Is An Existential Crisis Hurting You Professionally?

Is An Existential Crisis Hurting You Professionally?

Managers go through many challenges – from dealing with team conflicts to managing time effectively. But what about the tougher times – when everything seems to be going wrong? These are known as existential crises and can be incredibly challenging for managers. In this blog post, we’ll explore what an existential crisis is, how it can affect managers and teams, and what you can do to help overcome them. We also include a handy guide on identifying an existential crisis in your workplace and how to deal with it. So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, read on for the answers you need!

What does an existential crisis mean?

An existential crisis typically refers to an internal struggle. A person suffering an existential crisis often feels that life lacks meaning. They might question the reason, choices, and purpose of their life. Generally, these questions do not have any clear answers. As a result, the person experiencing an existential crisis ends up in a continuous loop where they feel stuck. The feelings of purposelessness make us feel stuck. In the absence of hope, we might lose direction. Eventually, the existential crisis makes people feel alone in the middle of nowhere. Existential crises can affect managers and leaders just like any other individual. However, for managers, the situation is a bit different. An existential crisis can severely impact the productivity of a manager and, thus, their team. Moreover, managers might face existential crises due to work-related issues very often. Generally, existential crises are viewed negatively. And, of course, that makes perfect sense because an existential crisis is associated with a loss of hope and direction. But, we should not let a negative air take over. It is equally essential to look at the positive aspects of any situation. Existential crises can present excellent opportunities to reinvent our life. You can fill the nothingness with your favorite colors to draw your own life. It presents a chance to evaluate and reimagine our core ideas in life. Taking charge of situations is what effective management is about!

The different types of existential crises

Problems do not arrive in a one size fits all box. Instead, existential crises can happen in many ways and for many reasons. Although we cannot summarize all of them, we will try to understand the main types of existential crises. Knowing the types of crises you can face is imperative to understand your situation better. Typically for managers, more often than not, the crisis might be linked to work. Office politics and professional responsibilities can push our limits frequently. We will see the different types of existential crises through the questions that they raise. Does my work have a meaning? The “meaning of life” existential crisis typically makes one question the reason for their existence. The person feels as if their life is inherently pointless. Consequently, none of their thoughts or actions could have made any change – as they are meaningless too. At times, they might wonder what the point of their existence is. For managers, it can happen through questions that examine the point of their role in the team. They might feel that the team does not need their efforts, and they exist only to add hindrances and reduce productivity. Am I an authentic person? Existential crises can also make us feel that our existence is one big act. The big-shot manager, who everyone looks up to, might feel that they are fake. Often, people undergoing this type of existential crisis feel that they are not being genuine with anyone in life. This feeling can sink in at work even more easily if the environment is not open and comfortable. To cope with the demands and overcome constant challenges, managers might display emotions they do not actually feel. As a result, they might feel that they are faking. Do I stand for the correct values? This existential crisis happens when we are unsure of the direction to take in life. Often, circumstances make us doubt the validity and viability of the core values we have based on our whole lives. It might have when some decision goes the wrong way. As a result, we feel a need to rethink our values and ideas. Am I going in the right direction? Existential crises can happen when we are undergoing major events in our lives. Starting a new degree or switching jobs can be important moments where the trajectory of our lives is wholly redesigned. At such moments, self-doubt might accompany you. When managers are at the head of major changes, or see significant shifts in their industry, they might question their choices thus far. This feeling could increase largely if the event were unanticipated. Over time, as we adapt to the changes, the feeling might abate. Why did this happen?  Unexpected events and upheavals in life can shake our belief in our values. You might ask yourself this question when you did everything right but still suffered dire consequences. Such instances can make one question their existence. In the case of managers, these incidents are the most common because they design and lead efforts. Yet, circumstances can trump them. They might feel that nothing is in their control, so taking action is futile.

What triggers an existential crisis?

Existential crises can happen due to several reasons. Typically, they are triggered by major changes in life. For managers, professional changes can closely affect their mental health too. A few major reasons from both spheres that can trigger an existential crisis in managers include:

Big changes

Major life changes can always make us rethink life. When we go through significant movements, for instance, a company merger, we might question ourselves. If the change can bring significant shifts to the direction of our life, it can affect us a lot. Generally, it can happen largely when the change does not sit well with us, or we might need to make significant efforts to adjust to life after it. For managers, both personal and professional changes can have a significant impact.

Unexpected events

Unexpected events make us question a lot of things. For starters, we make significant changes to our goals and -plans to accommodate them. However, not every unanticipated change has to be a cause for worry. When the changes require us to make an effort and impact us deeply in ways that we can’t control, we end up questioning our lives due to them. In the fast-paced corporate world, managers often deal with unanticipated challenges. Therefore, it can be a common cause of existential crises for managers and leaders. This reason is more significant in light of recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic threw schedules out of the window. Managers were the first ones to face the heat as they had to coordinate the shift of workplaces to a fully online medium in such a short duration. It strained the mental health of many people holding leadership positions, and some even dipped into existential crises due to the failure of plans they had worked so hard on.

Unable to achieve desired results

The inability to get something we feel we deserve can often leave us angry, annoyed, and questioning. We often make the best efforts, yet the results fall short. It is a critical issue for managers because they must set goals and derive results from entire teams, not just themselves. The inability of a manager to achieve the desired results on time might not even happen due to their shortcomings but those of their teams or the circumstances. For example, the manager shows up to work motivated every day. They give their best daily and often go beyond duty by bringing innovative and quick solutions. Yet, they are not recognized by their superiors for the efforts they make. They are treated the same as other managers who do the bare minimum and do not build great relationships with their teams. What happens, then? Our manager might wonder about the utility of their efforts due to disappointing feedback. They could conclude that making efforts is futile, and thus, their choices are meaningless. The values on which those choices are based are also not the best because they are not helping them achieve the results they would like.

Feeling out of control

In some cases, existential crises happen because of feelings of lacking control. We feel as though we are powerless to change our circumstances or the world around us. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when we work hard and things still do not go our way. It is easy to give up and start thinking that life is just not worth it anymore-defining ourselves by our negative experiences instead of celebrating what makes us happy. We all have those moments where everything seems hopeless and out of reach, no matter how much effort we put into that sinking feeling that tells us this will never end. This feeling is extremely common for managers, as they deal with multiple things – and not all of them may be under their control to the same extent. For instance, their company’s merger with a huge conglomerate forces them to change their working style. They are shifted to a new team that is not adjusted to them. Such forced changes can make one feel like a puppet with no control over anything. In such a situation, we raise questions about our life’s worth and values.

Personal loss

It is also not uncommon for existential crises to stem from personal losses- the death of a loved one, divorce, or even losing our job. It can be difficult to cope with big life changes that happen suddenly and unexpectedly. The world seems unsafe, where anything could happen at any time. It becomes hard to believe those good things will ever come our way again, and we may feel hopeless about the future. All these feelings can lead us into a state of depression, another common cause of existential crisis episodes. The things happening in personal lives can also seep into the professional lives of managers. As a result, they might develop similar thoughts in that aspect as well, despite their achievements.

Professional setback

A professional setback can also lead to an existential crisis. For instance, if a manager is suddenly laid off from their job or made redundant, it can be difficult for them to cope with the situation. They might feel like their world has crumbled and that life as they know it is over. This despair and loneliness can further fuel feelings of existential angst in managers. This is especially true for employees who have been with their organizations for long periods. When they are offered the Golden Handshake, they get a lot of questions in their mind, too, as they have developed a part of their identity from their association with the job.

How do existential crises affect managers?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer regarding how existential crises affect managers. However, we can observe some general themes. For example, existential crises can lead to a loss of identity and a feeling of not being in control. Managers who experience these crises may feel overwhelmed and lost at work. It can eventually trigger an identity crisis in them. Managers dealing with an existential crisis can become less effective at their roles. Due to a lot going on in their minds, they might feel overwhelmed. Consequently, they will look for escapes and try to avoid dealing with challenges. They might be unable to communicate effectively with their teams. Productivity can suffer too, as their motivation would be low because they assume inherent uselessness in every task they have planned. In addition, existential crises can also cause anxiety and increase stress. This is because they lead to a feeling of fear and uncertainty. Anxiety can affect mental health and work performance, making existential crises even more harmful for managers. In totality, the manager becomes unable to remain confident in their role. Essential functions like delegation, decision-making, guidance, and planning operations suffer. Existential crises affect managers negatively in both their personal and professional lives.

How to identify an existential crisis?


Self-doubt is typically seen in an existential crisis. As we have noted, it makes us question our core values and decisions in life. Heavy self-doubt can affect us terribly during an existential crisis because it adds to negative thoughts and feelings.

Lack of motivation

Lack of motivation is typical during an existential crisis. As a result of the constant questioning and huge bouts of self-doubt, we might feel demotivated.


An existential crisis typically makes us rethink our value in other people’s lives. It might feel that only we are holding on to the relationship while others do not value us as much. Resultantly, we withdraw from the relationships and isolate ourselves from our peers.

Feeling directionless and unable to do things

Common feelings during existential crises are an inability to make decisions and a lack of motivation. As a result, we may feel hopeless about our life goals and future. This makes us feel like giving up on everything we had before.

Worrying too much

Another hallmark of existential crises is the tendency to worry excessively. As we discussed, self-doubt and negative thoughts can lead us to anxiety and depression. And as a result, we might find it hard just to let go of our worries and live life in the present moment.

How to deal with existential crises as a manager?

Overcoming existential crises can be a challenging prospect. However, there are many ways to lessen the effects of existential crises and reduce the detrimental impact they can create on you. In one part, we cannot avoid the reasons for existential crises entirely. Change, whether expected or unexpected, and losses are a part of life. Therefore, it is impossible to make the feelings of loss and self-doubt leave your side. But you can surely overcome them with the help of the following techniques:

Recognize and accept the feelings

When undergoing an existential crisis, it is important to begin by understanding your own emotions. At times, you might be confused about your feelings. Therefore, you should sit with yourself and try to evaluate your thoughts. Sorting the overwhelming mess of feelings into a good change is the key to starting the process of overcoming an existential crisis. After understanding your thoughts, you can begin looking for solutions. You will need to leave the old point of view and readjust yourself to consider the situation differently.

Express yourself

Talking about your existential crisis can help clarify and understand the experience. Talking to someone who understands you well – even if that person is a family member or friend – can help reduce anxiety and depression. Expressing yourself openly can also help you realize that there are others out there who have undergone similar experiences. Talking about the feelings of an existential crisis can provide comfort, which is vital for overcoming them. If you are uncomfortable sharing things with someone, you can journal your feelings at the end of each day. Focus on expressing gratitude in those entries, and note positive things in your life.

Seek support from loved ones

It is important to seek the help of loved ones when experiencing an existential crisis. We can do this in a number of ways, such as by talking to our family or friends about what we are going through. It can also be helpful to have someone who understands your feelings and can listen without judging you. Talking with loved ones about existential crises often leads to resolving the crises themselves. Some people find that therapy is an effective way of coping with existential crises. If this is something that appeals to you, it would be best to consult a mental health professional who specializes in helping patients address existential crises. You can also look into the support systems available at your workplace.

Build agile plans

Suppose anxiety or depression is a significant issue for you. In that case, it may be helpful to build an agile plan of action that does not suffer major setbacks due to unanticipated changes. This type of plan will also help you create specific goals and timelines for addressing the issues causing your existential crisis. So you can reduce feelings of hopelessness and despair over things that you cannot control. Otherwise, you can look for alternate solutions if the initial one fails by using it as a learning opportunity. Gaining the most out of a bad experience is the key.

Focus on things that you can control

When experiencing an existential crisis, it can be helpful to focus on things you can control. We need to stop concentrating on things that are beyond our control. Instead, you can try to do the best out of the resources at your disposal. The satisfaction of making the best honest effort can be a great feeling. This could mean setting goals for yourself and working towards them one step at a time. Developing positive mental health habits such as mindfulness meditation or journaling will help too. These activities will help remove your mind from negative thoughts and feelings, which can help improve your overall mental health outlook even during difficult times.

Search for Meaning

One of the most important things you can do during an existential crisis is to search for meaning in your life. Indeed, this might seem ironical – because an existential crisis questions the meaning of life. But the answer to that question is the ultimate solution to this problem. When you are contemplating in your thoughts for hours, you can actually identify the purpose of your life. And in all instances, the true purpose of your life would be bigger than the event that triggered an existential crisis. A thousand things affect managers, but none of those failed projects or bad presentations is bigger than the purpose of any manager’s life. A manager’s skill in supporting their teams to reach new heights is a much more important part of their life. Beyond that, a manager’s personal life holds immense value too. Therefore, you can always look for solutions if you face an existential crisis as a manager due to professional issues.


Managers often face existential crises – sometimes, they are triggered by life events, and other times they seem to come out of nowhere. If you’re struggling with an existential crisis, don’t despair! There are steps you can take to overcome it. By understanding the different types of existential crises and what triggers them, you can better identify when one is happening and take the necessary steps to deal with it.

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Author: Deeksha Sharma

Deeksha, with a solid educational background in human resources, bridges the gap between your goals and you with valuable insights and strategies within leadership development. Her unique perspectives, powered by voracious reading, lead to thoughtful pieces that tie conventional know-how and innovative approaches together to enable success for management professionals.

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