If you’ve ever been alive (which, if you’re reading this, I assume to be true), you’ve faced obstacles. In fact, your life is most likely riddled with obstacles, dead ends, and false starts. But fret not, because part of being alive is the act of facing – and overcoming – life obstacles.

Luckily, overcoming a life obstacle is easy. That’s because the ancient stories we’re all used to (The Illiad, The Odyssey, etc.) have secret meanings and teachings that actually tell us how to overcome our life obstacles.

Pretty cool, huh? And the best part? Many of these ancient stories are thousands of years old, and their lessons are verified and proven.

So, in this article, we’re going to discuss the following:

  • What is a Life Obstacle?
  • What is a Threshold Guardian in Ancient Stories?
  • What Does a Threshold Guardian Represent in Your Life?
  • How Can a Threshold Guardian Help You Overcome Your Life Obstacles?

By the end of the article, you should be able to do the following:

  • Overcome a life obstacle
  • View your life obstacle as a blessing and not as a curse

Alright, let’s begin.

What is a Life Obstacle?

An obstacle, according to the dictionary, is anything that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress. Pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to ensure that we’re on the same page.

So, a life obstacle is anything that impedes your movement forward. A life obstacle is anything that gets in the way of where you want to go in life.

If you want to start a new career but you don’t have the experience, the lack of experience is your obstacle to change. If you want to stop caring what other’s think about you but you consistently worry, your mindset is your obstacle to change.

Why are Obstacles Important?

There will always be life obstacles. Any time you do something that has more than one variable (i.e., more than just you), you’re liable to face an obstacle. And that’s ok because you’re always going to face obstacles in life. Obstacles aren’t a bad thing. In fact, obstacles are good in that they’re proof you’re trying something out of your comfort zone.

This is because nothing really ever goes according to plan. However, just because things don’t go according to plan doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make something of your life. All it means is that you’re sure to face life obstacles along the way.

If you remember from my last post on self-judgement, there are an infinite amount of variables in the world and we can only control one of them – Ourselves. So it makes sense that when you try to do something in life there are an infinite amount of forces that oppose you.

These are the forces that manifest themselves in the form of a life obstacle.

Any time you open your door and leave your house, exiting the safety of your cave and venturing out into the cruel world, you’re likely to face a life obstacle. It could be something as small as forgetting your keys or something as large as getting fired.

Regardless, every time we go forth into the world, we’re bound to face one or more life obstacles. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to avoid obstacles but rather embrace them with open arms. They’re a sign we’re heading in the right direction. They’re a test to ensure we’re worthy of what lies on the other side.

I could go on, but I think the ancient stories from our past say it much better.

What is a Threshold Guardian in Ancient Stories?

The idea of the threshold guardian comes from the work of the famed linguist Joseph Campbell and the reintroduction of Campbell’s work by Christopher Vogler. Based on the detailed analysis of all the popular stories throughout time, from Homer to Shakespeare, all good stories include specific character archetypes.

Each of these archetypes represents a real type of person or situation that we’re liable to encounter in real life. This is why these stories remain so popular and have been able to permeate time and space. They ring true, even now, thanks to very realistic character archetypes.

These archetypes include such people as:

  • The Hero (or the main character)
  • The Mentor (or teacher)
  • The Ally (or friend)

The list goes on, but I’ll stop here because the most important archetype for this article is the threshold guardian.

According to Campbell and Vogler, both of whom studied thousands of ancient and contemporary stories, the threshold guardian is an obstacle on a hero’s road to adventure. All good stories have heroes who stretch their comfort zones and grow as people, and threshold guardians literally guard the threshold between “the person the hero is currently” and “the person they’re supposed to become.”

Campbell refers to this as “entering the new world.” Anytime a hero grows as a person and becomes better, they effectively “enter a new world” where they now have new learnings and understandings. The threshold guardian, according to Campbell, is what stands between the “old world” and the “new world” of personal growth.

In the ancient stories, threshold guardians can be anything from the Sphinx in Oedipus to Darth Vader in Star Wars. They block the hero’s path that leads to the life they want. Only in your life, the hero isn’t Oedipus or Luke Skywalker but is, in fact, you.

Purpose of a Threshold Guardian

Christopher Vogler tells us that “Testing the hero is the primary function of a threshold guardian.”

When a hero confronts a threshold guardian in a story, it’s up to the hero to solve a puzzle or pass a test. If they pass it successfully or vanquish the threshold guardian in some other way, they’ll be able to pass into the new world and become a better person.

A threshold guardian is put in place to ensure that the hero is worthy of what lies beyond. If the hero isn’t worthy, if he doesn’t have the skills or mindset necessary to cross the threshold, the guardian successfully blocks the hero. If, however, the hero is worthy of the “new world,” the threshold guardian will be thwarted by the hero and the hero will become a better person for having passed the threshold.

Overall, the purpose of the threshold guardian is to ensure that those who pass are worthy. In your life, for example, a threshold guardian might be a recruiter who’s assessing your experience level. It might be a venture capital fund who’s reviewing your company’s financials. It might even be a failing relationship that requires more of your time and attention.

If you’re worthy, you’ll pass over the threshold and get that new job, receive that much-needed funding, or repair that relationship. If not, however, you’ll be turned back and will have to focus on gaining the skills necessary to pass.

What Does a Threshold Guardian Represent in Your Life?

Let me make this clear: You are the hero of your own life. No one else. Just you.

Threshold guardians therefore represent a test, a challenge for you to pass. Only those who are worthy of passing the test make it through to the other side. Those who aren’t worthy are turned back to try again at another time.

Threshold guardians represent the life obstacles we discussed earlier. Any time you face a life obstacle, you’re facing a threshold guardian. On the other side is the life you want, and you can only pass over if you’re worthy.

Threshold guardians can represent any of our life’s obstacles. They can be something physical, such as the weather or a person, or they can be something metaphysical, like our own internal demons. Whatever is stopping you from living the life you want is a threshold guardian and is a life obstacle you’ll have to overcome.

Every time you try to make a major change in your life there’s something that opposes you. However, these threshold guardians aren’t evil, but rather, they’re there to test you and make sure you’re worthy of the “new world” you covet.

How Can it Help You Overcome Your Life Obstacles?

Ok, this all sounds great, but how can we translate the ancient idea of threshold guardians into our modern, everyday life. Well, just like the theme of threshold guardians in our ancient stories, there are also themes as to how the hero overcomes these guardians.

Let’s take a moment to discuss each of these tactics for overcoming threshold guardians and then discuss how they can be used in your own life.

How the Hero Overcomes a Threshold Guardian

There are six tactics, according to Campbell, that heroes use to thwart their threshold guardians and make it into the “new world.”

  1. Turn and Run
  2. Stay and Attack
  3. Use Craft or Deceit
  4. Use a Bribe or Appeasement
  5. Become the Guardian’s Ally
  6. “Absorb” the Power of the Guardian

The first five are fairly self-explanatory. In fact, all of them are some variation of our evolutionary tactics for survival. “Turn and run” and “stay and attack,” for example, are variations of “fight or flight.”

However, the sixth tactic is not only the most effective but is also the most important. “Absorbing” the power of the guardian is the act of using the threshold guardian’s power against it. Christopher Vogler calls this “getting into the skin” of an enemy.

If done correctly, a hero not only becomes more powerful and crosses the threshold, but the threshold guardian becomes an ally rather than an enemy. Absorbing the power of a threshold guardian is a way to use the obstacle to the hero’s advantage.

The most successful heroes in our ancient myths are the ones who transcend their threshold guardians rather than destroying them. Think about it like bodybuilding. The greater the resistance the greater the potential strength gain. The most successful heroes from our past are the ones who use resistance to get stronger and transcend their old world in an attempt to manifest a new world.

How You can Become the Hero and Overcome Your Life Obstacles

Let me explain with an example from my own life.

I love self-development and personal growth. I’m always looking for ways to quiet my mind, focus on the positive, and truly enjoy life. It’s hard, but it obviously has its benefits. Self-improvement results in a life of fulfillment.

However, there are an infinite amount of obstacles that stand in my way. The resistance every time I sit down to meditate, for example, is a form of a threshold guardian in my life.

Which leads me to my example. One of my goals in life is to stop caring what other people think about me. I use meditation and other positivity tactics to quiet my mind in an attempt to stop. And for a while I thought that I was doing a good job…until I got slammed with a life obstacle turned threshold guardian.

Believe it or not, there are a few people in my life who don’t like me. These people stand opposed to me and my desire for self-growth. What angers them about me is irrelevant, but what’s important is that every time I feel like I’ve let go of my negative emotions and transcended, I see these people and they drag me back down into a world where I’m controlled by my emotions and not the other way around.

Each time I think I’ve passed the threshold into a life where I don’t care what others think, I meet one of these threshold guardians and I’m thrust back into variations of the negative thought loop, “why doesn’t this person like me.”

However, because I know about the archetype of the threshold guardian, rather than getting mad at myself and at these people, I know that I’m not yet worthy enough to pass the threshold. I still have work to do in terms of controlling my mind, letting go, and not caring what people think about me.

So, rather than getting angry at the life obstacle, I smile and go back to the drawing board, knowing that if I tweak a thing or two in my life, I might soon become worthy of the new world I covet.

Follow the Direction of Your Life Obstacles

Overall, threshold guardians and life obstacles are a good thing. It’s a sign you’re headed in the right direction. It’s a sign you’re close to the change you want in life. As Vogler says in his book The Writer’s Journey:

“In daily life, you’ve probably encountered resistance when you try to make a positive change in your life. People around you, even those who love you, are often reluctant to see you change. They are used to your neuroses and have found ways to benefit from them. The idea of your change may threaten them. If they resist you, it’s important to realize they are simply functioning as threshold guardians, testing you to see if you are really resolved to change.”

Vogler goes on to say that:

“Successful heroes learn to recognize threshold guardians not as a threat, but rather as useful allies and early indicators that new power or success is coming. Threshold guardians who appear to be attacking may, in fact, be doing the hero a great favor.

“Heroes also learn to recognize resistance as a source of strength. Rather than attacking the power of threshold guardians head-on, heroes learn to use it so it doesn’t harm them. In fact, it makes them stronger. Ideally, threshold guardians are not only defeated but incorporated into the body of the hero. Ultimately, fully evolved heroes feel compassion for their enemies and transcend rather than destroy them.”

Conclusion

Remember that you are the hero of your own life story. And as is the case with any hero, you’ll face seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way.

However, if you can start to view your obstacles as positives rather than negatives, you’ll soon cross the threshold into the new world you so desperately desire.

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  • Kate Findley

    I really like how you integrated narrative structure into your discussion of personal growth. Joseph Campbell is great.

    • Evan Tarver

      Thanks Kate! Joseph Capmbell really is great. Don’t hesitate to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, which sends you my weekly articles directly to your inbox!