Fourteen years ago, I began my journey mentoring people through major life transitions when I trained as a Birthing From Within doula.

At the time, I was in the midst of my own personal upheaval. In the previous years, my partner had been deported to Mexico, I moved from New Haven to Phoenix, discovered I was pregnant, left my work with the hotel workers’ union, moved to Oaxaca, Mexico at seven months pregnant, and gave birth to my son.

During my Birthing From Within training, I received a gift that helped me make sense of where I’d been, stay oriented through massive change over the next several years, and support my clients—first as a doula and later as a coach—to rise to the challenges they face.

The gift is the metaphor of the gate.

In this love letter, I want to share with you this metaphor, and in the love letter next week, I’ll share with you a practice for helping you soothe the doubt and fear that inevitably arise when you’re standing at a gate.

Each choice is a gate.

So, what is a gate exactly?

A gate is a moment of decision or completion where we let go of something in order to say yes to what’s calling us next.

So, what is a gate exactly?

A gate is a moment of decision or completion where we let go of something in order to say yes to what’s calling us next.

Other words for gates are thresholds, portals, precipices, or moments of truth.

Big gates are significant life transitions like leaving a job, ending a relationship, starting an organization, ending a project, having a baby, moving home, going to school, undergoing a health procedure, launching a campaign, or accepting a leadership position.

Little gates are choice points such as deciding whether to go to bed, reduce expenses, commit to a morning practice, have a difficult conversation with a comrade, speak up at a meeting, sign up for a class, join a social justice organization, look for a mentor, ask for help, ask someone on a date, say no to a request, or take our next step forward.

Big gates come only once in a while. Little gates come all the time.

Although many people believe that we make change in one big leap, more often, we traverse great distances through many small choices.

It can be daunting to decide what to do at a big gate or answer the question Should I stay or should I leave?

It can feel much more doable to focus on the little gates that lead up the big gate. For example, before you decide whether to stay at your organization or leave, you might cross through the little gates of dedicating time to discerning what you really want from your work, discussing possible changes with your colleagues, or exploring other options outside your current work

We get clear about what to do at the big gates by consciously choosing at the little gates.

To cross, you must pay a price.

Beside each gate, lives a gatekeeper.

In the old stories, gatekeepers appear as mystical beings: three-headed dogs, dragons, and wise teachers. In reality, the gatekeeper lives within us.

The gatekeeper says: “To pass, you must pay a price.”

The Latin root of the word decision —caedere—means “to cut” or “to kill.”[1] Death, loss, and tradeoffs are inevitable parts of the journey toward a life that meets our needs.

At each gate, we’re asked to say yes to something and no to something else. We’re asked to make a tradeoff, pay a price, let something go.

What we let go of almost always has an external component—completing a project, saying no to a request, investing money, ending a relationship, stopping scrolling social media, or closing the door on an opportunity.

And, we must usually also let go of something internal—an old story, behavior, identity, or way of being that no longer serves us. We must let go of what’s holding us back from becoming the person we’re called to be now.

And so, in addition to insisting that we pay the price, the gatekeeper asks us “Who are you now?”

We are called to be more fully ourselves.

I define a calling as a longing to take on a new challenge and meet a need, often one that is greater than ourselves.

Depending on the hour, day, cycle, and season, life will call us to both rise and rest. You may feel called to launch a big campaign or go for a hike even though part of you would rather keep working.

On the surface, a calling is almost always about achieving an external goal—winning a campaign, starting an enterprise, launching a project, leading an organization, healing your body, creating a family, finding the holy grail.

Below the surface, a calling is about becoming the person who can rise to the challenge we face, the person we’re called to be now.

I invite you to imagine that the person you are now—with all of your habits, skills, parts, stories, strengths, quirks, knowledge, and training—is living inside a bell jar.[2]

It’s familiar inside the jar, but the jar has become too small to fit the person you’re called to be now.

The jar holds you back, and you’re rubbing up against the sides.

To create space for the person you’re called to be now, you must lift the jar. You must include and transcend everything you’ve been until now.

Becoming the person we’re called to be now does not mean getting rid of any part of ourselves, breaking a habit, improving ourselves, or becoming a better person. It means becoming more fully ourselves than we’ve ever been before.

When we move toward what’s calling us now and let go of what no longer serves us, we begin to embody a different person—a person who shares their ideas, a person who takes care of themself, a person who leads, a person who pauses, a person who says no, a person who says yes.

Often, callings hurt and are unfair.

In many great stories, the traveler first hears their call when malign forces kidnap and carry them away to foreign lands against their will.

Likewise, unwanted circumstances outside of our control—illness, death, injustice—often spark callings. Burnout is a calling. Grief is a calling. Rage is a calling. Despair is a calling. A calling can feel like being just plain done.

I disagree with the trope Never give up. It’s true that sometimes, we are called to persist. But sometimes, we are called to let go of a project that is no longer alive or close a chapter that’s no longer ours to write.

When you hear a calling, you may feel like life is forcing you to leave home. You may need to make a physical move, do things differently than how your friends or family always have, say no to a request you wish you could say yes to, or otherwise disappoint someone you love.

And although most people think of callings as vocations we’re already good at, the fact is that often, we’re called to do things that we’re not yet good at and develop the skills to take on the challenge ahead.

A crisis becomes a calling when we choose not to be victims of our fate but to rise to the challenge with our whole hearts, even when the road ahead is uncertain and full of potential dangers. The traveler says yes to the call and crosses through the gate when it becomes easier to say yes than it is to say no.

Your choice.

We don’t always have to make the journey, of course. Sometimes, courage looks like making a great big change. Other times, courage looks like saying not yet and refusing the call. Sometimes, though, we have no choice but to enter the labyrinth.

We don’t always get to choose our callings. But we get to choose our response.

The key to getting clear about what we’re called to do next—and how to respond to the callings that come whether we like it or not—is pausing, turning our attention toward ourselves with warmth and kindness, and discerning what is needed now.

In next week’s love letter I’ll share one of my favorite practices for choosing next steps when we’re standing at a gate—Soothing the Voice of Doubt.

I’ve relied on this practice to help me access courage and clarity since I first learned it fourteen years ago, and it’s been a steady companion as I’ve supported my clients to cross through their gates and create lives of contribution and contentment.

Stay tuned!

May you discover all the allies you need as you face the gates on your journey.


[1] https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=decision

[2] I learned the bell jar analogy from my teacher, the late Doug Silsbee, creator of Presence-Based Coaching.

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