I Failed the Self-Help Seminar: The Landmark Forum (Part 1 of 5)

I spent $420 for the privilege of spending a holiday weekend — three 13-hour days — sitting in a conference room near LAX with 75 strangers. That was the price of admission to The Landmark Forum, a seminar that promises to transform the lives of its attendees in profound, permanent and meaningful ways.

Landmark Education has been around for a long time. Its history is sordid, with associations to a creepy self-help movement of the 1970s known as est and a founder (Werner Erhard) who, by most accounts, is a major douchebag. Prior to attending the Forum, I spent many hours reading about the experiences of other attendees, learning the lesson plans, and trying to understand the process.

I’m glad I did that research (thank you, journalism degree!), because it made me skeptical of the process; it made me pledge to think critically about all the material Landmark would put in front of me over the three days of instruction, to examine it thoroughly before deciding whether I agreed enough to incorporate its lessons into my life and way of thinking.

Admittedly, I didn’t go into the seminar fully open minded — and I know this sounds dramatic — but that probably saved my life.

Landmark has long been called a cult by many of its critics, an accusation that has some validity, primarily because Landmark’s many “graduates” are super enthusiastic about it, to the point of being annoying. Landmark engenders this kind of enthusiasm among its graduates because its methodology is very powerful.

Graduates are encouraged to recruit friends and family to take the Forum, to volunteer at its centers making phone calls (always unpaid), to commit to taking more classes (there are more than 60), and to subscribe to an ideology that is full of strange lingo and catch phrases such as “what you don’t know you don’t know” and “running rackets.” The language is not exactly boardroom buzz; rather, it’s very ritualized, teaching you to say things a certain way, and the ideology is nothing short of a religious dogma that must be adopted without question. There is no room for interpretation, examination or disagreement.

Landmark’s way is to tell you how to think, and they do it so effectively that, before long, you forget that you ever knew how to think for yourself. Having said this, I want to go on record and say that I do not think of Landmark as a cult. It doesn’t encourage participants to become isolated and break off ties with friends and family the way traditional cults do. Instead, it encourages everyone to join. It’s not really shrouded in mystery either. Anyone can sign up and take courses (though the Forum is always the first course).

I had heard rumors about minders following participants into the bathroom, taking their car keys and locking the doors during the Forum, but I did not see any of this. We were free to come and go as we pleased. I never felt trapped, nor was I tied to a chair with an interrogation light shining in my face.

But I did feel tremendous pressure to conform to the coursework, to accept everything I was told without reservation, to transform and submit and obey, and to toss aside my longstanding ways of thinking and replace them with Landmark’s dogma. This is brainwashing, and Landmark does it well.

Despite how that sounds, some of Landmark’s techniques are extremely helpful. I did learn a lot about myself and examined both my good and bad habits — and the events that likely shaped them. I learned how to think about situations differently and emerged from my three days of instruction feeling incredibly motivated. To that end, it was definitely money well spent. I took away several valuable lessons about life and possibility from my Landmark experience, but the majority of the coursework I left behind. Because while I don’t think Landmark is a cult, I do think it is very, very cultish. It is also very powerful.

So what happens at the Landmark Forum? Stay tuned for the blow by blow in part II.


13 comments for “I Failed the Self-Help Seminar: The Landmark Forum (Part 1 of 5)

  1. March 27, 2011 at 3:19 am

    So far I am on sock number 6 and though they are all white, none match!!!!!
    Who knows how to stop the sock stealer? Or the matchingsock stealer?

  2. July 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Pain may sometimes be the reason why people change. Getting flunked grades make us realize that we need to study. Debts remind us of our inability to look for a http://www.myspace.com/571900011/blog – source of income. Being humiliated gives us the ‘push’ to speak up and fight for ourselves to save our face from the next embarrassments. It may be a bitter experience, a friend’s tragic story, a great movie, or an inspiring book that will help us get up and get just the right amount of motivation we need in order to improve ourselves.

    When you are at work, do you get frustrated because things don’t seem to be happening the way they’re supposed to be? You see people milling around but nothing gets accomplished. And in the daily hustle and bustle, do you feel that your goals remain just that – goals. Then maybe its time for you to stand up and do something about it.

    Humor is indeed the best medicine there is whenever you are. I mean anyone can pay good money to listen to a comedian just to make you wet your pants after laughing so hard. Despite of what’s been happening, and to those who has gone though the ordeal, it’s better to just laugh while facing the troubles with a clear mind than anger with a clouded vision. One of my favorite celebrities of all time may have to be Woody Allen. Now this is one guy who gives you the in-your-face bluntness that he pulls out with gusto, even without even trying. You can talk just about anything with a man, and he’s bound to mock the subject and you’ll end up laughing rather than being upset about it.

  3. george abraham
    February 15, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    There is only one douchebag – Milla Golden berg!!
    I did the Forum about 15 yrs ago. I am not part of it right now( as I am very remote)
    It transformed my life in every which way. I went from poverty to a multimillionaire. I got married to a fantastic woman and now lead a great married and inspirational life with two beautiful children and a thriving business. I attribute a lot of my success to Landmark and the Forum!MOST people that I know who did the Forum gained a lot from it.
    Sorry you did not.

  4. AA
    April 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you Milla Goldenberg for your insightful and interesting article on the Landmark Forum weekend seminar. The blog covered all the concerns associated with the negativity out there – I especially resonated with what you said about it not being a cult, but being “cultish” in its methods. A great distinction.

    There is no doubt that participants who are open and allow themselves to let their guard down and be confronted can gain from the principles in the teachings.Some are common sense presented in an emotional way rather than a logical one, which assimilates the material faster. Its not so much a seminar, but an experience in transformational psychology.

    That said, this blog gave me a greater understanding of the workings of the Forum, more so than any other article I have read. Thank you so much for your guts, intelligence, interesting writing and descriptions, all were a great help.

  5. Amy Jordan
    May 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    “what you don’t know you don’t know” and “running rackets.” The language is not exactly boardroom buzz;…” These terms and concepts are applied and frequently used in some of the largest companies worldwide, including their boardrooms.

  6. September 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    If you don’t succeed try try again. I have reviewed the forum 25 times in 25 years.
    I do it because it is spectacular every time. Everyone doesn’t GET the forum when they do it, but 95% get it. This person sounds like the kind of client I would recommend to my competition. Landmark is not teaching anything. It is transformative learning NOT informational, and you have to be open to new ideas and possibilities, and BE COACHABLE.

  7. Milla Goldenberg
    August 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Milla, consider that your public harsh criticism of an organization that does a tremendous amount of good around the world may be successful… what if people listen to you? If you’re right, they misspent a weekend. If you’re wrong, you’ve driven people away from an effective way for them to feel empowered & motivated to do good in the world. So where does that leave you in either case?
    Your word choice is very telling. Here’s a thought experiment:
    What if you have no idea what happens in the Forum? I know you were there, but that isn’t the same as trying it on & being available for it. You went in looking to criticize… your mind was talking over the instruction… All you experienced was yourself projected onto the room. My guess is that your experience of the world is exactly like your experience described above.

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