Exploring Building Resilience In A Careers Context

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about resilience recently. I feel that building resilience is increasingly banded around as a key quality to developing client’s careers. Whether you take this from an employability perspective and discuss it in terms of the need for clients to keep going in the face of rejection or from more of a developmental perspective focusing on how the unplanned and unexpected dominate our attempts at development the need to equip clients to be resilient seems an often discussed need.

I would see resilience as a scaled quality. It is a quality in the sense that is something that is seen as desirable that people have. Though we may not always being using it is the quality to respond to difficult circumstance in a way that responds positively to them. It is also scaled in the sense that we all have it to a greater or lesser extent, we have more or less of it, the task is to discuss how can we have more of it.

So what supports this behavior of keeping going in difficult circumstances? I have picked out six axis that I would discuss. these are axis with a positive and negative end, they communicate a “not-that-but-this” logic to how we behave. This is all influenced by but separate than Prior and Bright’s Luck Readiness Index.

 The Axis of Resilience.

Future Focus: Hopeless vs. Hopeful

Resilience is at its purest about hope in the face of difficulty. We will accept short-term loss because of the belief things will get better afterwards. Most people would accept redundancy if you could guarantee a better paid more satisfying, more worthwhile job in two months time, few people would pay the same loss if they did not have the guarantee of the future position. The hopeless vs. hopeful paradigm is about how much we expect good things in the future. Some people naturally expect things to go badly in the future for whatever reason, more specifically some people expect things to go badly in their career because of beliefs about the economy or their own career management capabilities. Irrespective of the truth of any of this people who are more positive about the future will put up more in the short-term because of their belief about the long-term.

Expectations: Naive vs. Realistic

The flip side of the subjective positivity someone has about the future is the objective reality about the future. The more accurately we are able to understand the future the better our response to it. When we have a naive view of the future, one build on here-say and sound bites, we are less equipped for it. When the future does “arrive” we are more likely to be thrown by it. This is not to say that change and chance events are not big factors but that their are various laws that govern the world around us and understanding them can prepare us better for the future. Any subjective feeling of positivity will quickly be doused by a future that emerges which does not make sense to our presuppositions. It is hard to keep taking actions in a world we can not understand and we are more likely to pull back and give in in the face of a world that embarrasses us and does not follow our assumptions. Therefore being realistic is about having an accurate understanding of the basic rules of the world and the workplace and so not being surprised by the future.

Responsiveness: Blaming vs. Reflecting

Very much linked to the idea of how realistic our view of the future is is the similar idea of how we respond to it. To maintain a robust attitude people need to maintain a forward facing attitude and one which is hopeful. This is in contrast to a blaming attitude, blaming attitudes feel a sense of threat from failure and to protect their ego move blame externally. When things go wrong in people’s careers a list of usual culprits usual emerges who are blamed for the failure. There are two problems with this blaming attitude; firstly it is stuck in the past, protecting the ego and so not engaging with moving forward and secondly it is trying to protect the self rather than taking a set back as an opportunity to learn. A reflecting attitude by contrast uses the past as a tool for the future, gaining insights that can be actioned moving on and it takes responsibility being prepared to adjust and change beliefs, attitudes and actions in light of what has happened.

Goals: Fixed vs. Flexible

One of the key challenges that responsiveness often calls for is the focus or potential destination of someones career. We are often aiming to get somewhere, to get into something. It is this sense of movement that requires robustness in the first place. But when uncertainty strikes this focus is often called into question. Nothing is more likely to challenge robustness than the feeling that it is not possible to get to where we want to be. We discover that our initial choice no longer stands because either we or the world of work has changed or was never what we thought it was.

Readiness: Unprepared vs. Strategic

Readiness is to do with having what is needed to move things forward. In the context of being resilient this is particularly in the realm of career management and career strategies. A good strategist is adaptable and flexible while still being purposeful and long-term in their approach, they neither fall into the trap of simply going through irrespective of what the changing context they are part of involves nor are they merely reacting to their context without any planning or overall purpose. Being ready is therefore about being able to evolve and adapt careers strategies and therefore stay in the game.

Social Position: Supported vs. Isolated

Finally social position looks at the extent to which we look for support from other people or the extent to which we isolate ourselves and aim to act individually. Being robust is not just an individual attitude but is also seen in how the individual extends themselves into a community. It is this support that can give encouragement, feedback, direction and access to opportunities. This attitude particularly highlights how we most not see robustness as being individualistic and rugged but using resources to move forward which will obviously include the help and support of other people.


Factor Negative Positive
Future Focus Hopeless  Hopeful
Expectations Naive Realistic
Responsiveness Blaming Reflecting
Goals Fixed Flexible
Readiness Unprepared Strategic
Social Position Isolated Supported





This tool aims to create a series of paradigms people can discuss either as an assessment activity, a more discussional activity on a group or a one-to-one around diagnosis or as a planning tool used to highlight domains to improve and then select various means to develop these domains.


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