The all famed, Landmark Education Cult Question…
So you have heard about the Landmark Forum, and you’re curious to find out what it’s all about. When you start to type it into google, it autofills to “Landmark Education Cult”. Now you’re even more curious, a little worried, not to mention a small bit of skepticism has begun to creep in, to add to what was probably already there.
You click on the autofill that Google suggests of “Landmark Education Cult” and here you are, ready to read!
You are certainly not alone in your skepticism and your curiosity. I was once invited to an intro to the Landmark Forum 5 states away by my crying mother, and the event was less than 24 hours away on a Tuesday night. Odd behavior to say the least.
I too used Google to try to figure out what this whole Landmark thing was about, and was met with some interesting stories, and descriptions.
So in this article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about The Landmark Forum, detail my experiences, both good and bad, having been through two of the four Landmark Courses, and I’ll explain to you where this strange stigma of Landmark Education being a cult comes from.
By the end of this post, you will be able to make an educated and informed decision on whether or not the Landmark Forum is for you, and you’ll be able to plainly see that not only is it clearly NOT a cult, it doesn’t resemble one in any way, shape, or form.
So What is Landmark Education?
Landmark Education is a personal growth course consisting of four segments, which together form what they refer to as The Curriculum for Living.
The four segments are:
- The Landmark Forum
- The Landmark Seminars
- Landmark Advanced Course
- Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP)
I’ll tell you everything that you want to know about Landmark Education. I am currently enrolled in the final segment, Self Expression and Leadership Program, having completed The Landmark Forum in July 2017 and The Advanced Course in December 2017.
My wife Michelle completed the courses with me, and is also in my same SELP course.
Both my parents have completed the entire Curriculum for Living.
I have extended family that have also completed numerous Landmark Education courses.
First things first…
Let’s Get the FAQ’s Out of the Way
How much is it? Price varies slightly from city to city, but the Forum is $600
How Long is it? 9am to 9pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday. 7pm-9pm Tuesday.
That seems intense… It is. You think that changing the course of 100-200 people’s lives is anything BUT intense? Nope. It’s heavy. It’s intense. And it’s incredible.
Is it Worth it? HELL YES. Not only that, they should charge more.
Wait, it’s really that impactful?? Yes…YES…yes.
So what’s it about? It teaches you how to live a life that you love, instead of surviving life in general.
But I have a good life already… Of course you do! That’s because you HAVE A LIFE. That in and of itself is amazing! Landmark teaches you how to live it FULLY and POWERFULLY.
So is it a cult? I googled it and… We’re getting to that. Be patient 🙂
So what is The Landmark Forum then? I’m Glad you asked!!
What to Expect (The Mechanics)
You’ll be in a meeting room for roughly 12 hours for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s a minimalist set up. There is two chalk boards, four TVs, and two banners hanging from the ceiling with some wording on it that you’ll learn about. There is a stage that the Forum Leader will be on most of the course, and at the back of that stage there will be a table with an orchid on it, a yellow rag in a white bowl, a dictionary, and a glass of water.
The layout of the room depends on the location. I attended the Landmark Forum in Houston, TX where there is large windows on either side of the room.
Behind the participants in the course is the Landmark Staff. They do all the behind the scenes set up, and time keeping. They will be a mixture of Landmark employees and volunteers that have participated in the course already.
You will be given a white name badge, that has your first and last name on it in black letters.
The chairs are pretty typical for a classroom style presentation. Some cushion…some.
You will be asked to not take notes, and the reasoning is sound. You can take notes if you want to, but I suggest you trust the process and don’t.
There aren’t too many breaks. A short 30 minute lunch, a longer 90 minute dinner break, and a few short little breaks in between.
So what’s it like sitting in a room for 12 hours straight?
It’s fine. Truly. There are moments that are uncomfortable, but the content of the course is highly engaging, so you won’t notice it too much. On Sunday night I was actually disappointed to not be going to the course the next day!
I do have two HIGHLY VALUABLE suggestions to help you with sitting for 12 hours…
Be in an open mind-state. Be ready to learn, be positive, and get ready for some concepts that are counterintuitive, but trust that it will all make sense.
Bring a lot of gum. Also, if you are a fidgeter, bring some toothpicks too. It will give you something to do.
What am I going to learn? (Your Breakthrough)
What are you going to learn? That’s up to you, and it’s unique to you. Like I said before, the over reaching concept of Landmark Education is to teach you how to live a live that you love.
You may learn that you have harbored resentment against people who you want to love you, and that resentment has cost you the very love that you crave.
You may learn that you isolate yourself as a way to avoid the rejection that you think is coming, even though you love people and are lonely.
You may learn that you have had a great life and that you have a great support system.
Or maybe you learn that YOU are a great support system for others.
The clear point here is that this list could go on and on. Everyone comes out with their own distinctions and breakthroughs.
I’ll give you a little insight into what I got….
I discovered that the traits that I THOUGHT I was supposed to have, we’re all made up in my head. I’m perfect just the way I am, but I didn’t even know who I was.
Going into the Landmark Forum I was very excited. I had visions coming out of the course as the incredible engaging, outgoing person that I’d always pictured myself as. This smiling, hand shaking, charmer that lights up rooms when I walk in.
Coming out, admittedly, I was quite a bit torn, because not only did this not happen, I actually felt like I got quieter. Now, when I was in groups, I listened to others, and sometimes said very little. This was not only unlike me, but unlike what I thought I was supposed to be!
I’m a deep thinker, and a deep learner. It leads my brain to be a bit of a “slow learner”. Not in the sense of “being slow”, but in order for me to learn, I have to take it apart, reflect on the pieces, and then put it all back together. It can take a while.
So I remained in this confused state for a month or so.
For the record I did feel AMAZING though! Like some emotional baggage was lifted, but almost like I didn’t get my breakthrough. Like my experience was mediocre in comparison to others.
Then all the sudden I started to put the pieces back together…things began to open up…I started to figure it out. Figure ME out.
I’m introverted. Hence the deep thinker. Hence the analytical nature. Hence my highly outgoing wife! (Opposites attract ya know).
Here’s my breakthrough (And it’s Profound)
All the behavior that I have modeled from leaders that I look up to was in direct opposition to my strengths.
To say that differently…
Since I was a child, I was trying to be something, more accurately SOMEONE, that I wasn’t. I thought to be the leader I needed to be loud and charismatic. Engaging and persuasive. What I call “the mayor” in all situations.
I still can’t figure out where I picked this up from…
But my nature is to actually sit back and analyze. Listen, and talk when I have some expertise in the matter, not talk to make sure others hear me talk.
I have years worth of regret from leaving social situations thinking that I didn’t make an impact, or that I wasn’t “on” tonight. Like I had “failed” the event.
So Two Things Came from the Breakthrough…
The first is by far the most profound.
Since I now who I am know, I can be me.
Do you have ANY IDEA how freeing of a feeling that is? Especially since I didn’t know that I wasn’t already being myself to begin with. I thought I was being me, and that I was working at being more outgoing.
I actually thought that outgoing people had to work at being outgoing. Like it was a skill, not a personality trait.
Now, as I have gotten in tune with myself, I can go to dinner with friends, and actually be at dinner with my friends. I’m not constantly wondering if I made a lasting impression or if I was funny enough, of if I portrayed myself as a leader…I can just be me.
The best part about this whole thing, and this still astonishes me…
People are more engaged with me. They enjoy my company more now, than when I was trying to make sure they enjoyed my company.
I also don’t care if I didn’t meet everyone at the party either. Before enrolling in Landmark Education, if I passed by a person, and didn’t talk to them, I thought I was a bad networker for not going out of my way to make conversation. Now, I can just hang out. They didn’t talk to me, I didn’t talk to them, and it means nothing at all.
I used to have an anxiety when there was something social coming up because I had to muster up so much energy to be outgoing and try to be the “life of the party”.
Now, I can just go somewhere, hang out, let people come to me, and be totally relaxed.
The second breakthrough (Strengths Finders)
Now I can work on developing my strengths, since I could actually find them instead of trying to create them.
I work for a large company that has an amazing culture of investing in its employees. Every fall, we have a meeting that is catered to teaching us something new, and guess what this falls meeting was called?
Strengths Finders. Not kidding.
Best timing ever or what?
So I take the Strengths Finders questionnaire, I get my packet at the meeting, and my #1 strength is looking me in the face, and I have to be honest, I was surprised. It was “Learner”.
It describes me as someone who loves the journey of learning, but the end result of the journey is not that important. It’s not about “knowing”, it’s about obtaining the knowledge. Then when I’ve learned something, I switch gears and start learning something new.
AKA I get bored after I master something.
This is so true, and something that I always (not kidding here either) thought was a weakness. It drove me crazy that I would spend all this time, effort, and sometimes money to learn this thing that was going to “take me the top” and then when I master it, I’d lose interest. I’d use the experience to help guide me, but I wouldn’t LIVE IT anymore. I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried.
Notice, more of me trying to be someone that I’m not.
And believe me, I’d MASTER things to where I could recite it backwards and forwards…just to rarely use it.
It left me always chasing the past. Trying to get back to something that I used to do, instead of chasing the new thing to learn.
Now that I know this, I actually work less on the mastery, and instead I just enjoy the ride. Relish in the research and the thinking and hypothesizing and the debating of pros and cons. I find joy in the learning now.
I’M A THINKER…and I love it.
What came out of my breakthroughs?
Well, a lot actually. But let me take you through the tangible stuff…
Largest activity or behavior that came out of the Landmark Forum; I’m a writer.
I’m a writer and I don’t really write much
I actually always have been a writer. I’m good at it. I enjoy it. But I never cultivated it, or did anything with it.
Now I have the courage to do it.
It started with a Journal that I bought. I pulled off the interstate in a courageous state to buy it, and was unsure of following through with the purchase all the way to the register. You can read that story that HERE.
That journal then spilled online, and became a blog. And here we are, hanging out together!
Second largest behavior change out of Landmark…
No More Beer, and I Don’t Care
I’m not a big drinker. I had my hard party days, but I haven’t been a hard drinker for years.
That being said, I drank a ton of beer. I’d have three beers a night, every night, for as long as I can remember. No real reason. I just did. I loved beer and couldn’t imagine not drinking it.
I would actually plan things around it. We’re thinking about going to an activity? Should I bring beers? Are they gonna have beers? Oh no beer allowed? Yeah we should do something different instead!
Now, I actually don’t even drink beer. Maybe one on Saturday night. Maybe. I don’t drink any alcohol during the week really, and then a drink on Friday, and sometimes on Saturday.
Maybe the most important behavior change that came from Landmark Education
Happiness. Straight up.
I’m in a leadership position with the company that I work for, and I love being in charge in general, and now I’m working on developing my leadership style.
As in MY leadership style.
It’s been so fun and so liberating.
I don’t worry about anything to do with human interaction any more. I just interact with people the way that I interact with people.
Many aspects of this self discovery still continues to open up as time goes on, and as I uncover more and more traits that make me, me.
The Last Behavior Change…Openness
Now I’m not very open by nature, so this is a huge one. I’m still not anything NEAR the “open book” type, but as time passes I am getting a little more open.
I can tell when I’m being open because I get two funny feelings.
The first is when I’m being open, and sharing my experiences or feelings, it’s so liberating! It’s crazy that sharing personal things, or things that I KEPT personal, causes so much joy for myself, and so much gratitude from others. Powerful stuff. (Learned that at the Landmark Forum)
The other funny feeling is that later on, after I act in an open way, I get this nagging feeling of remorse that’s almost the same feeling that I used to get the night after partying hard, when you know you drank a bit too much and did or said something that was out of line. Why this one happens I don’t know, but I have begun to train myself that it’s now a great feeling, not one to be regretted.
I also kind of find humor in the fact that I used to be so closed off that I actually feel guilty now for being open!
Ok, so those are all the things that you can expect from the Landmark Forum, so now I want to address the things about Landmark that I don’t love…
The Downsides to Landmark Education
So obviously it’s not ALL magic and breakthroughs.
There are some things about Landmark that I don’t particularly care for, and this is not unique to me. You’ve read this far, so you can clearly see that the good FAR outweighs the bad, but let’s get into it.
There is a ton of words and phrases that Landmark Education uses, and some of them are very unique. When the Forum Leader is using them, they fit perfectly into the context and flow of the conversation. Then when someone in the course tries to use them, it’s often forced into an area that it doesn’t really fit into. It can be clunky.
It’s like the 13-year-old that just started using swear words, and he can’t seem to get it right yet. “Don’t be such a stupid damn head.”
Then you have the Landmark Lingo Junkies. These are the people who have been incredibly impacted by the course, have fallen in love with what Landmark can do for others, and have since created themselves as a possibility at least 100 times since Sunday night. They can be challenging to be around because they try to talk like the forum leaders, but they don’t have anywhere near the experience using these new phrases.
It’s like that same 13-year-old that is new to swearing, and he’s now obsessed with using swear words, but does so in just the same awkward way above.
The Chosen Ones
There are a select few that I was in a Landmark course with that use the Landmark Language masterfully! They are talking with these new phrases intertwined into the conversation like they are a Form Leader! I think they are like the chosen ones. They were made to spread the Landmark message, and they are very inspiring to be around.
The other thing about the language that Landmark uses is that it can be confusing at times. They can use three syllable words when a one syllable word would have done just fine. And those big words are so close to being out of context that it can get confusing.
I actually made the joke that we could start a separate company that translates the Landmark content into regular english and make a ton of money!
The Integrity (Or the Integrityholics rather)
So a HUGE part of Landmark is based on integrity. They have an incredible take on it, and it’s not linked to anything moral or righteous. It’s about honoring your word (not keeping your word). I’m not going to get into the particulars here, but how they approach integrity is awesome.
The Forum Leaders use the concept of integrity in a masterful and inspiring fashion.
Then what do we do? We abuse it. We turn everything into an integrity issue, and we run around restoring integrity with every person that you made even the lightest commitment with.
You’ll hear, “I’m out of integrity with you and I want to restore it. I was 1 minute late in calling you and I promise that next time I’ll call you on time.”
Dude, it’s 1 minute. Just say my bad, or I’m sorry. We don’t need to go through the WHOLE integrity schpeel every time there is a tiny crack in the integrity.
The lesson here is that the lingo is ACTUALLY awesome. But once it’s passed on to us “normals” we kinda butcher it and tarnish it’s meaning. FAST. Leave it to the pros folks!
The Hard Sell (Recruiting)
Now, as a salesman by trade, this doesn’t bother me. Landmark Education is a business. They need more people to sign up so they can make money. That requires recruiting. Simple.
Also of note, the sales pitches are so good that most miss them entirely. Serious.
Of course, there are cynics that not only catch it, but they dwell on it. They think it’s the most egregious thing ever and they just can’t seem to understand it (there are plenty of articles about it on Google).
Honestly, some of these sales pitches add some serious value, and many of them are almost a review of what you’ve already learned.
Just know that it’s coming, it’s really well thought out, and part of the program. If you simply can’t stand it, go use the bathroom when one starts, and take a deep breath…it’s really not that big of a deal.
Inviting Others to the Forum
Full disclosure here, this was hard for my wife and I because we took all of our Landmark courses in Houston, TX, and we live in New Orleans, so we only knew one person in Houston.
I did personally invite five people to the introduction to the Landmark Forum in Houston, TX, even though they lived in California, Utah, and South Dakota respectively. My one buddy from Houston did come with his wife (who we’re now also friends with).
During the Forum, you will want to invite everyone you know to enroll in this program. It’s life changing, and to be surrounded in your life by other landmark graduates truly incredible.
For me, the inviting of others during the Advanced Course got to a level that I would describe as “peer pressure”. If you didn’t invite anyone to Tuesday night, you we’re almost judged. It was intense…but the wrong kind of intense.
So, is it a Cult Then or What?
That’s a question that I hoped by now to have answered with an obvious and resounding NO, and not to just do it as TELL YOU that it’s not a cult, but tell stories that clearly illustrate that it’s not anything that even resembles a cult.
But just in case…
I’ll be blunt.
Landmark Education is Not a Cult.
Not even remotely close to a cult, nor does it have anything to do with anything cult-like.
So why do people think it’s a cult then?
There are a few factors that lead the conversation to the topic of cults. I’ll list and explain them here…
People Are REALLY Happy After The Forum
This is the largest factor no doubt. People are changed after having gone though the Landmark Forum, and the change is often profound. The Forum takes place over a weekend. You leave work on Thursday the normal you, and then when you come back to work on Monday, you are a totally different person. Mood changes, outlook is positive, and you give off a sense of POWER that you never had before. It’s far outside of normal, and people will no doubt notice.
Landmark Forum Grads Can’t Explain It
This comes right after the happiness that you will portray. When you change that much over a weekend, people are going to ask… “What the hell happened to you??” To which you’re going to reply something like this;
“I took this course…it’s like this personal development thing…and it was AMAZING. It was the most impactful thing in my life. It opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all living lives that we are just getting through! I learned about these things called winning formulas, and mine is that act better than people, and since I realized it I found out that I’m out of integrity with you and I want to restore it, but that’s a conversation that we can schedule for at lunch today. I have to tell you all about this Landmark thing…but I don’t even know how to describe it…it’s like…well it’s incredible and I think you should come with me to the final class tomorrow night. I can invite anyone I want, and I want to invite you…but I want you to know you don’t need it. No one needs it. In fact you’re perfect just the way you are. But you should come with me! You will get so much out of the course, and what you get is different than what I get. It always is! I know I sound crazy. Just trust me. It’s incredible, just trust me. Trust me…”
See how that conversation can cause someone to think that you have gotten in to something weird?
Recruiting others to join
Once you experience this new openness that you discover in the Landmark Forum, you want others to have the same thing. You will be a recruiting maniac, but not for any other reason than because you want others to have what you have.
There is no tracking of recruits, or commission on who you get into the program. You just want to share this with others!
This concept is odd in our society… “You mean you just want me to be happier?”
Yep. That’s it.
The Three Factors Together
You see how those three things go right in order?
The whole thing is cyclical…they ask questions about it, you can’t explain it, then you invite them to come to a Landmark event with you to learn about something they don’t understand, and they just have to trust you.
It gives way to what I call “The All-Famed Landmark Education Cult Question.”
-People change over the course of a weekend
-They can’t explain their changes in any terms that others understand
-They recruit others to take the course
One more Small Factor (Landmark Education Brainwashing Accusations)
So there is one more factor that can lead people to make the “cult” accusation, and it has actually also been assumed that Landmark Education is brainwashing the participants.
This accusation, like the “cult thing”, is totally silly…
Here’s what that last small factor is…
So as I said, you leave work on Thursday evening the “you” that everyone knows.
The course runs Friday morning to Sunday night, and then you return to work on Monday morning totally different.
One of the major areas of change will be in how you talk. You will start using words in new ways, describing events with adjectives that are not typical. You have just learned all this new language, so as I said earlier, it all sounds a bit clunky coming out of your mouth.
This CAN lead people to think that you “drank the Kool-aid” and are a member of some new covenant.
And it can lend itself to people throwing words around like “brainwashing”
None of it true. None of it based in reality.
Alright, so here it is….
The Big Reveal (A New Game)
Here’s the crowning moment of this whole post, and the best way that I can describe what changes, or “opens up for you” as you enter the world after having gone through the Landmark Forum…
You are playing a new game in life.
It’s not better, or worse, or changed. It’s a whole new approach to living your life that puts you in a place of power with yourself and others.
The old game was just to survive. Get through.
This new game is to be the author of a life you love. To write a life that you want, and create new possibilities for yourself that connects you to the world, and to the community in new ways.
So Let’s Close it Like This….
Landmark Education is an amazing company that is focused on teaching people how to live a more powerful life.
There are no sinister actions. No ulterior motives. No great hidden secrets.
They take money in exchange for their services, just like every other business on the planet.
There are some participants that have a bad experience, some that don’t like it, and some that decide to take that negative experience and post it in places to see.
There are far more that have had great experiences, changed their lives, started their own businesses, reconnected with loved ones, etc, because of what they learned at the Landmark Forum and in the rest of the Curriculum for living.
As with most things in life, the ones that love it just go forth and conquer.
The ones that don’t like it, complain about it in public places.
As a writer now, I thought that I could do my part as a Landmark Grad to spread the positive word, and encourage some people that may be on the fence about enrolling to tip the way of courage, and go. Go to the Forum. Have a weekend that will start something amazing for you!
I’m going to open myself up for any and all questions about all of Landmark Education’s services. I have been to the Landmark Forum, the Landmark Advanced Course, and am currently enrolled in the Self Expression and Leadership Program (as of Feb 2018).
My wife Michelle has done all the courses right along with me.
My parents have both completed the entire Curriculum for Living.
Thanks for reading 🙂