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Developing career resilience
Developing career resilience

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1 What is resilience?

Described image
Figure 1

You may have heard the term ‘resilience’ used in a variety of ways – individual or personal resilience, emotional or psychological resilience and even financial resilience.

Most people have a common-sense understanding of the word ‘resilience’ and use it to refer to the ability to deal well with problems, challenging situations and difficulties of all types. We sometimes refer to the resilience of other people by talking about their ability to ‘bounce back’ or to ‘weather storms’, and may have our own personal metaphors for resilience.

Activity 1 Picturing resilience

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Spend a few minutes thinking about what resilience means to you, how you picture it, and considering your own definition, image or metaphor for resilience. Note down your thoughts in the box below or in the interactive toolkit. As mentioned in the Introduction and guidance [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , there are places for you to make notes in the ‘Activities’ section of the toolkit.

To open the toolkit, click this link:

Interactive toolkit (open the link in a new tab or window)

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


You may have come up with phrases like ‘Get back in the saddle’, ‘It’s a new day and a new start’, or ‘Getting my mojo back’. You might have thought of an umbrella holding off the rain, or a plant pushing through the soil. You will have thought of something personal to you. There are no correct answers here and you will build on your initial thoughts as you work through this course. What is important and meaningful varies for each individual.

Another word you may have heard in connection to resilience is ‘wellbeing’, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2021) as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’.

Mguni et al. (2012, p. 3) accept that wellbeing and resilience are linked, but they also ask whether wellbeing and resilience are ‘two sides of the same coin or is it possible to be resilient but have low levels of wellbeing?’

They go on to explain the difference between the two concepts as follows:

Wellbeing describes and captures a psychological state at a point in time. It is a complex concept, which varies in different contexts and from individual to individual. It bundles together a number of different (but linked) psycho-social factors, from fulfilment, to happiness and resilience, or mental toughness.

Resilience is less about a point in time and is dynamic, taking into account the past and the future – a person can build resilience before they hit crisis and be more likely to cope with problems that may be around the corner.

Even if you think of yourself as a resilient person, this description of resilience as ‘dynamic’ means it may fluctuate during different phases of your life or in different situations. Southwick (2014) suggests that resilience ‘exists on a continuum that may be present to different degrees across multiple domains of life.’ He gives the example that ‘an individual who adapts well to stress in a workplace or in an academic setting, may fail to adapt well in their personal life or in their relationships.’

This example suggests that personal and career resilience could be perceived as two different things, albeit inter-related. You’ll explore personal resilience in more detail in the next section.