It all started with this assignment: Take about 70 men and women, from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, with widely (and wildly!) varying levels of athleticism, and get them to work together to climb over a wall, one by one. Oh, by the way, these people have only met recently (last week), the wall is 14-feet tall, and they aren’t allowed to use ropes, tools, or any other kinds of tools. Just the people, working together, to get over that wall, as fast as possible.

“The Wall” was the most rigorous of the many physical tests that the newly enrolled Fuqua MBA Class of 2015 faced a few months ago on Team Challenge Day. Team Challenge Day is hosted at the beautiful facilities of Triangle Training Center in Pittsboro, North Carolina, about 22 miles south-west of Fuqua. The day is part of the orientation and leadership development program at Fuqua. It provides an opportunity to develop leadership, decision making, and problem solving skills in the context of teamwork. The teams involved are 6 sections of 70+ students who take first-year core classes together, and the smaller learning teams of up to 6 students.

The Wall is the culmination of Team Challenge Day. It has become a rite of passage for all Fuqua MBA students, and finishing times are fiercely contested between the 6 sections. However, The Wall is much more than just a physical challenge, a ritual, and a competition. On Team Challenge Day, I realized that The Wall is really a collective exercise in extending the boundaries of possibility and deepening the bonds of camaraderie. It was, and remains, my single most memorable day at Fuqua — an unforgettable experience …

“The Wall” at The Triangle Training Center.

The Wall is also symbolic of the many different “walls” that every Fuqua student must climb before, during, and after their MBA experience:

  1. The Wall of Professional Success: Leaving behind a successful professional career to pursue an MBA, and perhaps overcome some career obstacle to ultimately transition to a higher level or a completely new career.
  2. The Wall of Comfort and Security: Exchanging the comfort and security of the familiar for a new environment and new experiences.
  3. The Wall of Disapproval: Overcoming the disapproval of others, be they family, friends, colleagues, or various commentators, about the value and wisdom of pursuing an MBA.
  4. The Wall of Geography and Distance: Departing from familiar surroundings, be they in the United States or elsewhere in the world, to come to Fuqua in Durham, North Carolina.
  5. The Wall of Culture: Embracing new cultures, including, most importantly, Team Fuqua.
  6. The Wall of Similarity: Forsaking the similarity and uniformity that you may have become accustomed to in your existing professional and social circles to embrace the global diversity at Fuqua.
  7. The Wall of Fear: Conquering the fear of the unknown and the future.
  8. The Wall of Uncertainty: Confronting the risks and uncertainties that come with new opportunities.
  9. The Wall of Capabilities: Learning new habits, skills, and knowledge to enhance your capabilities, and when and where necessary, unlearning old habits, skills, and knowledge.
  10. The Wall of Change: Developing the courage and capacity to change.
Classmates help each other up The Wall.

In my own Duke MBA journey up to this point, I’ve had to face and overcome all of these walls, and doubtless will continually have to do so in the future. I left a successful and well-established career to pursue new but as yet unrealized opportunities. It was difficult to give up professional and personal comfort and security, but it was entirely worthwhile. In the famous words of Steve Jobs: “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.” No, it certainly hasn’t been easy — indeed it’s been decidedly uncomfortable at times — but several months into my journey, I can say without an iota of doubt that I definitely made the right decision and have absolutely no regrets. Of course, being here at Fuqua has everything to do with that. The entire school is geared to supporting and facilitating the personal process of growth and development. I’ve also learned and benefited from many other MBA students here at Fuqua because we are all on similar, though not identical, journeys.

There are many emotional and mental challenges, or “walls,” involved with coming to and attending the MBA program at Fuqua. Some are expected and predictable; some are not. Some are relatively easy; others are much harder. But that’s the whole point, because after all, the Fuqua MBA is designed to be a life-changing journey of personal growth aided by all the experiences and all the people (classmates, professors, staff, alumni, and others) at Fuqua. Your comfort zone will expand, you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself, and you will develop a completely different outlook on life. Above all, you will develop the capacity to climb walls that would have previously seemed impossible to overcome.

For a better idea of what Team Challenge Day is like, including climbing The Wall, check out this video: