~ The Existential Approach to Personal Development

My philosophy is underpinned with an existential frame of reference.  Many of the issues brought into coaching and matters of personal development can involve the need to grapple with the fundamentals of existence. 

The existential approach is about considering the difficulties we as human beings face simply by being alive. It covers underlying anxieties around our fears of dying, concerns around life's meaning, fear of our responsibility of choice and the fundamental loneliness that some of us feel. Any or all of these may be relevant to coaching work. 

Yalom's Existential Givens

I am greatly influenced by the work of Irvin D Yalom who has written extensively (in fiction as well as non-fiction format) about psychological processes. It is Yalom's "...primary clinical assumption...that basic anxiety emerges from a person's endeavours, conscious and unconscious, to cope with the harsh facts of life, the 'givens' of existence."*

He cites the givens thus: "the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life."

Far from being a negative outlook on the human condition, Yalom goes on to say "However grim these givens may seem, they contain the seeds of wisdom and redemption...it is possible to confront the truths of existence and harness their power in the service of personal change and growth."

As part of my dedication to personal and professional development I was privileged enough to be able to arrange a consultation with Yalom whilst travelling in America in 2012. It proved to be a most insightful, inspiring and educative experience.

The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Bronnie Ware, a former palliative carer, wrote an article, then subsequently a book, based on her conversations with dying patients and what they regretted most about how they had chosen to live their lives. I believe that paying attention to this list is a respectful and honouring way to learn from those who have had no choice but to consciously faced their impending mortality:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
These frank but important questions can inform our decisions, give us important perspective and empower us to lead a life in accordance with what truly matters to us.

Death Valley 2012

*Ref: Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, Irvin D Yalom, 1989