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Our Take: Navigating existential well-being through coaching

Cultural sociologist and Executive Director/VP of ICF Thought Leadership Institute Alicia Hullinger, PhD, kicks off this series on existential well-being by offering a reflection on the past 30 years to look forward 10 years, preparing coaches to shape a meaningful future.

Coaching for existential well-being by integrating purpose and meaning into conversations

As we launch this month’s series, “Pathways to Purpose: Coaching for Existential Well-Being in a Dynamic World,” you are invited to reflect on how far we have come and where we are headed as a globally interconnected ecosystem. Over the past three decades, the landscape of existential well-being has transformed dramatically, influenced by global collective trauma, demographic shifts, and rapid advancements in technology. Looking forward ten years, we can see the instrumental role coaches will play in helping individuals navigate these changes, fostering resilience, and creating purpose through existential well-being.

Thirty years ago, the world was in a different place. The 1990s marked a time of rapid globalization, the rise of the internet, and significant social and political changes. The end of the Cold War brought about a sense of optimism but also new anxieties as the world adjusted to a unipolar global order. During this period, the concept of existential well-being was emerging, driven by the growing interest in mental health, spirituality, and personal development. Scholars and philosophers such as Viktor Frankl, with his seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and Irvin Yalom, with his existential psychotherapy, played foundational roles in shaping our understanding of existential well-being.

Complementing these Western thinkers, non-Western scholars, and philosophers have also significantly contributed to the discourse on existential well-being. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has influenced the integration of mindfulness and inner peace into daily life. His teachings on mindfulness and compassion have helped people across the world find purpose and peace amid chaos. Similarly, Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti’s emphasis on self-inquiry and the rejection of societal conditioning has provided insights into living an authentic and purposeful life. In Africa, Sobonfu Somé, a Burkina Faso native, emphasized the importance of community and ritual in personal healing and purpose-finding. Her work has enriched the global perspective on existential well-being, highlighting the significance of cultural roots and communal support.

Female scholars have also made substantial contributions. Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist nun, has brought mindfulness and the importance of embracing uncertainty to a broader audience. Her teachings encourage facing life’s challenges with compassion and courage, which is integral to fostering existential well-being. In the Western context, Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability, shame, and resilience has had a positive impact on how individuals understand their worthiness and find purpose in connection with others. These types of insights into finding meaning within suffering and the importance of authentic existence laid the groundwork for contemporary existential coaching. Coaches began to recognize the importance of helping individuals find meaning and purpose during these changes.

A key figure who has paved the way for coaching in relation to existential well-being is Dr. Laura Berman Fortgang. A forerunner in the field of life coaching, Laura has been instrumental in integrating existential principles into coaching practices. Her work emphasizes the importance of finding one’s purpose and aligning life choices with personal values. Laura’s contributions have helped shape the profession, encouraging coaches to explore deeper aspects of their client’s lives and fostering a deeper sense of purpose and well-being.

Fast forward to today, we are grappling with the aftershocks of global collective trauma, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and political instability. These events have reshaped our shared narratives and heightened existential anxiety. The ICF Thought Leadership Institute’s STEERE framework, which examines social, technological, economic, ecological, regulatory, and ethical dimensions, offers a comprehensive approach to understanding these influences. Coaches equipped with this framework can empower individuals to navigate these changes and foster resilience through existential well-being.

This series of articles provides valuable insights as we navigate the uncertainties of the next decade:

The first article of our series, “The Future of Existential Well-Being: Coaching Through Global Challenges,” explores how global collective trauma, demographic shifts, and AI advancements are shaping the future of existential well-being. The article highlights the importance of addressing diverse identities and ethical responsibilities while challenging us to maintain our human qualities in a tech-driven world. In this sense, coaches can lead transformative changes by helping clients integrate their values and beliefs, fostering an authentic, purpose-driven life during global challenges.

Our second article, “Community and Shared Identity: Transforming Client Well-Being into Collective Impact,” delves into the intersection of existential well-being and community. It emphasizes the importance of community engagement for holistic well-being, particularly in an era where traditional religious affiliations are declining in some regions and digital connectivity is rising. Coaches can guide clients in recognizing the significance of shared identity and purpose, facilitating connections with purpose-driven communities that support both personal growth and social cohesion. This collective approach not only benefits individuals but also strengthens networks of support, enhancing resilience.

The final article, “Coaching for Inner Peace: How Existential Well-Being Builds a Resilient Future,” focuses on the pivotal role coaches play in fostering inner peace and a sense of purpose. By helping clients uncover their core values and life goals, coaches facilitate a deeper understanding of purpose, leading to greater satisfaction and reduced stress. Additionally, coaches support clients in developing mindfulness practices that promote inner calm and enhance their ability to remain centered amid challenges. This holistic approach strengthens organizations and communities, contributing to a more resilient future.

Looking forward, we can envision a future where coaches are at the forefront of fostering resilience and purpose. By empowering individuals to recognize their capacity for choice, coaches can help them navigate the complexities of a dynamic world with confidence and calm. This support will not only contribute to individual well-being but also to the resilience of organizations and communities worldwide. Today, we have the opportunity to shape a future where meaning and purpose are central to our collective journey by integrating existential well-being into our lived reality.

Alicia Hullinger, Ph.D.

24 June 2024

Pathways to Purpose: Coaching for Existential Well-Being in a Dynamic World Creative Team

Genevieve Feliú, PhD, United States

Catherine Galli, MPH, United States

Alicia Hullinger, PhD, United States

Megan McCarthy, Spain

Amy Meverden, PhD, United States

Thank you to our contributors

Noof Aljneibi, MAPP, United Arab Emirates

Badri Bajaj, PhD, PCC India

Amy Blankson, MBA, United States

Sam Brakarsh, MS, United States

Charly Cox, MA, PCC, United Kingdom

Réka Deák, MSc, ACC, Switzerland

Anastasia Dedyukhina, PhD, United Kingdom

Juan Diego Calisto, PCC, Peru

Haitham Elmasry, ACC, Saudi Arabia

Sackeena Gordon-Jones, PhD, MCC, United States

Siddhi Japee, MA, PCC India

Byron Johnson, PhD, United States

Mimi Nicklin, Malaysia

Ryan Niemiec, PsyD, United States

Marcus Ranney, MD, India

Christian van Nieuwerburgh, PhD, United Kingdom

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