Change of scenery: Wharton’s LeadUp

Isolated tree & lake_Teddy Kelley_Stocksnap

By now you probably know that I appreciate a mindfulness habit. I encourage the people I teach to look for even small ways to incorporate some kind of meditation, movement, or other type of mindfulness into as many days a week as possible. Research has shown that 10-15 minutes of meditation consistently throughout the week is more effective at improving self-regulation than more sporadic, longer practices. But, I’m more than familiar with the various ways life can get in the way of the best intentions. Whether you’re new to mindfulness or a seasoned practitioner, sometimes the best way to (re)start is by diving all the way in for some full immersion, and taking yourself off the grid for a few.

As one of the world’s leading business schools, Wharton is adamantly on the grid. Students there have immediate, on-site(s) access to the most innovative learning and research technology, expert faculty and an alumni network spanning 153 countries across the world. If it happened in the business world this morning, you had better know about it before class this afternoon. Despite Knowledge@Wharton regularly covering the growing use of mindfulness in the top tiers of business practice and research (in influencing perceptions of sunk-cost bias, improving customer service, and strengthening employee wellness at places like Google, for example), life at Wharton can be hectic.

When Jenna Gebel (WG ’16) and Marypatton (“MP”) Davis (WG ’16) started the Wharton MBA program in 2014, they each brought along personal experience with meditation, mindfulness, and teaching yoga. They were ready and equipped to be mindful MBA students, but they quickly realized that Wharton would test even the most balanced practitioner. “I knew that yoga and mindfulness would be a big part of my success at Wharton, but the pace of business school life moves so fast,” noted Gebel during a recent conversation, “you have no time to reflect.” As she and Davis contemplated plans for a restorative recovery from their first year, an idea began to crystalize. Knowing that their classmates would likely also benefit from the opportunity to step away and “hit the reset button,” they developed LeadUp, a weekend retreat designed to get participants away from campus for a chance to regroup and re-center themselves through mindfulness before diving back into the rigors of MBA life.

In planning their first LeadUp retreat, Gebel and Davis simply started with what they knew they needed after a challenging year. The first rule of LeadUp: everything is optional. The weekend’s agenda offers guided meditations, outdoor activities (zipline, anyone?), yoga, journaling, individual reflection, small group workshops, and campfire-lit “storytelling nights,” as well as expert speakers on topics such as mindful leadership. However, Gebel and Davis knew that for an MBA student to give themselves the rare opportunity for a break, rest had to always be an option. Their practical approach resonated with their classmates, and in May 2015, they launched their first LeadUp retreat. Rave reviews from participants motivated them to host a second retreat in October 2015.

“It’s really amazing to see students have the opportunity to slow down,” Gebel shared. “They are able to reflect on what they have accomplished in business school so far, and set thoughtful goals for the steps they want to take next. One of our participants even developed a startup idea during her personal reflection time, which she is currently in the process of launching.” As I’ve said before, give that thinking mind some space to work, and you never know what might emerge.

Leave it to some great minds from Wharton to not just lead the mindfulness movement forward, but lead it up – all through the power of a temporary pause. Thanks for sharing your story with me, Jenna and MP!

Interested in learning more about LeadUp? Check out their website here.  Are you a business school with a mindfulness story you’d like me to share? Email me at

Photo credit: Teddy Kelley

1 thought on “Change of scenery: Wharton’s LeadUp”

  1. Pingback: No-Fail Friday: Zoned out | MindfulMBA

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