Developing career resilience
Developing career resilience

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Developing career resilience

3 Learning resilience

Does personal resilience develop from the way that we are brought up from childhood – our early experiences and family background?

Psychologists have argued for more than 100 years that early childhood socialisation has a significant impact on the way that individuals relate to others later in life. Key supporting factors for resilience include:

  • strong and supportive family relationships
  • good communication skills
  • empathy
  • family social networks that extend into the community
  • sociability (a liking for developing new social relationships).

Activity 3 Sociability and social networks

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Now watch the video ‘Resilience: personality’ and note how Professor Ivan Robertson explains how resilience is connected to our ability to develop social relationships.

Skip transcript: Resilience: personality

Transcript: Resilience: personality

Underlying personality has an important part to play in our level of resilience. Of course, resilience can be developed, but a personality is the starting point and it's really the platform from which we can build higher levels of resilience. Let me just illustrate that by explaining a couple of ways in which personality might influence how resilient we are. A good area to look at is the area of social support. We know that having a good social support system is important for people's resilience, but building a good social support system is also related to the kind of person we are and the kind of personality characteristics we have. It links to the kind of personality we have in terms of how we relate to other people, how much we enjoy being with other people, how we behave when we are with them, how agreeable we are, how well we emphathise with their concerns, and how we build, or we don't build, long-term stable friendships. So the kind of social support that we build and the extent to which we have a really good one is partly a reflection of the other people but it's also partly a reflection of our own underlying personality characteristics. Another important aspect of resilience involves actively confronting challenges rather than hiding from them. But of course to do that you need a level of confidence and self-belief, to enable you to actually take on the challenge. You also need to focus on the challenge in a practical and problem-focused way, rather than being overwhelmed by the emotions in your own emotional reaction. Again, if we look at underlying personality characteristics, those characteristics can have an influence on how we cope with challenges, what our level of confidence is, and some people are just more inclined for example to find it difficult to escape from the emotions that they're experiencing and focus in a problem-focused way on the problem that they're trying to deal with.
End transcript: Resilience: personality
Resilience: personality
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Robertson describes the importance of personality and social support systems for resilience, but he emphasises that these aren’t static things and can be learned and developed. He identifies as key factors such as how we behave with others, how we build long-term friendships, our empathy and the ways in which we actively confront challenges. In particular, he also identifies the ability to remove ourselves from overwhelming emotions in difficult times as important.

You will be looking at both social networks and at the means to handle difficult emotions through the course.

The way we live our lives is not determined by our childhood experiences. There are many success stories of sports people, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and people in your own community who have achieved in many fields, despite difficult backgrounds and obstacles to success.

You’ll look now at an example of how one entrepreneur, Hilary Devey, acted despite significant obstacles, to start up her own business.

Activity 4 Resilience in a business start-up

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Read the extract below about Hilary Devey.

Hilary had a tough childhood. After her father was declared bankrupt, the family lost everything, even their furniture. After leaving school at 16 she worked in sales and logistics for many years, before having her lightbulb moment. Within three years she was a millionaire and is now well-known for her appearances on TV business shows like Dragon’s Den.

As a logistics manager Hilary could see that transporting small consignments of palletised freight quickly and cost-effectively was a huge opportunity. She came up with a business model that would save all parties time and money and that would also have environmental benefits. Unfortunately she couldn’t persuade any of the banks to back her. In the end she sold her house to make it happen. Those early years were very tough. Hilary was also a single parent with no support structure. In the first year of trading she just managed to pay staff, but couldn’t afford Christmas dinner for herself and her son.

Hilary’s company, Pall-Ex, revolutionised the freight industry. It now turns over £100 million a year. Her advice to start-ups: ‘Focus and tenacity: understand the market, people, competition and the opportunities.’

(Prowess team, 2013)

Unfortunately the original video, ‘Rags to riches’ which originally supported this activity is no longer available, so this activity has been removed. You can read on her story in her autobiography, ‘Bold as Brass: My Story’.


Hilary demonstrates confidence, problem-solving skills, a positive outlook, intelligence and being forward thinking, Hilary also had a strong commitment to family, excellent communication skills and a sense of humour! When her bank manager turned her down for a loan, Hilary developed a plan B and sold her house and her car, showing problem-solving skills, improvisation and tenacity. While not everyone will want to become an entrepreneur, the challenges of that experience show how a high degree of resilience is needed to achieve success in running a business.

In the earlier clip Professor Robertson talked of the importance of social support networks, or the ability to develop them, in helping resilience. Simon Weston (Activity 2) also talked about the support of his family and friends contributing to his resilience. The American Psychological Association (2016) says that many studies show that the primary factor in personal resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. These relationships create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance. This helps to bolster a person’s resilience, particularly in times of difficulty.

You might like to think about what this means to you.

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