices. To transform your organization, your community, or yourself, you have to be ready to commit to the journey. Many of my colleagues and I are fond of reminding students to "TTP" or to "Trust the Process". To do so is to not hold back, and to authentically and completely engage in the learning process, knowing that it will be worthwhile.

What does it mean for you to Cross the Threshold, and to commit to the journey that awaits?