I can only write of my own experiences with the Landmark Forum and its Curriculum for Living. I’m no Landmark junkie and am not in any way affiliated with it. I haven’t attended a Landmark event since 2002, probably. I read Ms. Goldenberg’s articles with great interest, as it’s been about 10 years since I did the Landmark Forum. As it would turn out, my Landmark Forum was among the first to use the format that she went through, so we had coaches from all over the world to deliver the tough love, standing-for-your-possibility, get-out-of-the-stands speeches. Veterans of the previous Forums kept telling us how transformational this new format was and how lucky we were.
I first heard of Landmark when an employee of mine invited me to her final session of the Forum. She described it to me as really more of a communications course, so that’s sort of how I approached it. I admit, I don’t remember too much of that session (it was 10 years ago), but it must have interested me enough to sign up. I do remember telling them when they asked us all why we were there was that I was hoping to learn something that would help me in my business career.
If you look at some of the basic tenets that Landmark is trying to get you to understand —have integrity (honoring your word as yourself, or just do what you said you would do); get out of the stands; create a possibility for yourself; leave your past in the past — is that really such a bad thing? If you’ve long sat around saying, “I wish I could ______”, Landmark’s methodologies challenge you to actually fill in that blank. You’re never going to get in shape if you’re sitting on the couch. You’re never going to realize your dream until you spell out what that dream is, start telling people about it, and put together some plans to actually make it happen.
Yes, I sat through some startling revelations during my courses at Landmark. The very first day of the Forum, a well-meaning life coach wanted to smudge our conference room with a sage stick to bless the space. The leader flatly declined his request, with no explanation. The awkwardness in the air was palpable. The earnest life coach was deflated and returned to his seat. I heard deeply personal stories of emotional abuse, self-mutilation, and struggles with identity. I watched as Landmark escorted someone out of the forum who, after the first day, told the group he was considering suicide. It probably stems from a lot of legalese established by its predecessor, but I seem to remember them saying over and over that Landmark is no replacement for therapy. I would agree. You can go through some intense stuff during these sessions.
Now, I’ve got baggage too, I just didn’t necessarily want to go running to the front of the room to tell everyone about it (one of my “rackets”—“I don’t need anyone”—if you’ve done these seminars, you’ll get what I mean by that). But, over that three-day period, I did start to realize that there were ways in which I approached things and heard things that were negatively impacting my life and I learned ways to break those down. I realized I had unfinished business with an ex-boyfriend and had more confidence and clarity to deal with that situation than I ever had before. A decade later, I still see it. I still see my insecurities crop up and I’m not always good at figuring it out right away. But, eventually, I realize that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and can disassemble whatever that “thing” was.
Like Ms. Goldenberg, I was put off by the constant push to “enroll” others. I failed that part of the seminar, too. And I don’t think that Landmark is for everyone (all you need to do is Google “Landmark Forum” and you’ll find a bevy of opinions, many of them negative). I remember my late father being very upset with me that I paid someone money to tell me I didn’t know who I was. I don’t know that I ever explained it to him that well, but I think eventually, he realized that I was just fine. I was reasonably comfortable in my own skin before the Landmark Forum, and afterwards, I was even more secure. Did I transform? That’s debatable. I just had a lot more confidence and a lot more clarity. It did help in my business career. I got a lot better at managing my staff. I got a lot better at arguing with my boss. My head was a lot clearer and I wasn’t as afraid to stand firm on what I believed.
But, while it isn’t for everyone, and too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some of those who went through Landmark ended up doing some really cool things. I enjoyed my experience at the Forum, so I signed on for the Advanced Course (which at the time, I thought was powerful and everything, but if you ask me about it now, I remember almost nothing specific). And, I went ahead and did the third course, the Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP), where we actually take on an actual project. A tangible, actual, viable THING that we create, enroll others in and actually follow through on those plans.
I’ll admit, my SELP project was lame. I didn’t really feel so inspired and compelled to do certain things, as others did (I mean, some of these people were out to change the world), and this is the course where I rejected the “enrollment” mantra most. “Call your friends!” “Enroll them in your possibility.” “How many enrollment conversations did you have this week.” “Where’s your integrity?”
Having said that, I’m sitting here on the opposite side of the country from Ms. Goldenberg, working on events for the 13th season of the Greater Cleveland Flute Society (www.gcfs.org), an organization that was started from someone else’s Landmark SELP. I didn’t find this out until I’d been in a member of GCFS for a couple of years. We were driving to Chicago to perform at the Chicago Flute Festival and were chatting about the origins of GCFS. My friend said, “Yeah, I was living out in Oregon and took this seminar called the Self Expression and Leadership Program. It kinda started from there.” I almost crashed the car. It was the first time I’d met someone who’d done the whole Curriculum for Living and actually did a project that still had legs more than 10 years later. His comment to me was that he’d gotten a lot out of those courses, but didn’t feel compelled to keep taking them or volunteering for them. He was ready to move forward. I have to say, I agree. I never once volunteered to man the phones or to be a coach. I got a lot of those sessions, but when they were over, I was ready to leave them where they belonged — in the past.