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Cathy Elliott: “You can’t see what you can’t see”

Once you’ve established that you are the only one stopping you, and you’ve got the truth told about it, the question becomes, well, what really matters to you? Just like drilling down for oil, this is about really drilling down inside yourself for what matters most to you. So, what matters to you? Why does […]

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Once you’ve established that you are the only one stopping you, and you’ve got the truth told about it, the question becomes, well, what really matters to you? Just like drilling down for oil, this is about really drilling down inside yourself for what matters most to you. So, what matters to you? Why does it matter to you? Why does that matter to you? And why does that matter to you? And so on, and so on. Drill down and drill down.
What you’ll start with is probably all kind of surface, but as you drill down you’ll get to the core of what really matters to you. Once you’ve got to that place, ask yourself: What would be the expression of that? And it might actually be what you’re already doing, and it could be something totally different.


As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathy Elliott.

Cathy Elliott is Executive of the Program Delivery Division and a Forum Leader at Landmark Worldwide (www.LandmarkWorldwide.com).


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s definitely not the career path I thought I was going to have. I invested 30 years of my life in the academic world of study, earning my Ph.D., lecturing at university, and working in the field of geology. I was very successful in the work I’d done, including being the first woman to work on the offshore oil rigs in Australia. I thought that was my going to be my future — but there was nothing that really fulfilled me about it. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it, and I was good at it. I had a lot of what looked like success, but it wasn’t fulfilling.

I even found myself thinking about what else I should do, like, oh, maybe I should be a naturopath. Then the Rwanda massacre happened, I remember saying to my parents, “I’m going to Rwanda.” You can imagine their reaction. I thought maybe I wanted to be a vet there. I had just earned this great acknowledgment for a Ph.D. in geology, then I arrived in Rwanda wanting to be a vet with no qualifications whatsoever. In the end, I changed back to geology because I didn’t like cutting up animals — but all of it was just an expression of wanting to make a difference, and then realizing I wasn’t making the difference I wanted to make.

In 1995 I did The Landmark Forum, and I was profoundly impacted. There were around 150 people there from every different walk of life. A lot of very successful people and some who were struggling. Some of them were excited to be there and some really didn’t want to be there — they were stuck. People you would’ve thought were never going to change. They had issues with their parents, their work, their relationships. And so did I, by the way. However, everyone in that room, including myself, walked out as a new kind of person.

It was like, yes, the past was there, but for the first time in my life it wasn’t impacting or dictating my future. And I also saw that with the other 150 people there, all over the course of three days. I remember thinking to myself in that moment, “Wow, this Landmark thing is amazing. What they do is phenomenal. Everybody should do this.” At that time, though, my thoughts were specifically about Landmark’s work reaching everybody; I never thought for a moment I would be somebody who would be able to help accomplish that. All I knew was that what I saw in that room was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and my life altered from that moment on — permanently.

The Forum made a huge difference in my effectiveness. I went from wanting to start a consulting business to being somebody who actually made that happen. Landmark is the vehicle for why I’m here.

Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.

It didn’t look dark to the outside world. I got the top mark in my year with honors, then I went on as the first woman to work on the offshore oil rigs. After seven years in the oil industry, I went back and did my Ph.D. And, you know, my thesis got tremendous reviews. I didn’t have to do one correction to it — which is totally unheard of. So, I should have been on top of the world, but I knew after doing that Ph.D. that I didn’t really didn’t want to go back to the conventional oil industry.

As I said, I wanted to have my own consulting business — where I could use my expertise in gold minerals, or even water in arid places. But I was working for another organization — a small outfit up in the mountains doing normal geological work on a mine, a drilling exploration site. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I justified it. When it came to starting my own company, my own consulting business, it was all just self-doubt, self-doubt, self-doubt. “Who am I to do that?” I thought. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I didn’t have enough confidence to start my own business. It didn’t matter that I had all those qualifications; I was somebody who doubted herself while being very qualified. On the outside, I looked like a super-confident person who was successful in basically everything I did because I had three things going for me: I was pretty smart, I was a hard worker, and I was athletic. But none of that had anything to do with my sense of fulfillment or self-confidence.

Even when I finally went ahead and started my consulting business, it wasn’t successful because I was completely hamstrung by my constant fear of not being good enough. The entire time, I was plagued by these feelings: “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. If only they knew I was lazy.” It was kind of ridiculous, but that’s what was there the whole time: self-doubt, self-doubt, self-doubt. No matter what I accomplished, no matter what I won, it was never enough. And it was never fulfilling or satisfying. It was like a short-term “yay” — like when I got the letter that said I didn’t even need to do one correction for my Ph.D., I literally got, I reckon, five minutes of “yay.” Then immediately, the plague, the lack of self-confidence, was right there behind that accomplishment.

Those were the toughest times to me, especially the more educated I got and the more accomplished I got — without the confidence to succeed at what I really wanted to do. It was, quite frankly, a miserable time, and nobody knew I was feeling that.

What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?

I’m driven. That was always my thing; I just didn’t stop. I was somebody that if you put a barrier in front of me, I would find a way to get through it and work it out, because that’s just what I did — but I was miserable in the meantime. And right behind all of that was the constant terror that people would find out I’m not as good as they think I am — that somehow I’ve snuck through, somehow I’ve got to this place and I don’t deserve it. If only they knew.

If you have to keep protecting that image while believing you don’t deserve it, it’s a really exhausting life. You can never let your guard down. And another downside was that I paid no real attention to my relationships at all. I didn’t care about my relationships. I didn’t care about how I left people. I had to make sure that I won at all costs, which sounds pretty disgusting as I say it. But listen, that’s what happens when you’ve got that much fear behind you. And I was married, but my attention wasn’t on my husband; it was just on me and my success.

Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?

It was The Forum. And really, it was this one person — Malcolm Jack — who made The Landmark Forum available to me. I had heard about it for 10 years before I did it, but I didn’t pay any attention. I was even invited to participate, but I was arrogant. I thought, “I’m fine. I don’t need anything.” For 10 years, I just didn’t do anything about it. But the big turning point for me was on this particular drilling rig in the mountains. And I was talking to Malcolm, who was one of the investors, and he asked me to tell him about why I wanted to start a consulting business.

I was just so excited and so passionate about what I had discovered, and what it could make available to others. And then at the end of it, he said, ”Well, why aren’t you doing that?” And I gave him all these really pathetic reasons to justify why I wasn’t doing it. And at the end of it he said to me, “Look, you should do The Landmark Forum because that’ll let you go where you want to go a hundred times faster. You’ve got a huge contribution to make that you’re not making, and you’re in your own way.” And in that moment, I knew I should do it. I really did.

This was somebody I didn’t really know, who stood for what was possible for me when I couldn’t stand for what was possible for myself. And I will never get over that. He’s what made that difference, his standing for me doing this. And so I did.

Based on your experience, can you share three actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Rather than giving someone else advice — because it’s really about discovery — how about some questions that will help people arrive at their own answers?

  1. You’ve got to get straight with yourself about what it is that’s not working for you — and it can’t be something outside of you. So, what is it? What is it that doesn’t work for you?
  2. Stand for what matters to you, and the kind of balance you want. Deal with the impact of that, including setting up people’s expectations of you. And that’s risky! It’s easier to sit back and complain than be willing to step into the risk of setting your life up to be how you’d like it to be.
    That’s what I had to deal with. I had all sorts of justifications. The whole thing was really about not wanting to take the risk because, what if I fail? What happens if I don’t look good? What happens if I’m not a success? It was easier to justify not doing, and explaining why I wasn’t doing it, than it was to step into the risk.
    So the first thing to deal with is, what are you justifying? What are the reasons you’re using to justify not doing what you want to do? Start to confront them as justifications. As long as you’re going to those justifications, you never have to take the risk of stepping doing what you really want to do.
    You’ve got to be willing. It may not be easy, but be willing to look at yourself and go, “Okay, let’s get the truth told here. I’m justifying with this and this and this, but really what it’s about is I don’t want to…” what? Not look good? Possibly fail? Be badly thought of by family or peers? What are those justifications for you? Nothing outside of you is stopping you; you’re stopping yourself.
    That’s the thing about Landmark’s programs — they’re about who you are being (about ontology) in whatever situation you’re dealing with. Not about what you know (epistemology). Unfortunately, what you know doesn’t really make much difference in areas where you’re stopped.
  3. Once you’ve established that you are the only one stopping you, and you’ve got the truth told about it, the question becomes, well, what really matters to you? Just like drilling down for oil, this is about really drilling down inside yourself for what matters most to you. So, what matters to you? Why does it matter to you? Why does that matter to you? And why does that matter to you? And so on, and so on. Drill down and drill down.
    What you’ll start with is probably all kind of surface, but as you drill down you’ll get to the core of what really matters to you. Once you’ve got to that place, ask yourself: What would be the expression of that? And it might actually be what you’re already doing, and it could be something totally different.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It was Malcolm Jack, the man who told me about The Landmark Forum. He made a huge impact on my life by standing for me when I didn’t feel able to stand for myself.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

What I’m working on now is developing all of Landmark’s programs to be delivered online, so that people who otherwise would have no access to them, can have access to them. We have already had millions of people participate in The Landmark Forum, but not everybody is able to travel. Not everyone lives close to a location where they could take Landmark courses in person. So I’m so excited that our work is going to be even more widely available.

This means that the kind of breakthroughs I had — that everybody in that room had — will now accessible to anyone via a virtual connection. I’ve been leading The Landmark Forum for others for 20 years now, and it has always been something where you’ve had to be there in person. Now this work will be available to everybody.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My vision is that we can make Landmark programs accessible for everybody in the world who chooses to do them. I want to make new possibilities available for anyone who wants them.

Every person can have the opportunity to create their life and make the kind of contribution that leaves them fulfilled and satisfied in whatever expression that’s going to be. It might be regarding their family. It might be some aspect of their career. It might be something to do with the environment. Whatever it is for each unique person, I want everybody to have the access to fulfill on what really matters to them.

Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?

Have the courage to be somebody who’s willing to step into the risk of life. And you know what? You may fail. But if you’re willing to step back out again and learn from where you’ve failed at, there will be a point where you succeed.

Be willing to be in the risk of life. Be vulnerable in a relationship. Decide to get something complete or start a new career. And don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you can do it all by yourself.

You can’t see what you can’t see, and you need a coach to be able to point you to something you will never be able to see on your own. Be coachable — and very few people are coachable. Don’t cherry pick the bits that fit into your already existing worldview; those are the bits that aren’t useful. The bits of coaching that are useful are the ones that don’t make sense to you, the ones that trigger you, the ones that may threaten your current worldview and your current paradigm of thinking. If you want to have a different kind of life and a different kind of future, you can’t do more of what you’re already doing.

Good coaching doesn’t tell you what to do. Good coaching creates the questions and allows you to see for yourself what to do. Look for a coach who is going to ask the right questions — and that’s what The Landmark Forum does. That’s part of why it’s so distinct.

There are a lot of courses out there that motivate you. There are a lot of courses out there that give you information on how to be better at what you’re already doing. I had read all the books. I had a bookshelf full of how to be more effective, how to be better — but all that just added more knowledge to what I was already doing, the world I was already living in, and the way I was already being.

The profound difference in what Landmark did is it gave me the ability to introspectively look at myself, and it was a very non-confrontational opportunity. I only spoke twice during the entire three days, but every time somebody else spoke, I saw something for myself about my life.

So in this very non-confrontational way, I had the opportunity to really look and take stock of who I’d been being in my life — like being fearful, being not good enough, being forceful. I saw that it wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was being that had me do what I was doing.

You discover that there are ways that you’re being, and that you’ve had no idea — that you literally don’t know that you don’t know. You have no access to it. The Forum allows you access to something you’ve never been able to see. It’s a bit like, if you put on a pair of dark glasses and you keep them on long enough, pretty soon that’s just the way the world looks — just whatever life looks like through those glasses. And you don’t even notice you are wearing glasses; it’s just how life is.

But if you take those glasses off, suddenly the world looks different. The Forum allows you to discover you are wearing different glasses that are shaping and coloring the way your parents are, the way your success is, the way your partner is, the way your children are. And we have no idea how pervasive that is. You thought that was just the way they are. But when you can see those filters as filters, you can take them off and see them for what they are — filters that basically got created when you were a child and now shape and color the way you see the world — all of a sudden what opens up is a new possibility for how you can now be in that relationship, be with your career, be with risk, be with failure. And you are left with a whole different opportunity to create your life and your future and your relationships with you as the creator of it, not just what you get living out life automatically from the past.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook — @LandmarkForum

Twitter — @LandmarkForum

YouTube — www.youtube.com/c/landmarkforum

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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