My Review of Landmark Forum (Los Angeles)

Preamble: My review was originally published in 2018, when I first took the Landmark Forum. Since then, I’ve taken 3 more of Landmark’s immersive courses — Advanced Course, SELP, Communication Course — and found value in them all. However, I have not felt the need to do any more Landmark course since them. This review still only focuses on the first and most popular course, the Landmark Forum.

I stood at the mic in front of 150 people.

Feeling naked, this is what I shared with them…

I thought I knew everything because I read all these self-help books.

When in reality, I’ve been using this knowledge to get a sense of control over my own life. I’ve used it to dominate others and feel superior to them in conversation.

What this has cost me is connection with others and the true experience of playing on the court of life.

I’ve used the pursuit of information as a way to avoid responsibility in my life, thinking I’ve solved my problems by reading a book.

This was just one of many groundbreaking moments I had attending the Landmark Forum.

I resisted the Forum for years. Part of it was the money. Part of it was that I didn’t like their marketing. Most of it was because I’ve read a bunch of self help books and thought I already knew everything (ha!)

Then my best friend suggested I take it. I saw how it resolved decades-long problems in his personal relationships.

Still I resisted.

Then he offered to front me the money to attend. I figured, I trust my best friend, and if he’s willing to pay for me then it’s worth paying for myself.

(Later I’d learn that in Landmark parlance, he was making a stand for me.)

This is how I ended up spending 36 hours having a transformational experience with 150 strangers.

After a year of finally debating whether to attend, I’m glad I took the plunge and did the Forum. If you’re like me, someone who’s into personal development but highly skeptical, I wrote this for you. 

What is the Landmark Forum, exactly?

The Landmark Forum is a 3 day personal development seminar. On the surface, the material seems as if were collaboration between Buddhist monks, Tony Robbins, and writers of The Matrix. (For a more formal explanation, read their website or Wikipedia page).

This curriculum is delivered by a facilitator, who would alternate between lectures and conversations with the the audience in a Socratic style. Hence “The Forum.”

I experienced discussions about awareness, human psychology and the nature of reality.

What I didn’t expect how much it asked of me.

Everyone was encouraged to take action, during our breaks and over the course of the weekend.

This is how I had groundbreaking conversations with my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and exes I haven’t talked to in years. The type of conversation no one has anymore, but everyone deeply craves…

I want to be closer to you.

I haven’t been real with you about our breakup.

I’ve been making up false stories about you in my mind.

Almost everyone went up to the mic at some point to share their stories. I saw countless breakthrough moments in others, like:

  • The shy student with a fear of public speaking finally do it for the first time
  • The father who blamed his son for not being close to family, then realizing he was the one putting distance between them.
  • The girl who realized she was being a racist and homophobe, and resolved to end her hate for others. (!!!)

You might be wondering how the Forum creates the environment for all this crazy stuff to happen.

Did they make us drink magic juice? (No.) Is it a cult? (No.)

While I can’t say that the Forum is right for everybody, I can at least share my personal experience.

What I got out of the Landmark Forum

If I had only one takeaway from the Forum, it’s responsibility.

I saw the ways, large in small, in which I’ve shirked responsibility in my life. In work, family and relationships.

Here’s a personal example…

I had an ex who dumped me for another guy. At that time, I made her out to be a villain. “She was dishonest, she was unfaithful” blah blah blah. By telling a story about her being the bad person, I unwittingly absolved myself of my part in that relationship.

In reality, every relationship has at least two participants. And I totally forgot to own up to the other one – me.

I was jealous, controlling, and had the communication skills of my 19 year old self.

The story I made up failed to acknowledge the beautiful experience of being with my ex. She taught me many things that I carried forward into healthier relationships.

I learned that what I did at 19 was take a painful experience from the past, make a story about it…and let that story run my present and future.

While that realization alone was worth the price of admission, it was only half the exercise.

The distinction between information and transformation

Information is just data. I could read, watch, consume information and do nothing with it.

For transformation to happen, I had to take action.

The Forum provided the knowledge and environment for me to have radical conversations with my exes and family members. In these conversations, I acknowledged their value in my life and the responsibility I failed to take during our relationship.

It was worth it. One ex said to me…

Thank you for doing this. Everybody should do this.

I removed a lot of personal hurdles by realizing I was the one who placed them there.

Seeing myself for who I was in the past, then taking ownership for who I was, and finally closing the loop by having conversations with others I affected…I’ve never done anything like that before.

After all the self help books I read, I wouldn’t have ever gotten around to doing that without the Forum.

But that doesn’t mean Landmark was all roses.

Pros and Cons of Landmark Forum

Probably the biggest mark against Landmark is their polarizing marketing.

I initially resisted Landmark because their members often appear pushy and preachy.

LM participant: Hey you should come to Landmark. It could really help you.
Me: Who the hell are you?

After going through the Forum, I now understand why it’s easier to just tell someone to attend. It’s hard to explain all the pieces that come together during the experience:

  1. First there’s the facilitation / lectures by the Forum leader, who lectures on different topics and encourages individual sharing at the mic.
  2. Second, a lot of the concepts (rackets, winning formulas, authenticity, etc) are woven together in a tapestry that helps participants understand themselves.
  3. Third, there’s the “taking action part.” E.g. having transformative conversations, like calling my mom during break time and crying in the backseat of the car.

A lot goes on when attending a 36 hour personal development event.

Imagine trying to describe to a friend a transformative festival or travel experience you’ve had. Because the experience is so layered hard to describe, you might just end up saying “Hey trust me. Just go to Burning Man and see for yourself.”

I would’ve signed up for Landmark way earlier if people just told me their personal stories of transformation and casually mention that it happened at the Forum. I’m a curious cat.

It took my best friend telling me stories about his personal transformation that finally made me cough up the $795 to attend.

Speaking of cost…

Is Landmark worth the cost?

It’s hard to quantify the value of an experience like this, so the best I can do is provide a point of reference.

I’ve attended professional conferences that cost thousands of dollars. I didn’t get much value from it apart from some networking contacts and a few tricks of the trade. There was also no accountability needed – I could just roll into whatever sessions I was interested in, often missing a day or two of the entire conference.

Landmark is not like a business conference. Think of it as an intensive, hands-on workshop.

The experience demands that you participate, share, and dig up personal demons. It’s a lot of paradigm shifts paired with deep inner work. Sounds cheesy, but it’s really one of those “you get what you put in” type of experiences.

The Forum leader has to be a rockstar (which mine was) for hours on end for 3 days, all the while engaging individual audience members to go up to the mic and grapple with them through their personal transformation. I honestly don’t know how the facilitators do it.

Before attending Landmark, I thought the price tag was expensive. After attending, I thought it was cheap.

Fortune 500 companies like Mercedes-Benz and Lockheed Martin seem to agree. A big part of Landmark’s revenue comes from corporate training. About half a dozen management trainees from the Panda Group were at my Forum.

From an employer’s perspective, $795 is a small price to pay to onboard a new employee who’s inspired to take radical responsibility in their personal & professional lives. Can you imagine a workplace where people don’t throw each other under the bus and take ownership?

I now understand that the amount I paid for the Forum was cheap in comparison to a $20 self help book. It’s because I paid for a real experience, and that experience was lived out in completing the history with my exes, creating new possibilities with my family, and now being able to more freely create a future without being tied down by my past.

$795 is a small price to pay to become a new person.

So…is Landmark a cult?

No, it is not a cult. But Landmark can rub people the wrong way with their:

  • Aggressive person-to-person marketing. They highly encourage all participants to “enroll” their friends and family.
  • Strange terminology to describe human behavior, e.g. rackets, strong suits, acts.
  • Follow up. They will call you a lot to tell you about new programs and seminars.

Unlike a cult or pyramid scheme…

  • There is no idol to worship. The Forum leaders are inspiring, but they’re more like a hybrid between lecturer-coach-therapist.
  • No silver bullet is promised. The Forum does promise “transformational learning” vs informational learning.
  • No one gets paid for referring people to Landmark.
  • The curriculum encourages participants to take radical ownership in their own lives.

If Landmark is a cult, then it’s the only cult that sends you back to your family.

Important note: because the Forum experience is so heavily dependent on the Forum leader, that facilitator disproportionately affects the Landmark experience.

Barry Grieder was the facilitator during my Forum and he was masterful. He had amazing command of the room, endless (relevant) stories to share, and really made my experience a transformative one.

On the other hand, I’ve heard that others’ Forum experiences weren’t as great. They had facilitators that yelled at them or used scare tactics. Definitely NOT good.

Barry – if you’re reading this, thank you.

What’s next after the Forum?

I feel quite good after the Forum. I’ve had conversations and cleared up resentments and unresolved relationships I didn’t even know were buried deep inside me.

But I acknowledge that this was no silver bullet, and it’s up to me to develop the habit and practice of taking radical responsibility in my life.

The last day of the Forum focused on looking forward to create a new reality, now that we’ve learned some tools for resolving the past. It was a metaphysical discussion that led me to another realization. My stream of consciousness takeaway:

I learned that one of the biggest cons I’ve run on my own life is to be critical and judgmental of others so that I could avoid responsibility. Because the true fear is that I do take full responsibility – and then fail. Then that would mean that I’m actually a failure, a nothing.

But that fear is ludicrous, because the whole time I have been no-thing. I’m a meaning making machine that created the desire to be some-thing (and also the fear that comes along with not becoming some-thing). When I can embrace the fact that life has no meaning, then I am free to create any-thing.

Before joining the Forum, I had my reservations. Maybe it was a scam, a cult, too much money, or a classic case of “I already know that stuff.” But I’m glad I kept an open mind, and was ultimately rewarded with seeing many blindspots about myself.

The one danger I see with any personal development training is if someone adopts it like religion, which shuts out other ways of thinking. Like Bruce Lee said,

“Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own.”

I wrote this piece to share my personal experience so it could help you make up your mind about Landmark. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.

If you attended the Forum with me in Culver City from Dec 7 – 9, 2018, let’s connect! I was busy making those important calls during break and didn’t make a big enough effort to connect with you amazing individuals. I’m easy to find via my newsletter and email.

7 thoughts on “My Review of Landmark Forum (Los Angeles)”

  1. Great share. Thanks! Welcome to the slip-and-slide of Life After Landmark. Barry’s awesome, isn’t he? :-)

    We’re all born naked and totally ignorant of the world around us. People feed us and clothe us and lead us in certain directions. One day someone asks us, “Who are you?” We look in a mirror, think back over our past, and declare, “THIS is who I am… ” and start rattling off a bunch of stuff that comes from our past. It’s all inherited. We never actively CHOSE any of it. It came from our parents, our family members, our environment, etc.

    For most of us, what starts out like a plain white wall at our birth becomes something that people throw paint at as they walked through our lives. After several years, someone stopped us, pointed it out, and said, “What’s that?” and we made up a big story about how all of those blotches came to be and why, and declared, “Oh, wait … that’s ME! That’s WHO I AM!” Well, if you insist.

    We call this story we made up our “identity,” and our psyche is wired so we protect it at all costs. Without it, we feel naked and afraid, as if we’re just a newborn who knows nothing. But if you think about it, a newborn is nothing but a bundle of possibility! Nothing is set in stone yet. A newborn has NO identity; that takes years to develop.

    Our identity provides a context within which we live our lives. Whomever we say we are, it’s true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy no matter what we say.

    Landmark’s courses offer numerous ways to reflect on ourself and our life and distinguish that thing we say is “who I am”, our “identity”. Blotches of paint on a wall that people threw there as they waltzed through our life. Once we can distinguish it as a completely fictional story that was created by others, we can begin to alter it. Piece by piece.

    The Landmark Forum begins to give us the tools to make that distinction and start to work with it. But just as quickly as we distinguish something and see that separation, it collapses and we can’t see it. All the stuff that occurs as “annoying” about Landmark is simply stuff that bumps up against our identity. We can choose to experience “being annoyed”, or we can be curious about why that’s bothering us.

    After you’ve been around there a while, it becomes quite humorous to see how people are about this stuff. I mean, you just spent 3 days and an evening learning to begin distinguishing “who I am” from nothing, and then you get stopped when people call and say, “Hey, how’d you like another opportunity to distinguish that stuff in your life?”

    People say, “It’s too salesy” or “It’s a lot of pressure” or “why do they pester people so much?” while totally missing that these very conversations arise out of a collapse in their ability to distinguish their identity from Nothing.

    Imagine paying $100 for all-you-can-eat ice cream somewhere, and they call you every day or two asking, “Would you like more?”, or “How about a banana split today?” or “Can we offer you some Neapolitan Ice Cream tonight?” It would begin to sound the same, right? “Why are they so pushy?” “Why do they keep bugging me, they know I don’t like butterscotch!” Whatever the particulars might be, It’s the same mechanism at work.

    It reminds me of two scenes in the classic movie Tootsie: the first one is where Dustin Hoffman is in drag and the woman he’s got a crush on says, “Oh, I wish a man could just come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I think you’re beautiful, and I’d love to go home with you and screw your brains out!'” The later scene, Dustin Hoffman not in drag runs into the same woman at a party and says EXACTLY what she said she wished for earlier.

    You’d think she’d jump into his arms, give him a big kiss and say, “Oh, YES!”

    But no … instead, she gets offended, throws her drink in his face, and walks off in a huff.

    Landmark is like a science lab — everything that happens there is an opportunity to distinguish who/what you’re being and possibly choose something different. Just because you can.

    But how it shows up most of the time is what those Tootsie scenes demonstrated: you get exactly what you asked for, you get offended, you throw your metaphorical drink in that person’s face, and then you go off in a huff complaining about how uncaring and insensitive the people at Landmark are.

    To take the movie analogy a bit further, assisting around Landmark is like living part of your life like it’s Groundhog Day. The same stuff keeps coming up, and people keep pointing it out, and you keep reacting like that Tootsie scene. Except one day a light bulb goes off and you stop and say, “Hey, wait … I get it!” and that part of the movie stops repeating in your life. And in that moment, your life just transformed.

    Try explaining THAT to your friends! Yeah, right.

    Sometimes the Nike approach is much simpler: Just Do It!

  2. Good summary of Landmark. I’ve been attending classes with Landmark since 1993. The thing about the Forum Leaders is that they are actually all really awesome. They go through unimaginable training themselves to get to where they are. The people you talked to about their forum leaders yelling at them? That was through their lens of the past (you’ll know what I mean) . Forum leaders sometimes do raise their voices to make a point, but they are never mean. They love human beings more than anyone else on this planet. But if you are someone who has always felt the victim in life then a forum leader raising their voice may feel like a threat. But they are actually just trying to get that person to see and feel the threat in the space of the forum so they have that chance at a breakthrough. The truth is, if everyone did take 100% responsibility for their participation and really were 100% coach able then that transformation would have happened. Anyway, thank you for sharing because like you said, it’s really hard to describe the experience that is the forum!

    1. Elisheva Maline

      I am going to be attending the forum in two weeks and while I am looking forward to the experience, one of the things that had me hesitating about going for so long was the attitude of people who’ve already attended.

      Comments like this one:

      “If everyone did take 100% responsibility for their participation and really were 100% coach able then that transformation would have happened”

      are often said in a preachy fashion, with little or no compassion.

      This is my response to every single person who says this: if you want to inspire change in others, you need to think about HOW they’re going to respond to WHAT you’re saying and HOW you say it. If you want to be the person who pushes his o(r her) friend and/ or loved one to take a more honest look at themselves, ask yourself first how you can help them get to a place where they are RECEPTIVE.
      Because if they’re not, you risk creating some form of fragmentation instead of connection.

      YOU take responsibility for YOUR actions. You wana help others have breakthroughs? Talk to them, not down at them.

      Bottom line: before you say anything, ask yourself, “Am I stepping into this person’s emotional territory for his benefit or mine?”

      1. Amanda Dittlinger

        I apologize that my comment left you in a place where you felt I was preaching. It wasn’t intended for people who haven’t taken the forum, but to the original poster who had taken the forum. Where I went to college there was a quote that explained our school spirit (Texas A&M) , “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” The forum is a lot like that. Thank you for pointing out how my words landed to someone who hasn’t taken the forum, I’ll be more responsible with them. On day 1 they do ask all the participants to be willing to be coached. There is an opportunity to choose to be in the class early the first day.

        One thing I took away from the Forum is that everyone is Whole, Perfect and Complete. No need to change anyone when you are coming from that perspective. I don’t push my friends to take the forum, but I do share it as an opportunity for personal growth and development. Because I got a lot out of it and whenever people find a product or service they love they tend to want to share it.

        Congratulations on your enrollment, I doubt you’ll regret it. I’d love to hear your experience after you’ve completed the weekend.

  3. Thanks for posting Oz. I was curious about what Barry was up to, as I had been at his seminar in the fall of 2005 in Colorado. Glad to see he is still making the rounds.

    I am happy to extend the conversation further, either here or through private email.


    Eric Bodenstab

  4. Hi
    Oz Chen

    My name is Byron Costa….
    I think e s t 1977…
    I either supported my friend or assisted with my friend…. Another course I don’t recall…late 70s…
    I recently assisted this weekend at the Forum Landmark and head some breakdown s as expected….
    I’m still learning growing and developing….
    Your comments I read tonight are powerful insightful educational….
    I have had a clashing cantankerous relationship with my brother and it is painful hurtful emotional battering and difficult to have a real enjoyable brotherly love with my brother…
    At times it is painful, hurtful and distasteful to be with my brother…
    We were both abused as children… Him emotional lly and me physically and emotionally….
    I love my brother and tonight her leashed out at me because her paid for a movie and dinner for me and I criticized the movie afterwards and he scorned me…. Yelled at me and cautioned me to stay away in a sense from assisting…
    I mentioned that very educated people have participated in the forum and have been grratlg enriched by the experience….
    Thank you for sharing this….
    Byron Costa

    Po box 3573
    Seal Beach California

    Let’s form a forum gettogether….
    Monthly, discussion group, support group, or dinner and chat….
    Thank you

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