Liminal Spaces

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of liminal spaces lately. A liminal space, whether it is physical or psychological, is a space that is on the precipice of, or in a transitory phase between one place or another. In media, these are often depicted as spaces such as hallways or empty buildings where no one is around. These places are real, but at the same time, without people being there, there is an unsettling, almost unrealistic or dream-like quality to them. These spaces often arouse feelings of being trapped or feeling claustrophobic. Feelings of nostalgia or a longing for the past also arise when thinking about these spaces.

For the majority of us, the last two years has been an extended exercise in living in a liminal space – both physically and psychologically. Whether it be through lockdowns that physically restrict our movement and shutter the routines and places we would otherwise engage in and visit, or the uncertainty of what may happen next. For many of us, it has meant uncertainty around personal and professional situations – when will I be able to see my loved ones and friends again? Will my job still be around when this is all over? This has been compounded by a removal of personal agency in many cases – coping mechanisms and problem solving techniques available in any other situation have been taken away, sometimes with devastating consequences.

One reason why I have been thinking about this idea of liminal spaces, aside from the above, is that I will soon be turning 30. This has coincided with being in a period of rapid change in many aspects of my life – such as being in a position to put a deposit down on my first property, longer-term career paths and aspirations, and even in the groups of people I am friends with, both online and offline.
With these changes, however, come times of being in ‘liminal space’ – such as waiting for loan approvals, responses to interviews and job application processing and more. Even with the most proactive and forward-planning approach possible, these moments of being stuck in liminal spaces cannot be avoided. On a more existential level, it is also coming to terms with the clear closure of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. A chapter with an abundance of opportunity, freedom and excitement, but also on some level a lamentation of a loss of innocence and a certain carefree, laissez-faire approach to living. Whatever comes next, it feels as though the stakes are undoubtedly higher.

In regard to my current career and future direction, the liminal space idea is also strangely fitting. In my current role as a system analyst, a large portion of my role involves working in the space between the frontline, business-focused and customer-facing portions of my organization and the more technical backline workers. In order for my work to be successful I need to find a way to align these two groups of stakeholders. While it is an enjoyable, challenging and rewarding job, it is also not always easy to define or obvious to show its importance and value. At times, I feel both a part of, and also in some way outside of, the organization that I work for while working in this role.
As I’ve reflected on this idea more, the paths going forward also have this theme. I currently work in government, but the roles that appeal to be going forward and the outside projects that I work on (some of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts) have the common theme of linking things together, e.g. Public sector work and private enterprise. It would seem that on some level, I enjoy being in, or at least operating within, the liminal space between two different broader groups, whether professional, personal, cultural or otherwise.

This may also be a natural consequence of my upbringing and growing up as someone on the Autism spectrum, in a time before there was a neurodiversity movement or other broader identity to latch on to. I had to figure out a way to, if not fit in, at least function in groups I did not always belong to. I became very good at finding a niche between social groups, even if I did not necessarily closely belong to one particular group. This has brought about a proactive nature and independence, but also at times a sense of isolation. We’re a social species, and an interdependent one at that. At some point, being loosely aligned with a number of groups becomes unenjoyable, and closer connections are sought after.

With the last days of my twenties occurring, it feels fitting that it also feels like the final part of the transition from being a young adult to a full-fledged man, someone who has fulfilled most of the appropriate milestones of an average person around this age. However, as anyone who has been through major life changes knows, the final stages of this process before the transition is ‘complete’ can be the most difficult and stressful of all. A change of circumstances means new behaviours, new habits, new expectations. It feels like being in a liminal space of past and future – what has happened before and what will happen in the future.

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