Get Out of Your Own Backyard—and Into Liminal Space

by: Amy Simmons

Everything appears starker on the Boulder Mail Trail, a trek through Utah’s ancient ruins, hidden gorges, canyon narrows, arches, and bridges. On the trail, which tracks the path mail and telegraph carriers took between the towns of Boulder and Escalante in the 1900s, the flowers are more vivid—colors so saturated it looks as if your fingers would sink into the petals like wet paint. The night is darker than back home, the stars brighter.

It’s so quiet, but when you stop to listen, you start to hear: bird songs, the hum of insects, the creak and swish of wind through sagebrush and juniper.

This environment provides a unique opportunity: to leverage this very moment. To be transported out of space and time and into the crevices and winding routes of your own mind. To examine where you’ve been and consider where you might end up.

It’s liminal space, which we define as a period of discontinuity that creates an openness to change.

And unlike imposed liminal space, which is brought on by a sudden or unexpected event like the death of a loved one or a drop in the market—a reality thrust upon you—this kind of liminal moment comes of your own volition. It’s what we call curated liminality, and it is the basis of our leadership ventures—the most immersive expression of the liminal experiences we provide and help clients unpack.

Leadership ventures are yearlong development experiences that include 120 hours of interaction and one-on-one coaching, all alongside the opportunity leave behind your typical surroundings and daily routines and immerse yourself in an unfamiliar environment for five to ten days.

That departure from the day-to-day predisposes you to think differently; to examine yourself, your business strategies, and key relationships from a perspective too often unattainable while staring at the same four walls of your office, or the rooms of your home. It gives you the chance to dig deep into your consciousness, while testing the edges of your physical capabilities. The result? Transformative growth that sticks.

Why are these experiences so powerful? The lion’s share of the time, even the most self-aware of us don’t realize that we’re entering periods of liminality, and therein lies the opportunity.

We believe that catalyzing our own transitions builds the muscle for navigating those we don’t initiate. Author Bruce Feiler’s work supports this concept. He conducted 225 in-depth interviews investigating how individuals handled one or more of fifty-two kinds of life transitions.

Feiler found that life is far less linear than many of us assume it will be. We no longer live in a world where we can bank on having one job, relationship, or source of happiness over the course of our existence. Through his research, he saw that those who anticipated and embraced the inevitable transitions that occur were most successful at managing them.

A lot of the time, we are able to harness the power of liminal space, even when we don’t know we’re in a period of transition. But what if we could ensure the effectiveness of liminal periods? What if we could not only establish best practices for leveraging liminality to accelerate our growth, but also create those liminal moments for ourselves?

The ability to craft and manage liminality strategically presents us with unbridled potential. By deftly navigating both the liminal space imposed upon us and the moments we curate, we can accelerate in the direction of our best selves—virtually on demand. The benefit of curated liminality is not the elimination of the unknown per se; it is that knowing when it will happen allows us to optimize the disruption ahead.

You can begin exploring curated liminal space right now. Getting outside and out of your backyard—even out of your state—will help you learn to find a path forward when the trail seems to be hidden. Now is the perfect time to find an outdoor space to dig deeper into what makes you tick and how you handle the inevitable trials and tribulations that come your way.

Our book, Unleashed: Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space, now available from ForbesBooks, serves as another route to explore this concept, laying out what we’ve learned about the power of pattern-breaking experiences for individuals, teams, and organizations. Read more about it here.