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Learning, resilience, and the “Benjamin Button” effect

Benjamin Button is no longer a “strange case” if you think about learning and growing as individuals and professionals.

Remember that film where the protagonist was born old and then got younger throughout the course of his life?


Today they work, at the university or at home, with the knowledge that they will have to confront the world of work without any guarantees.

They study for jobs that still don’t exist and they try to obtain skills that we still don’t know about.

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

[Mark Twain]

When I say that it’s no longer a strange case, I think about my students, those of the past, present, and future.

Today they work, at the university or at home, with the knowledge that they will have to confront the world of work without any guarantees.

They study for jobs that still don’t exist and they try to obtain skills that we still don’t know about.

They study to approach the world of work of obsolete professionals.

Fig. 1 Change in the cycle of work life, premature obsolescence of skills.

Just 5 years ago, the majority of skills requested by businesses today were not necessary, workers that today are part of an integral business ecosystem didn’t exist. Students that graduated 5 years ago had to confront novelty and turmoil in the approach to a profession, whatever it may be.

Those who graduate today have to confront much more engaging challenges, they have to understand how to become “resilient,” because university training, albeit essential and irreplaceable, is no longer sufficient. Our students are already old in the world of work… young professionals pay for the untimely obsolescence of this level of competitiveness.

One no longer studies to become a mechanical engineer at Fiat Avio (as I used to dream of being) or to be an accountant. Today, at university, one studies to create solid fundamentals of a structure that will be constantly renovated, brick by brick, for the entirety of one’s professional life. Not a defined future, it’s true, but an integral, interesting, unique future, if they manage to become “resilient,” as I was saying.

Fig. 2 new cycle of work life, updating skills often.

The concept of resilience is particularly apt for today’s students, it’s made up of the “ability of an individual to confront and overcome a traumatic event or a period of difficulty”, both constant difficulties and those of various intensities, but a true professional, either young or old, can overcome and win if he just manages to be resilient.

How does one become resilient? I often tell my students, it requires, among other things (studying, for example), applying six simple “mental resistance techniques”.

Advice 01
Eat the elephant

Most importantly, One bite at a time, without haste and with abundance, without improvising but by studying the world, the method.

Confront the problem, analyze it, study it, plan a strategy and put it into action.

Divide the goal into sub-goals and then into activities, homework, and singular actions. It will seem more simple, ordered, and doable.

Advice 02
Visualize your success

Vivid and detailed. Use all of your senses, imagine the particulars, making it as real as possible.

Repeat it. Mentally train, without training, one never wins! Make everything automatic.

Think positive. There’s no room for negative thoughts. Thinking positive reinforces the conviction in your actions.

Imagine the consequences. Imagine what would happen, if you win or lose. What would happen to you internally?

Advice 03
Control emotions

Use the Marines’ example, they use the 4 by 4 for 4 technique (Charles Chu – Better Humans):

  • Breath in for 4 seconds
  • Breath out for 4 seconds
  • Repeat for 4 minutes


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Advice 04
Decrease control over external events

Think about the way in which you interpret external events.

Therefore, having visualized your way of interpreting them, change the interpretation. Try to change your point of view on the negative aspects.

Look at negative events like a challenge to overcome, when you’ve overcome it, you’ll be better for it!

Advice 05
Small victories

Celebrate victories, even small ones!

Taste them, feel them, express your joy, seize the energy. Flash a big smile and stay ready for the next challenge!

Advice 06
Find your tribe

Surround yourself with positive people, people that look at the world in a different way than you do. People to talk with, debate with, analyze different points of view with.

Choose people that make you better, that are proactive, that have some virtues. Often these people are really the kind of people that do not love frequently but that can open your mind!

In conclusion, there are those who say that the University isn’t worth it, that one needs to study on the Internet, that the classic methods of training are obsolete, that, if anything, University is a second thought.

I agree, university has to be reviewed, rethought, re-planned (if they will let us do it), but I suggest to those gentlemen to be careful about the difference between culture and concept, between knowledge and skill.

Continuous learning? Certainly, absolutely yes! On the internet? Sure, if it’s structured with the right methodology. But let’s not forget the case of Button, they are born old for the world of work, they get younger only by capitalizing on years of university and forging their own character by obligation, always keeping their goals present.

There will be no good professionals without a well-formed university education and a large dose of resilience (that has to also include the predisposition to continuous training).

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