threshold guardians

In Colmar, France, where my husband, sister-in-law, and I went for a day trip, I was captivated by a doorway we passed on our way to have lunch. As soon as I saw it, I felt a greedy joy rise up (“I want that”), and my hand automatically went to the camera slung around my neck.

Then I noticed all the people. It was a hot day for March, and people sat outside in the sunshine on either side of the doorway. Lots of people. I looked at them. They looked at me. And I walked on by without taking the picture.

After lunch, we went past the red doorway again. As we approached, I had a little pep talk with myself: Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re not going to keel over from people staring at you and wondering what the hell you’re up to. Do this as an experiment to see what actually happens. Now get in there and take that photograph!

What actually happened, of course, was exactly nothing, except getting the photograph I wanted. I made a mental note of that result.

A few ambling corners later, as we walked along the edge of a small square, we passed one of Colmar‘s official buildings. Beside its front doors was a panel of buttons and controls so overwhelmingly silly (see photo below) I snorted out loud and, again, reached for my camera.

But first (yes, I needed to learn the same lesson again), I turned and looked around at the square to see who might judge me for taking such a photograph. Two men and a woman sat facing me on a bench not far away. They stared. When I saw them, I gave a mental yelp and immediately scuttled away to catch up with my companions. You could have seen the little cartoon dust ball created by my hurried wake.

As I neared the arched passageway at the end of the square (freedom!), I looked up to see my husband standing there with his arms crossed and a stern look on his face. Uh-oh. I thought. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. “But look at them!” I said. We looked. They looked back. One of the men had his arms folded. Their body language projected uncompromising French disapproval. Or so it seemed. Frankly, I’d made them into archetypal Threshold Guardians.

“The Threshold Guardian’s job is to ensure
the protagonist is worthy of passing the threshold,
and thus they act as part of the tests the
protagonist must face in the journey.”
Melinda Goodin

My heart began to beat faster. I knew I was going back for the photo. I just didn’t yet know how to find the courage.

Okay, listen, you may think this is the story of a ridiculous wimp – Where’s the challenge?! What’s the big deal?! Just take the photo already! – but for me it was a real challenge. I’m introverted and private by nature. I like working behind the scenes; supporting the stars, not being one. I’m a ghostwriter, for heaven’s sake! I prefer to remain unseen, navigating the world in the role of the observer rather than the observed.

My husband saw my trepidation, but he also saw my determination. Even though I hadn’t turned around to go back, I’d stopped walking toward him. He tossed me a tool I could use.

“You know you want it,” he said.

That did it. I lifted my chin, turned around, and marched back to the silly button panel. I did it as another experiment. Would those stern Threshold Guardians start pelting me with hard pieces of stale baguette? Would they openly deride me in heavily accented English? Well, I would find out, wouldn’t I?

I took my time. It was a straightforward shot, but I dallied, pretending I was figuring out the lighting, trying out several angles to get the distance and framing right. I was really just proving to myself that I could enter the lion’s den and come out unscathed. Which I did, keeping my back turned on the Guardians as I strode purposefully away, treasure in hand.


Whatever your challenge looks like, it’s yours. Don’t let others dictate the worthiness of your challenge. An immense challenge to you may be as easy as an eye-blink to someone else. So what. In the same way your challenge is personal, so are your Threshold Guardians, and you’re not going to get past those Threshold Guardians at all unless you acknowledge the true nature of your challenge.

Two tools that come in handy for getting past Threshold Guardians are experimenting and connecting with what you want:

Experiment – Try something. Then pay close attention to what happens. Did your worst fears actually come to pass? Or not? Notice the result. Then try something else if you need to. Keep experimenting until you figure out what works to move you toward your fascination.

Connect with What You Want – Your desire for the treasure, for union with your fascination, gives you strength for navigating past Threshold Guardians. When your path is blocked or threatened but you know you want what’s down that path, don’t focus on the blockage. Focus on the treasure. Imagine a loving, stern someone who wants you to have your heart’s desire saying, “You know you want it.”


Related reading: mistakes were made, versions, reading to dogs


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