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Landmark Worldwide, or simply Landmark, is a company offering personal development programs. It's headquartered in San Francisco, and I've had a couple of friends who took it and swear it made a big difference in their life. Make no mistake, this is a very serious organization. The have offices all over the world (Australia, Africa, Europe, etc, etc) where they hold their seminar-like-forums, they have a subsidiary, the Vanto Group, aiming training corporations, and they even offer programs to teens.

Who takes the courses? All walks of life, from the wealthy and successful (but still maybe wanting more in life) to the people who can barely afford the course, but somehow make it there anyway. That's what fascinated me honestly.

It sounded expensive - $700 for three days, with no food or accommodation included - but I decided I'd like to try something like this at least once in life, and it was still cheaper than something like Tony Robbins, and so I thought I'd try it.

On this page, I'll write an honest account of my experiences.... plus write down my notes I've taken as something I can look back on the future and hopefully help me.

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The Landmark Format

Landmark offer a set of three courses to be taken in order:

  1. Landmark Forum - $700 for an intense 3 day weekend (Fri-Sun, 10am-9pm).
    1. Landmark Forum in Action Seminar Series' - free with 1st forum, a set of 10 free sessions on a Tuesday night (7-10pm).
  2. Advanced Landmark Forum - $700 for an intense 3 day weekend (Fri-Sun, 10am-11pm).
  3. Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) - $200 for three month worth of training.

It's nice to know that it doesn't go forever, after the three course they might not have anything left to teach from their material, which was extracted from the teaching of American critical thinker Werner Erhard. Be warned though, they often target people to not just attend, but to start help out by making the phone calls in marketing, taking names, and some might even be picked to run courses in the future... so for some it becomes their life. Some of them meet their life partners there.

The Bottom Line

The Good

The good part of landmark, it that it really does get results for some people. Not everyone of course, but if you go with an open mind, you might get some beautiful moments of realizing where you've been inauthentic in life with other people, or yourself. In the seminars I attended in San Jose (one of the medium sized offices is my guess) I've witness people reaching out to people they had sworn out of their lives... because they realized this silence was making them unhappy, and Landmark explained how it was possible to be "unreasonable"... to contact them and figure out a way to improve those relationships. I think that's pretty beautiful.

The other great part of landmark is that the last sessions encourage people to give back to the community, so many incredible philanthropic organizations have emerged from the third session. You can accuse people of drinking the "cool aid", but these are very good people who deeply believe in the course, and it's made a difference to them. I think I'm in danger of becoming one of them too... but really probably not the same magnitude, as there are other organizations I'd be curious to check out, and... well I don't feel I have the time or personality to become too deep entrenched. :)

The Bad

The dark side of landmark I believe is not in the teaching, but in their very aggressive recruitment. Landmark survives mostly by existing members encouraging their loved ones, or friends, or even coworkers, to come to their introduction/recruitment events which sometimes labelled as "graduation days" for existing members to talk about what they have achieved. Often it's pretty impressive, so I'd like to think Landmark would give you a chance to go home and think about it, but instead non-members are likely to get swamped and heavily talked into fronting the $700 to start their journey. I like to think I did the strong/smart thing by telling them no, and to see how I'd feel a day later. A day later I decided I had the money, I think it would be a great experience to try a self help seminar at least once in life... and the idea that maybe it really is worth the $700 to help change my life direction, to prompt me to take brave actions in life, and have better relationships with people.

It shouldn't surprise me that an American company takes this an aggressive approach, but I would say that's the dark side - perhaps, sadly, necessary side of landmark to keep it going and growing. Be warned, they are also aggressive during the seminar, even after they have your money - if you give signs that you can't make it to the Tuesday graduation, they will call you out and probably try to kick you out (albeit for a refund) because they will tell you that your word is your bond. And part of you learns the truth to this. To take each course is a commitment, and they like to set a precedent of you keeping your commitments to yourself and others. You'll still feel like a scalded child when you get in trouble in front of everyone for arriving 2 minutes late. Even that you might learn to see value in.

Scam or Not

I say not scam. I have a background in neuroscience and at the time of the course I worked at Google and an engineer. Scientists/engineers are critical thinkers, and naturally skeptical. So I did the maths... about 60 people times $700 each for a weekend is ~$42,000. If this repeats 50 weeks a year that's 2.1 million... does that all go to the single presenter? Well I'm sure it's not every week, and there are other people getting paid.

So what made me change my mind? I asked my presenters from the 1st and 2nd session on a tour of Google to get to know them as people. They were seriously lovely people, and clearly not making their fortune from Landmark. The did it for the love of people. My 2nd presenter in particular was making mint in the technology industry, went to Landmark with the same skeptical opinions as me, overcame that, used Landmark teachings to improve her career to make even more money, retire and then give back by becoming a Landmark teacher... for a lot less! I must admit I didn't ask how much exactly... I will, but for someone who flies all over the planet every second week, away from their family, I'm sure they deserve a good income. Organizing are expensive, many overheads. I still think $700 is too much, so I hope they reduce their costs somehow, but the other than that, I think it's a terrific organization.

Landmark is what you make of it. For $700 you might come out with a changed life, new friends... or you might leave with nothing. Actually nothing is what they promise you.

My Experience with Landmark Forums

1. Landmark Forum

So what do they teach you at the forum? Not what you'd expect. I actually think some of the content is brilliant. The first landmark forum they want to teach you that you are a jerk. Maybe not a complete jerk, but in some aspect of life you've been inauthentic, all of us.

Like Tony Robbins, and various other forums, the Landmark Forum encourages you to call people in your life you may have less-than-ideal relationships with (think ex-lovers, out-of-touch family members, or someone you've sworn out of your life), but also to do something counterintuitive. Apologize to them. Even if you think they are fault, the first forum is design to break you down, see that you've played some type of card, like the victim in my case, with the goal of protecting you ego. I really liked the idea that most people tell their "story", which is very different from "what happened". Imagine a judge in a court case... trying to just get to facts.

The guy who lead my first forum was an amazing Australian guy, and I really was in awe of how he could talk to grieving people and trivialize their pain. It may sound insensitive, but instead of giving people power to feel sad and wronged in life, it gave many people an opportunity to divorce the narrative and "meaning" we naturally assign to life events, and just chalk it up to a series of events. Meaningless in the scheme of things.

During my first course I tried to get my ex-boss and ex-girlfriend to sit either side of me at the "graduation"... and my ex-boss came. In fact I'd already done some pre-work for that, without the forum, but the forum helped too. We had a great conversation. It mended that relationship.. and maybe it didn't need to be mended, but I really needed to apologize for being a brat - and telling myself I was a victim. That's what Landmark can do if you are "coachable".... and for the amount of money you pay, you'd be silly not to.

There's a lot of people in the room (maybe 60, depending on where you go), but everyone has a chance to come up front to share, and I think you're wasting your money if you don't try to sit at the front and go up to the front to share. Something unexpected might happen and that's what you want. I love that they teach you not to trying to "look good", and just see what happens. Ultimately everyone there is after a breakthrough, and to hear someone talk about a breakthrough or realization is an incredibly beautiful thing. Even if they issue is unrelated to yours - maybe they were sexually abused, or lost a child - you'll find someway to relate to the defense and struggles of everyone. Some people get up simply to say they are thinking of leaving... they were not expected a boring office looking room, sitting exhausted for hours and hours with little break, run by someone trying to convince you that you are a criminal in some way. People might go expecting some kind of "uplifting" feel good crap, but hey - you can get that for $12 in a Disney movie... it won't last. The principle of their teaching is to break you down before you can rebuild yourself anew - not to slap a bandaid on your wound.

Friday to Sunday is exhausting, but amazing by the end. Then there is Tuesday... you'll find out yourself, but Tuesday you are challenged to invite along people in your life, and yes, you'll feel a little conflicted, because you know it's more about recruitment than graduation... chances are that's how you got into the forum.

1.1 Landmark Forum in Action Seminar Series

The ongoing series is really quite nice. I like their acknowledgment, that although you may have had some breakthroughs in the course, they want you to retain the teachings over time, and put things into practice.

I discovered about 8 people from my first course were there, plus some other... maybe 30 total, so pretty small, but lovely people. You get organized into groups of ~5-6 and asked to make weekly conference calls to keep each other. Our team leader is a wonderful Chinese American girl call Amy, who I think does a terrific job of running the calls. For her, leading the group is part of what she gets out of Landmark I'm sure. The first couple of weeks are largely revision, but you have weekly assignments, and your group will encourage you to try to actually complete it, even in weeks where the assignment seems a little vague. What's great is that if you promise your group you'll do something, like chatting to your boss about promotion, you'll probably do it!

2. Advanced Landmark Forum

Take this further into the second forum. You tell yourself the story that "I'd like to X, but Y", instead of saying "I'd like to X, AND Y". Landmark encourages you to "create possibilities". That resonated with me. Ultimately I didn't get as much for me as the first, but still was great. The leader of the course was a wonderful Canadian woman, who was small in stature, but really tough. You also realize that it's not all about "what can this forum do for me". In our course was an incredible person who's name I won't say, but is transitioning from male to female - even telling conservative parents for the first time. That person inspires me more than anyone to be honest! Wow.

3. Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP)

I haven't started this yet, but compared to the other it seems like far better value for money, so I'm in! It's spread over months, including 3 Saturdays, and 10 "landmark classroom SELP" sessions on weekdays every week or so.