We’d recently visited bankruptcy lawyers to understand how the process worked because we felt Westbeach was on the verge of collapse. We had been in snowboarding for only a short time, but like surf and skate before it, product supply was overtaking demand and prices were dropping.
I wanted to get out before snowboarding became a commodity business. Sports stores now had negotiating power and were making the brands pay more of their shipping, warehousing and marketing costs. We couldn’t continue to fund the wholesale model, and financial pressure was closing in on all sides. How much I had learned to hate wholesaling!
My partner Richard also wanted to settle down, focus on a home, and build a family. He wanted to work shorter days, maybe six or eight hours, whereas I wanted to work double that, at least. Richard and I were not working well together. A huge part of that was our inability to communicate effectively. In survival mode, I defaulted to a command-and-control, “Team of One” style of operating, while Richard reverted to deception, and Scott reverted to being non-committal.
We all had our “Acts” in full bloom.
A Landmark Moment
For as long as I’d known him, Richard had been taking classes and courses in transformational development. My perception was that the lessons he learned were mostly fleeting, but in early 1990, he came into work super excited about a weekend workshop he’d taken called the Landmark Forum. I found out this was a business that had evolved massively since its original inception as Erhard Seminars Training (EST).
Over the next couple of weeks, both Scott and I noticed a massive improvement in Richard’s state of mind and integrity. Richard attributed it all to his experience at Landmark and asked us to take the course ourselves. We all wanted to improve things at Westbeach, that much was clear, so Scott and I signed up to do the course together.
To illustrate more about Landmark, I’ll give you an example from when I took the course. There was a woman who was about 40 years old and had been raised in a union family. She told us how her father came home every day and complained about the union bosses, how the workers like him did all the work while the bosses got all the money.
This had formed the story and the context for how this woman had viewed her life since her childhood. She told us how she’d gone to university, entered the workplace, got a good job, and a promotion. She’d reached a point where she was making $100,000 a year in a leadership position, but she was still haunted by her father’s attitude.
Her father had hated management, leaders, bosses – anyone making $100,000 a year who he’d call a corporate bum. So, subconsciously this woman found she was constantly undermining herself. She would succeed, get a raise to $100,000 a year, then quit because she just couldn’t handle being the per- son her father had always hated.
At Landmark, this woman was introduced to the possibility of imagining amnesia. What if she had no memory of her past, of anything her father had said about bosses and management? If that was the case, this woman, with all her knowledge, ability, and education, could and would feel powerful to go beyond her father’s barrier.
The only person who’d been undermining her happiness was her, and she was doing so based on a disempowering story she’d told herself. If free from her story of her father, there was nothing she couldn’t do.
Landmark helped me understand how my past had been exerting control over my present. I realized that I constantly constructed stories based on past experiences to make sense of my interpretation of other people’s actions and behaviours. What I had failed to recognize was the fictional nature of the stories themselves. Even as I write this book, I often consider what stories I have created and what is fact.
I got to understand that what were just my best guesses had become facts in my mind. I based the course of my life on these guesses, believing them to be absolute truths. As stories accumulated over the years, they constrained me more and more.
The Landmark Forum was a huge awakening. I thought of all the things my dad had said, based on his visits to EST and the Esalen Institute in the ’70s, that I had dismissed without even considering. I heard for the first time what he’d been trying to tell me.
The course was transformational because it opened up 70 percent of my brain that was clogged with unnecessary thoughts. The Landmark course was really no different than shutting down a slow hard drive to clean viruses and rearrange information.
I also got clear that I was going to die someday, and I was tired of fine life. I wanted an extraordinary life.
The “viruses” in my brain were:
- managing lies I have told, so I don’t get caught
- repetitive complaining
- not taking responsibility for my actions (e.g., selling a lemon of a car)
- acting inauthentic so I “looked good” to others (e.g., pretending to be what I was not)
- spending brain power doing what parents, friends, or society think I “should” do
- consistently using the words “wish,” “should,” or “try,” and skirting responsibility instead of taking action
- creating excuses for not doing what I say I will do (e.g., showing up on time)
- letting my past experiences limit my future choices (e.g., my purple shirt experience)
- not forgiving people for what I think they have done to me
In my observation of thousands of people who have taken the Landmark Forum, the number one issue inhibiting people from living an extraordinary life is their inability to forgive their parents for the lousy job they did raising them. I mostly observed that people’s interpretation of what occurred in their childhood and what actually happened was not the same. I have an odd theory that nature creates this weird human condition in order to cause enough friction to get adult children out of the house.
The course opened my life to a bigger purpose. In the words of Werner Erhard – the man who founded EST – I learned what “making a difference in the world” meant. Landmark helped me understand my life could be less about me and more about inspiring people to know their own magnificence. As you might imagine, my context for living in the world changed dramatically.
Since we’d all taken the course, Richard, Scott, and I suddenly had a powerful new language to help us communicate. The Landmark concepts gave us a common language and understanding of what we wanted for our lives and our business.
I became committed to doing and completing everything that came out of my mouth. I wanted people to count on me. If I said I would do something, I had to do it, do it on time, and do it in a quality manner. If something went wrong, either I could blame other people for the problem, or I could take responsibility for it. Only when I took responsibility would I have the means to fix the problem.
Looking at the past, I saw that my youth was a regimented life of eight swimming practices a week for 17 years. When I quit swimming, I remember saying to myself, “I am never showing up on time, anywhere, for the rest of my life.” For instance, I would tell people I would come to dinner at 7:00 p.m. or meet someone at 10:00 a.m., but I had no internal commitment to do what I had agreed to. I was always late. About three years later, I noticed no one was calling me, and my friends had all but disappeared.
I had learned that I was out of integrity, no one could count on me, and consequently, people stopped asking me to make plans. When I got clear that I was responsible, I also knew I could take action. I talked to all my former friends, apologized, and said I understood I had messed up and upset them. I then asked what I could do to put myself back in integrity. The answers were mostly muted, so I just committed to showing up on time. It took me three years to re-establish my reputation as someone who could be counted on.
“To this very day, I will say Landmark saved Westbeach,” says Scott. “Suddenly, regardless of whether you like somebody or not, you recognize you’re on the same team, and you start working together. Landmark helped us to communicate and to redirect our focus from our problems to solutions.”
We asked other people at Westbeach to attend the Landmark Forum. This was a hard thing to ask, because Westbeach, by this point, was a mature company, meaning it was difficult to alter the culture and sense of identity that had formed. Employees who’d been around for a while weren’t interested in improving themselves. We found our employees were more interested in spending $500 on a jacket than exponentially developing their brains.
To an outsider, Landmark wasn’t tangible. It wasn’t something they could touch, and, in fairness, it seemed a little cultish to people who hadn’t taken the course. We couldn’t afford to send our employees, either, so if they attended the Forum, they would have had to pay out-of-pocket. In the 2000s, Oprah had a Vancouver man called Eckhart Tolle on her show to discuss his book The Power of Now. I have often theorized that Mr. Tolle attended the Landmark Forum and then wrote a book about the course.
Still, it gave me the idea of working the Forum into the very beginning stages of a company, before closed-minded maturity could set in, and before employees would be happy with mediocre lives and a mediocre company that was just “fine.” And this was exactly what I would do with lululemon. Ultimately, Landmark helped us work together to set Westbeach up to be sold.
If we hadn’t done the course, we would have self-destructed, and I would never have had the money I used to start lululemon.
All my working and business travel led my wife and I to divorce. Sadly, for almost four years after- wards, it seemed like I saw my children very little; however, it’s possible that I actually saw my boys more than most other working fathers because I had to schedule and prioritize my time to be with my sons. However, out of necessity, I had to travel for the business I was in – I had to make money to afford alimony payments and keep both households afloat.
The boys were too young to understand what was going on. Within a few years, they had figured out their family was different. It seemed to cause a lot of confusion. JJ especially had difficulty with the transition as he always wanted our family to be together.
I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy separation or divorce – some go slightly better than others perhaps. After my ex-wife and I did the Landmark course, we had the communication tools to put the past behind us and to make our boys our number one priority.