In the social sciences the concept of gatekeepers is well known; gatekeepers are people who by virtue of their position in an institutional setting may either admit or deny entry for someone to a higher status or to the means of obtaining a desired goal. A gatekeeper can let someone in or close them out, depending on the gatekeeper’s prerogative.
My best friend in high school, Barbara, for example, was by far the best artist in her class. As a painter, she could create realism as well as more modern forms of art such as cubism equally well, and the deep thought and brilliant creativity she applied to her art was nothing short of genius.
However, when Barb went for her standard Guidance Counselor visit that we all underwent in the 11th grade, the counselor told her in no uncertain terms:
“You are not college material.”
On what grounds this Gatekeeper turned my friend away from even seeking a college career, who knows? I do know that Barbara was not only a talented artist but she was also—still is—a deeply philosophical and intelligent person. Perhaps Barb might have gone on to become an Art Professor or to have written philosophically about the creative process, had she been deemed “college material.” But Barb accepted the rebuttal of the Threshold Guardian; she turned away and did not attend college.
Barbara moved to Alaska for several years after high school, where she waitressed, worked in a crab cannery (I joined her there for one summer in Yakutat), and she continued with her art. When she returned to Niagara Falls, New York, Barbara worked at and apprenticed for a wax figure artist at the famous Madame Tussaud’s wax museum; when the stateside Mme.Tussaud’s museum folded, many of the clients were directed to Barbara, so that after awhile she was doing wax figures to fill whole museums around the states and, once, in Ireland. Later on Barb developed a small business selling wax dolls in period clothing, molded after two of her own children’s forms. Barb became well known as a wax figure artist, but she never chose to become famous. She remained humble with her talent and eventually took a job as a customs broker, working on her artwork privately. Once while I was an undergraduate in Buffalo, Barb took a one semester college course at my university. She aced it, of course, but she said she was glad she had not gone in that direction; it was too sterile and theoretical for her artistic sensibilities.
So, was the Gatekeeper a blessing in disguise in Barbara’s case? Did she hear what she needed to hear in order to follow her destiny, or might she have found her way as well without the guidance counsellor’s rejection? I know that she has never forgotten that brief encounter.
Let’s shift forward a bit. While in graduate school in Arizona for 14 years, I observed that every student approaching their MA thesis or PhD dissertation project at some point always faced their own Threshold Guardians! Key Advisor-faculty were often the gatekeepers involved. They might challenge the logic or the feasibility or the competence of the student for carrying out their study ambitions. I myself heard from many would-be gatekeepers when I was desiring to do my dissertation research at Zuni Pueblo. “They will never talk to you; they don’t like White people.” “Why not do something easier, like study language dialects and ethnicity in Phoenix?” “How will you pay for the research?” “What is the value of Anthropology, anyway? (my father).”
Because of my spiritual grounding and an intrinsically persistent nature, I did not allow these detractors or naysayers’ words to filter into my heart. I knew what I wanted to do, and I persisted relentlessly, ultimately succeeding with my research and having the time of my life in the process. I met several beautiful, lifelong friends at Zuni, and this rite of passage of ethnographic fieldwork opened many other doors and windows far into my future. In this case, then, I saw the threshold guardians as challengers that simply helped me to refine and to clarify my resolve. Yet I witnessed many a grad student through those years who turned away from completing their graduate studies altogether after having been steered away from their goals.
Gatekeepers and Guardians of a Threshold serve vital functions in relation to your own sense of purpose, inner direction, and goals. Your reaction or response to the gatekeepers is what matters, for it can allow you to weigh how deeply you actually value or are committed to your goals. Once you know inwardly what you truly are here to DO, no power in the Universe can deter you. Which reminds me of a Hermann Hesse line, from his Siddhartha:
“Nothing can deter Jivatma (Soul) from Its goal.”
So, set your sails, and Go! Let no one control your Destiny, but Yourself—in tandem with your inner spiritual Guidance and the Strengths of your Archetype Allies!
I welcome your comments and your stories!