When McIntire students enter the workforce, they come to their new positions primed to thrive. Prepared with a real-world knowledge, they are essentially assured to prosper in whatever employment avenue they choose to pursue. And while the expert teachings of their professors give them an unparalleled comprehensive business education that readies them for success, students may sometimes lose sight of other important factors that can influence a person’s happiness: stress resilience; mental discipline; efficiency; and creating an optimal life balance that comes from proactive attention to body, mind, and spirit.
Seeking greater insight into mindfulness, psychological fitness, and their influence on leadership capabilities, a group of 37 McIntire students, along with members of the faculty and staff, recently attended an immersive weekend of learning contemplative practices at the Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison County, Va. Organized by UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) and McIntire faculty and staff members Sally Armentrout, Marcia Pentz, David Mick, and Mark White, the Pickard Contemplative Fellowship and Retreat for McIntire Students brought a different perspective to the idea of success and leadership through a variety of activities in mindfulness, meditation, group work, and reflective writing.
We spoke with some of the students and faculty who attended the Oct. 13-15 retreat to learn more about how they felt about the experience, how it will help them prepare for their future careers, and how it expanded on their understanding of what it means to be successful.
Which of the retreat’s activities did you find most valuable?
Serena Holton (McIntire ’18): I really enjoyed the stress resiliency workshop because it took me out of my comfort zone and really simulated the stress and anxiety that occur during interviews and presentations. The contemplative practices of mind-body awareness and meditation we learned are tools I feel confident using to overcome some of the stress associated with the job hunt process and other aspects of my life.
Niab Chanakan Sirisukhodom (McIntire ’18): The relaxation breathing method. As a truly simple practice—breathing through one nostril and breathing out through the other—it was the most interesting workshop for me because I've never done it before and it was very effective in calming me. This is the easiest and best practice that I will continue to use.
Sahaj Gupta (M.S. in Accounting ’18): I think the contemplative circle fire pit was great. Everyone came together as a relaxed group, and we were able to share some moments about what we did that day. Moreover, it was a great place to meet people and get to know more about them.
Finance Professor Mark White: A highlight for me was learning with students and colleagues about the science underlying various contemplative practices. David Germano and Leslie Hubbard from the CSC did a terrific job facilitating a supportive learning environment, which I hope will become an annual event. Oh, and the yoga! I’d never tried that before, and it was a great experience.
What was the most important aspect about being successful that you learned from the retreat?
Anant Das (McIntire ’19): It's so easy to get caught up in the rush of things and define success as working for a top-ranked firm or making a lot of money. But really it's about finding what you want to do and enjoying it. It's a lesson that's been hammered into our heads over and over again, but it was really good to hear from successful alumni that we don't have to be exactly like them—or anyone else—or have the same goals.
Personally, I found the mental evaluation done in the “coming, staying, going” exercise to be the most important. This practice helps us understand where our thoughts originate and why, then shows us how to recognize where they go. This process is critical to really knowing ourselves: what drives us, what excites us, and what gives us our best effort and performance. The overarching theme of the weekend was meta-awareness, and this process helped with achieving that.
Omar Amer (M.S. in Commerce ’18): I came to the retreat to seize the chance to better control my day, instead of just running to complete assignments and meeting deadlines. Now I understand how I think, and how to control my stress. It's great to be aware of how your body reacts to certain stimuli, and it's even better to know that you can manipulate it somewhat to do what you want.
Serena Holton: Never underestimate the importance of mental fortitude and self-care. McIntire provides the hard skills and business acumen that essentially guarantee success in starting your career, but those mean nothing if you are too focused on tasking to realize that the self and the body are engines that need attention and maintenance if you expect to work properly. Taking the time to be mindful for five minutes or to simply breathe and refocus your mind will be invaluable for making me an effective employee.
Marketing Professor David Mick: This inaugural contemplative retreat, so generously pioneered and sponsored by Jason Pickard, demonstrated how eager and how open our McIntire students are to ideas and skills outside of historical business education, which together can enhance mental discipline, stress-reduction, and well-being. Ultimately, these ideas and skills comprise practices of reflection, relaxation, and intuitive wisdom that they can use continually to enrich their careers and their personal lives.
The Pickard Fellowship is named for CSC Advisory Board member and 2002 McIntire alumnus Jason Pickard, who fully funds the retreat; Pickard chatted with students during a videoconference session, sharing his experiences using mindfulness to better his own life. Students received a certificate of completion after attending the all-expenses-paid retreat (including food, lodging, transportation, and retreat workshops and classes).