Threshold is defined as either “a strip of wood, metal, or stone forming the bottom of a doorway and crossed in entering a house or room,” or “the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested.” The symbolism in crossing thresholds in our lives often gets overlooked. The days we first step foot onto or into new territory. Our first days of school, our first days at a new job, our first days walking into the same workplace with a new title after a promotion, our first steps into a new living space, our first steps into our homes carrying a newborn, watching our children take their first steps, etc.
Regardless of the threshold that is being crossed, these are all beginnings. It’s all the start of something new, and for all the excitement, there’s an equal amount of fear. The fear of knowing what’s in our control and our concerns about our ability to navigate that well, and the fear of knowing so much more will inevitably be out of our control than we care to acknowledge and reacting to those experiences with a modicum of grace. The good news here is being perfect from day one of anything is impossible. This is true because perfection, the complete absence of error, is impossible. Imperfection is essential in order to be able to cross new thresholds.
In 99.9999% of all situations we experience, the thresholds we cross have been crossed before by others. The only perfect thing that happens in any new experience is that any threshold is the perfect place to start learning how to expand on what we already know. The process of learning comes with a full-spectrum of emotions and experiences, all of which are part of our stories. If we were fortunate enough to wake-up today, what thresholds will we dare to cross? If we are fortunate enough to wake-up tomorrow, what will take from today to help us know what thresholds we want to exceed?
We are all guilty of wishing and wanting for more. Fantasizing about what it would be like if we won the lottery, got some huge unexpected promotion at work, had a long-lost relative that left us a substantial inheritance, etc. We love to think about how our lives would be different and supposedly better with more. It can be fun to do so, but there’s little value beyond some temporary escapism.
What if we asked ourselves, “What if I didn’t…?” What if I didn’t have my job tomorrow? What if I didn’t have my car tomorrow? What if I didn’t have my home tomorrow? What if I didn’t have my possessions tomorrow? Certainly, this reality would create an incredible inconvenience, but would it still be possible to feel happiness or joy? The answer depends greatly on how much you feel your job, car, home and possessions define you.
The purpose is not to wish for tragedy to strike, but rather offer a reality to ponder where the only possession we maintain is our reasoned choice. If we were to lose everything that we believed defined who we are, what we would choose to do with that reality? What would be important in that reality? In those responses lies the answer to all that’s truly important right here, right now.
There will always be more that we don’t know than what we do know. Furthermore, of all the things we do know, can we say with confidence that we know them all equally to their deepest level of understanding? Probably not! So why then do we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed and stressed about what we don’t know or aren’t good at? Learning something new is always the surface of its worth. Whatever it is has value that is up to us to determine by how much time and effort we choose to dig into understanding it. That is knowledge. All else is a good memory disguised as knowledge.
Tolerance is defined as “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Belief is not truth. It’s accepting that something may exist or be true without knowing for certain. It’s interesting how when we exclaim to be tolerant, we often overlook the part of the definition that’s most important – “the existence of opinions (beliefs) that one does not necessarily agree with.” When we won’t tolerate the beliefs of others because they differ from what we believe, we are not being tolerant, we are holding ignorance close to us to shield our beliefs.
Opinions seem to carry lesser weight than beliefs, however, consider the following statements: “It’s my opinion that 2+2=4.” and “I believe that 2+2=4.” The truth is that 2+2=4, and math neither cares about our opinions nor beliefs. It simply just “is.” So the next time we find ourselves in a situation where we tell someone we won’t tolerate their behavior or opinions because we disagree, consider how quickly we would “tolerate” them if they simply just happen to agree with our own beliefs and opinions? Do we really tolerate what we already align with?
How deep is our investigation into others that we feel we align with? What do we make up about others to justify our acceptance, and falsely fill in all the blanks we don’t know based on surface knowledge? “I don’t know this person…but, they are wearing a jersey of my favorite team, they are wearing the shirt of my favorite band, they attend the same place of worship that I do, they work in the same office that I do, their child goes to the same school as my child, they vote the way I do, they take their coffee the same way I do…therefore, they must be a decent human. Why would we tolerate that level of thinking when we are capable of compassionate inquiry? When we have the capacity to seek to understand what we don’t know for sure.
When we self-reflect on our daily actions, we typically do so privately. We don’t have an audience on these occasions, because the point of self-reflection at the end of each day is to process how well we lived today. It’s already the past. We’re using the knowledge of night to inform the actions of the dawn. When we learn from our yesterdays, the choices that guide every new day make a positive impact on our lives, which in turn makes the lives of the people in our lives receivers of what we’ve learned. Not through what we say, but in what we do.
Living well is a silent teacher. The personal gains of self-reflection aren’t quantifiable because although we may be able to gather the data to see how we’ve improved our own lives, we’ll never know the impact we’ve made on others by modeling right action or even striving to do so. The payoff of selflessness is not tangible.
In the 1980s, the term “nerd” was a bullying insult. Today, it’s a badge of honor to be called a nerd. Misfit is currently a term that carries negative connotations. Misfit is defined as “a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way,” or “something that does not fit or that fits badly.” Fits badly into what exactly? Typically, it means fits badly into what the vast majority would deem “normal” in society.
Adam Grant’s book Originals delves into how non-conformists are the ones responsible for changing the world. A non-conformist is defined as “a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices.” Not far off from a misfit really, but a book about how misfits are responsible for changing the world may not be as appetizing. Although the world may not be ready to embrace the term misfit, it’s the people who dare to think differently, to live differently, that prefer carving new paths instead of walking on well-trodden ground. Misfits care more about living differently than they do about what people think about their choice to do so.
To be objective requires examining what’s happening more than who’s doing it. For example, it’s easy to say that a teenager is “lazy” because they spend all their free-time with their heads buried in their phones. However, once we know what’s happening, we must then begin examining the why behind the what. Is the teen lazy or is the teen’s effort lazy? Why is the effort lazy? There’s crucial data in the latter question. Humans are motivated by purpose. If adults don’t create an understanding of why effort is important, if we don’t help our youth understand the greater transferable skill of why effort is important in creating both value and worth, then we must examine why we’ve allowed our efforts to become lazy.
If we throw in the towel because we feel it is too difficult, or convince ourselves it is futile, then we are simply projecting laziness onto others as a way of not examining the why behind our own actions. As adults, it’s our duty to know better, but it’s equally important to make sure we’re doing better. Doing better matters because it models why effort is important in the first place. It gives effort meaning. Effort is not easy. Effort is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt, a strenuous physical or mental exertion and the result of an attempt.” Labeling someone else as “lazy” is simply a lack of effort on our behalf to examine why one might choose to prioritize idleness over productivity. Where did they learn how to do that? What efforts of ours did they experience that may be responsible for helping them determine how much effort they feel they are worth?