Cult? Scam? Brainwashing?
“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.” ―Morihei Ueshiba
So you’re contemplating taking the Landmark Forum. You’ve heard some pretty great things about it from other people, but your Google research reveals some scary stories that make your gut turn slightly sideways.
Here’s quick rundown of my Landmark journey:
- Landmark Forum (May 2016)
- Communication: Access to Power (July 2016)
- Communication: Power to Create (August 2016)
- Team, Leadership and Management (November 2016)
Not going to lie. When I first I heard of Landmark through several friends, I scoffed at it. Pffft, I don’t need that. I’ve done a lot of self-development already. I looked down at every person who did Landmark like some losers who didn't know how to deal with life.
When a new guy I started dating invited me to a Landmark Introduction evening (this is where they give you a taste of the Forum), I said yes because I liked him (the things we do for love) but as soon as I sat in the chair, I was adamant that I would not pay a single penny for some floozy Landmark course.
The large, stark room (what, they couldn’t afford even a poster to add some life to the room?) was filled with around a hundred people. The introduction leader looked like a snake oil sales lady from the 80’s. When the time came for invitees to register into the upcoming Forum by making a deposit, I politely declined with a “no thanks”. Nothing persuaded me that evening to actually pay for the full weekend-long course. The guy I was dating proceeded to share with me what Landmark did for his life. Then five minutes later a friend of his came along to say hello and the pressure started. He shared his story with me and while I cannot recall the exact words he followed with, I remember the visceral feeling of peer pressure and I just wanted to bolt out of the room. To get both guys off my back, I signed a deposit form with my credit card for $200. At least they were happy for me.
By the time my Forum date came around, I started to come up with different excuses of why I had to postpone it - reasons that were legit to me at the time. I pushed it back a month. Then another month. Then another.
One early evening on my way out the door from my boyfriend’s he invited me to sit down at the dining table with him. He had a “come to Jesus” talk with me and started to well up in tears. He shared that while he understands how much incredible growth I’ve had up to that point, it hurt to see someone he loves live a life not knowing what else was possible. He got me right there. What did I not know? What was possible? There was no way of knowing unless I actually did the course. I knew it was a genuine act of of care from coming from my boyfriend and I couldn’t register fast enough into the next available session.
I’m not going to go into details of all the courses I took with the company. I will say this though…Landmark has elevated my life from an already great place, to levels I didn’t know were possible. While the Forum was just meh for me, the other courses have been absolutely transformational, especially the advanced communication course and the team program. That’s where the real gold was. I am so grateful to live in an area, Toronto, that has access to a major Landmark centre and I could not imagine my life without having the tools and distinctions I received from their trainings.
Each person will have their own experience with Landmark, of varying degrees on the spectrum. To help quell some fears if you still have some, know this:
- Nobody forces you to do anything.
Sure, there are suggestions made and if you take them on, the course is designed to work in your favour. But nobody ties you up until you do what they say. You are there voluntarily and you have the right to up and leave whenever you want (someone may try to coach you into staying, but again, you have the right to leave at any point).
2. You’re allowed to use the bathroom. And eat.
Maybe this was a thing back in the day (I know someone who took the course back in the very early days when the company was known as Est, and he said participants could go the bathroom if needed but they were just to afraid of Werner to do so; one guy he saw even peed his pants in his seat).
As for food, understandably there’s no food allowed in the room (c’mon, would you want your neighbour downing a container full of curry while you’re confronting the heartache from a childhood experience?) but you can step outside anytime if need be. Water dispensers were always available and the side table was for people to leave their beloved Starbucks or Tim’s cups for when they wanted it.
3. It’s not a scam.
Landmark has been around since 1991. There may be complaints about certain staff members in their various centres around the world, but if they were a scam they wouldn’t be a global business raking in over 50 million dollars all these years. All of their courses are legit.
4. No one is there to brainwash you.
Now having experienced several courses firsthand, this one is funny to me when I hear it. You choose to attend voluntarily and you choose to “take on” the work they suggest or not. Take on the work and grow, or refuse and keep doing what works for you. Simple. My experience over and over again though, is that so much resistance naturally comes up with things they suggest to you, but when you actually try something different than how you’ve always known, there’s almost always a feeling of bliss, completion and peace, and significant growth is realized because of it.
Landmark has solid structures and processes in their course curriculum that can be perceived as strict (maybe this is where the cult feeling can come from), though I can 100% say this is no cult. Besides some rude staff (unfortunate and the exception) over the years I’ve attended Landmark, course leaders are there because they truly care about humanity and leading with love.
I found that the people who say the Forum doesn’t work, is because they don’t do the assigned homework or they are not coachable. The work works for a reason! However, if the Forum still doesn’t work for you in the end, all you would part with was a weekend and less than a thousand bucks. It’s not significant. Life goes on.
Have you done Landmark? What’s your journey been?
About Jessica Santonato
Based in Toronto, Canada, Jessica Santonato is a TEDx Speaker and inspirational speaker. In her latest memoir Flip The Script, she shares her journey of living a criminal lifestyle, assault, attempted suicide and domestic violence before the age of 30, to her rise in conscious leadership and philanthropy by the age of 35. Recognized for her leadership abilities, she was one of three people chosen by an American personal development company to help more than a thousand entrepreneurs from across all continents achieve success through the power of vivid story sharing and communication.
Flip The Script, an organization Jessica founded, is a raw and unfiltered story sharing community where everyday people inspiringly share how they’ve overcome adversity and discovered the gift in their pain. Proceeds from events support their story sharing program ‘From The Streets To The Stage’ for men with criminal and/or drug addiction histories.
She has been featured in media such as Cosmopolitan Magazine, Rogers TV and various podcasts, and has given talks at Humber College, Mississauga City Hall, inner-city schools and at an event for international peace activist/conscious hip-hop artist, Emmanuel Jal.
Click here for more info: http://jessicasantonato.ctcin.bio