Resilience: magic word for a successful career?


Man sitting in the living room – resilience
The most important facts about resilience

reading time: ca. 5 minutes

  • Resilience describes the ability of people to withstand crises.
  • Usually, resilient people have experienced that their actions can make a difference.
  • For strong resilience, sufficient recovery phases are important.
  • By following some helpful tips, one can strengthen his or her resilience in the long run.

What makes a person strong and psychologically resistant? In this context, the key word "resilience” is often mentioned. The term covers certain characteristic features that make up a resilient person. In short, resilient people cope with strokes of fate or crises more quickly than people who are perceived as vulnerable.

One example: Two colleagues have been working on a large project for years. They have gone through the ups and downs of the project together and have developed a friendship over time. Now, one colleague quits. How well does the other one cope with the situation? This example can be used to assess how well someone can deal with a small crisis and how resilient he or she is.

Resilience – the ability to withstand stress and crises

People who go through difficult life situations such as crises or even catastrophes withoutpermanent impairment are called resilient. Both private and professional life can be affected. The opposite of resilient people are those who are perceived as “vulnerable” or “fragile”. Vulnerable people find it harder to cope with crises and to learn from them.

The term "resilience" comes from the Latin word "resiliere" which means "to bounce back". Originally developed in physics, it refers to the nature of elements such as rubber, which always returns to its shape. Later, psychologists adapted the term to describe a human’s robustness in crises and the ability to recover quickly.

Young woman grabs her head – resilience

To put it simply, resilience is a special ability of the psyche to cope with strains. A resilient person is not easily thrown off course and returns to his or her performance level quickly. Scientists suspect a complex psychological mechanism behind this, but there is still some research to do. So far, is has been explained as a competence to maintain or quickly restore one's own mental health in crises.

What characterises a resilient person? 

Resilience has many different faces. Its manifestations differ from person to person. Moving to another city can be a heavy burden for some people – for others, it is an exciting challenge.

But what is it exactly that makes people resilient? Usually, resilient people see a certain meaning in their lives and have experienced that their actions can make a difference. They also have a stable social network and quickly find ways to achieve their goals.

People are considered resilient if they...

  • flexibly react to challenging situations.
  • quickly adapt to changes.
  • solve problems independently.
  • focus their energy on clear goals.
  • accept that they are going through a crisis and learn from it.
  • go through life with an optimistic attitude.
  • notice stress quickly and try to counteract it.
  • openly accept support from their network in difficult times.

For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of the online retailer Amazon, can be described as a resilient person. In 1994, he founded the company with a first office in his garage and an old door as a desk. On his career path, he also learned to fail – for instance when he invested in the website which turned out as a flop. Despite much resistance, Jeff Bezos followed his path. Today, Amazon is the market leader in online shopping and Bezos is among the five richest people in the world according to the Forbes 2023 list.

The 7 pillars of resilience

In psychology, there is a model that tries to make resilience understandable and tangible. It is called the "7 pillars of resilience" and contains various characteristics.

1. Self-awareness: The person believes in him- or herself and becomes active / escapes from the victim role.

2. Social network: Difficulties are mastered together with others. The person values good and long relationships.

3. Optimism: The person is defined byacceptance and a confident view of the future. He or she quickly interrupts negative thinking patterns.

4. Emotional stability: The own emotional world can be controlled in such a way that a certain task is seen as a challenge, not as stress.

5. Action control: Instead of an impulsive reaction, the person behaves in a deliberate and controlled way.

6. Realism: The person takes a long view and masters difficult situations with confidence. In addition, he or she deals constructively with pain or crises.

7. Strength of analysis: The cause of negative experiences is efficiently found and analysed. Therefore, it is possible to quickly see the future in a positive way again.

Does resilience make a career more successful?

Certainly, resilience helps a lot to better deal with stressful situations at work. But: Resilient people are not automatically more successful. There are numerous other factors that pave the way for success. These include, for example, team spirit or one's own productivity.

It is not proven that resilience is directly connected to success. Rather, many people belief that hard work leads to success: Solving problems on one’s own, hiding emotions, or simply taking on too much work. However, this is a fallacy and usually leads to overwork

Sufficient recovery phases are much more important for a successful career, which in turn can strengthen one's resilience. Recovery and resilience are therefore mutually dependent: To be prepared for difficult life situations, people need to recover. Therefore, it makes sense to deal with one's own mental health in a sustainable way. This includes saying "no" to certain tasks, taking more breaks and not putting too much pressure on oneself.

Young woman sitting and pondering in front of a laptop – resilience

Useful tips to strengthen resilience

As described in the previous section, recovery periods are important for good resilience. However, to become more and more resilient, one needs to go the extra mile. In any case, the process of building resilience takes time. Here are some tips how to start:  

  • Train acceptance

Stuck in a traffic jam or bad weather: Some things in life cannot be changed. When people get angry in such situations, they waste their energy. Resilient people accept the inevitable – and that has nothing to do with indifference, but rather with composure.

  • Become self-effective

The brain regularly needs a sense of achievement: Highly resilient people focus on their strengths and try something new more often. A high level of self-confidence is important to solve problems on one's own and in a self-effective way. Self-effective people believe that they can master new challenges on their own – despite problems encountered.

  • Set realistic goals

Step by step: Instead of distant goals, small milestones are helpful to really achieve aims. Resilient people listen to physical and mental signals in order to be prepared for difficult situations whenever they occur.

  • Believe in your own abilities

Especially in difficult times, resilient people remind themselves of their strengths. Thanks to their high confidence, they can make conscious decisions and take actions to solve emerging problems.

  • Accept help

When a difficult situation occurs, ask yourself: May other people have already been in the same situation? Did they successfully master it? In times of crisis, it is a good idea to accept help from others and to trust them. In case no one sees your struggle, consider to actively ask for help.

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