I stood at the mic in front of 150 people.
Feeling naked, this is what I shared with them…
I thought I knew everything because I read all these self-help books.
When in reality, I’ve been using this knowledge to get a sense of control over my own life. I’ve used it to dominate others and feel superior to them in conversation.
What this has cost me is connection with others and the true experience of playing on the court of life.
I’ve used the pursuit of information as a way to avoid responsibility in my life, thinking I’ve solved my problems by reading a book.
This was just one of many groundbreaking moments I had attending the Landmark Forum.
I resisted the Forum for years. Part of it was the money. Part of it was that I didn’t like their marketing. Most of it was because I’ve read a bunch of self help books and thought I already knew everything (ha!)
Then my best friend suggested I take it. I saw how it resolved decades-long problems in his personal relationships.
Still I resisted.
Then he offered to front me the money to attend. I figured, I trust my best friend, and if he’s willing to pay for me then it’s worth paying for myself.
(Later I’d learn that in Landmark parlance, he was making a stand for me.)
This is how I ended up spending 36 hours having a transformational experience with 150 strangers.
After a year of finally debating whether to attend, I’m glad I took the plunge and did the Forum. If you’re like me, someone who’s into personal development but highly skeptical, I wrote this for you.
What is the Landmark Forum, exactly?
The Landmark Forum is a 3 day personal development seminar. On the surface, the material seems as if were collaboration between Buddhist monks, Tony Robbins, and writers of The Matrix. (For a more formal explanation, read their website or Wikipedia page).
This curriculum is delivered by a facilitator, who would alternate between lectures and conversations with the the audience in a Socratic style. Hence “The Forum.”
I experienced discussions about awareness, human psychology and the nature of reality.
What I didn’t expect how much it asked of me.
Everyone was encouraged to take action, during our breaks and over the course of the weekend.
This is how I had groundbreaking conversations with my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and exes I haven’t talked to in years. The type of conversation no one has anymore, but everyone deeply craves…
I want to be closer to you.
I haven’t been real with you about our breakup.
I’ve been making up false stories about you in my mind.
Almost everyone went up to the mic at some point to share their stories. I saw countless breakthrough moments in others, like:
- The shy student with a fear of public speaking finally do it for the first time
- The father who blamed his son for not being close to family, then realizing he was the one putting distance between them.
- The girl who realized she was being a racist and homophobe, and resolved to end her hate for others. (!!!)
You might be wondering how the Forum creates the environment for all this crazy stuff to happen.
Did they make us drink magic juice? (No.) Is it a cult? (No.)
While I can’t say that the Forum is right for everybody, I can at least share my personal experience.
What I got out of the Landmark Forum
If I had only one takeaway from the Forum, it’s responsibility.
I saw the ways, large in small, in which I’ve shirked responsibility in my life. In work, family and relationships.
Here’s a personal example…
I had an ex who dumped me for another guy. At that time, I made her out to be a villain. “She was dishonest, she was unfaithful” blah blah blah. By telling a story about her being the bad person, I unwittingly absolved myself of my part in that relationship.
In reality, every relationship has at least two participants. And I totally forgot to own up to the other one – me.
I was jealous, controlling, and had the communication skills of my 19 year old self.
The story I made up failed to acknowledge the beautiful experience of being with my ex. She taught me many things that I carried forward into healthier relationships.
I learned that what I did at 19 was take a painful experience from the past, make a story about it…and let that story run my present and future.
While that realization alone was worth the price of admission, it was only half the exercise.
The distinction between information and transformation
Information is just data. I could read, watch, consume information and do nothing with it.
For transformation to happen, I had to take action.
The Forum provided the knowledge and environment for me to have radical conversations with my exes and family members. In these conversations, I acknowledged their value in my life and the responsibility I failed to take during our relationship.
It was worth it. One ex said to me…
Thank you for doing this. Everybody should do this.
I removed a lot of personal hurdles by realizing I was the one who placed them there.
Seeing myself for who I was in the past, then taking ownership for who I was, and finally closing the loop by having conversations with others I affected…I’ve never done anything like that before.
After all the self help books I read, I wouldn’t have ever gotten around to doing that without the Forum.
But that doesn’t mean Landmark was all roses.
Pros and Cons of Landmark
Probably the biggest mark against Landmark is their polarizing marketing.
I initially resisted Landmark because their members often appear pushy and preachy.
LM participant: Hey you should come to Landmark. It could really help you.
Me: Who the hell are you?
After going through the Forum, I now understand why it’s easier to just tell someone to attend. It’s hard to explain all the pieces that come together during the experience:
- First there’s the facilitation / lectures by the Forum leader, who lectures on different topics and encourages individual sharing at the mic.
- Second, a lot of the concepts (rackets, winning formulas, authenticity, etc) are woven together in a tapestry that helps participants understand themselves.
- Third, there’s the “taking action part.” E.g. having transformative conversations, like calling my mom during break time and crying in the backseat of the car.
A lot goes on when attending a 36 hour personal development event.
Imagine trying to describe to a friend a transformative festival or travel experience you’ve had. Because the experience is so layered hard to describe, you might just end up saying “Hey, just go to Burning Man and see for yourself.”
I would’ve signed up for Landmark way earlier if people just told me their personal stories of transformation and casually mention that it happened at the Forum. I’m a curious cat.
It took my best friend telling me stories about his personal transformation that finally made me cough up the $795 to attend.
Speaking of cost…
Is Landmark worth the cost?
It’s hard to quantify the value of an experience like this, so the best I can do is provide a point of reference.
I’ve attended professional industry conferences that cost thousands of dollars. I didn’t get much value from it apart from some networking contacts and a few tricks of the trade. There was also no accountability needed – I could just roll into whatever sessions I was interested in, often missing a day or two of the entire conference.
Landmark is not like a business conference.
The experience demands that you participate, share, and dig up personal demons. It’s a lot of paradigm shifts paired with deep inner work. Sounds cheesy, but it’s really one of those “you get what you put in” type of experiences.
The Forum leader has to be a rockstar (which mine was) for hours on end for 3 days, all the while engaging individual audience members to go up to the mic and grapple with them through their personal transformation. I honestly don’t know how the facilitators do it.
Before Landmark, I thought it was expensive. After attending, I thought it was cheap.
Fortune 500 companies like Mercedes-Benz and Lockheed Martin seem to agree. A big part of Landmark’s revenue comes from corporate training. About half a dozen management trainees from the Panda Group were at my Forum.
From an employer’s perspective, $795 is a small price to pay to onboard a new employee who’s inspired to take radical responsibility in their personal & professional lives. Can you imagine a workplace where people don’t throw each other under the bus and take ownership?
I now understand that the amount I paid for the Forum was cheap in comparison to a $20 self help book. It’s because I paid for a real experience, and that experience was lived out in completing the history with my exes, creating new possibilities with my family, and now being able to more freely create a future without being tied down by my past.
$795 is a small price to pay to become a new person.
So…is Landmark a cult?
No, it is not a cult. But Landmark can rub people the wrong way with their:
- Aggressive person-to-person marketing is aggressive. They highly encourage all participants to “enroll” their friends and family.
- Terminology to describe human behavior, e.g. rackets, strong suits, acts.
- Follow up. They will call you a lot to tell you about new programs and seminars.
Unlike a cult or pyramid scheme…
- There is no idol to worship. The Forum leaders are inspiring, but they’re more like a hybrid between lecturer-coach-therapist.
- No silver bullet is promised. The Forum does promise “transformational learning” vs informational learning.
- No one gets paid for referring people to Landmark.
- The curriculum encourages participants to take radical ownership in their own lives.
If Landmark is a cult, then it’s the only cult that sends you back to your family.
One last note. Because the Forum experience is so heavily dependent on the Forum leader, that facilitator disproportionately affects the Landmark experience.
Barry Grieder was the facilitator during my Forum and he was masterful. He had amazing command of the room, endless (relevant) stories to share, and really made my experience a transformative one.
On the other hand, I’ve heard that others’ Forum experiences weren’t as great. They had facilitators that yelled at them or use scare tactics. Definitely NOT good.
Barry – if you’re reading this, thank you.
What’s next after the Forum?
I feel quite good after the Forum. I’ve had conversations and cleared up resentments and unresolved relationships I didn’t even know were buried deep inside me.
I’m still working through a long list of people to have those crucial conversations with.
But I acknowledge that this was no silver bullet, and it’s up to me to develop the habit and practice of taking radical responsibility in my life.
The last day of the Forum focused on looking forward to create a new reality, now that we’ve learned some tools for resolving the past. It was a metaphysical discussion that led me to another realization…
I learned that one of the biggest cons I’ve run on my own life is to be critical and judgmental of others so that I could avoid responsibility. Because the true fear is that I do take full responsibility – and then fail. Then that would mean that I’m actually a failure, a nothing.
But that fear is ludicrous, because the whole time I have been no-thing. I’m a meaning making machine that created the desire to be some-thing (and also the fear that comes along with not becoming some-thing). When I can embrace the fact that life has no meaning, then I am free to create any-thing.
Before joining the Forum, I had my reservations. Maybe it was a scam, a cult, too much money, or a classic case of “I already know that stuff.” But I’m glad I kept an open mind, and was ultimately rewarded with seeing many blindspots about myself.
The one danger I see with any personal development training is if someone adopts it like religion, which shuts out other ways of thinking. Like Bruce Lee said,
“Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own.”
I wrote this piece to share my personal experience so it could help you make up your mind about Landmark. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
If you attended the Forum with me in Culver City from Dec 7 – 9, 2018, let’s connect! I was busy making those important calls during break and didn’t make a big enough effort to connect with you amazing individuals. I’m easy to find via my newsletter and email.
Also published on Medium.