Ok fine… so it isn’t really a cult. But what do you know about lululemon?
For some people it is an addiction, an obsession, a case of branding so seamless that even the thought of it can make you close your eyes and suddenly you are enveloped in world of wonder (of possibly good and bad).
If that isn’t you, you most likely have never worked for lululemon. For everyone else, this is probably what you know about lululemon:
*They make absurdly expensive yoga pants.
*These absurdly expensive yoga pants make even the most obese of women’s butts look like two peaches hugging.
*A short while ago, these yoga pants were accidentally made sheer-ish.
*The possibility of sheer yoga pants is the only reason a lot of men now go to yoga class (or the reason men now peer into the windows of workout class).
*Their stores are typically full of hot women in tight yoga pants (pants that may or may not be sheer!!).
I used to be one of these women in tight black pants… I once managed a lululemon store. And I have realized in hindsight that the experience has taken years to come into focus after what seemed like a blurry haze of a certain time period in my life.
I recently had the opportunity to meet tons of young female professionals, one of which currently works for lululemon. Upon finding out that I used to work for lululemon, she asked me the following: “Well are you glad to be out? I find a lot of people are so thrilled when they leave.”
For most people who work for lululemon, the thought of leaving is like thinking of leaving Mormonism; you will probably be shot down by some terrible lightning bolt from the sky… not to mention your butt will for some cosmically unknown reason no longer look like two peaches hugging in your tight black pants. This wonderful young woman I met might have been trying to be nice (for which I am utterly thankful… because the conversation with people still working with lululemon can sometimes be awkward)… or maybe she was serious. But it made me think quickly about what I really thought about the entire experience. Usually when we are asked such pointed questions about a really complicated situation (which is how I used to think about my time at lululemon), our immediate thought is often the most honest and most correct… and this conversation was no exception. And this is what I told her:
Lululemon was good for that stage of my life. But I wouldn’t go back. It brought some really great things to my life that I carry with me to this day, but again… I wouldn’t go back.
Here is a very truncated version of the journey I took… the two most important things I learned from lululemon… and why they are also the reason I left the company.
One good thing I can say about lululemon is that they are generous with their people… and they are generous with the communities around them. Lululemon believes very strongly in the assertions of a group called “landmark.” I was lucky that the people at lululemon sent me to landmark really early on in my time with them. Some people believe landmark is a cult, and some people believe that lululemon is a cult. If you would like to research either, I will let you make your own opinions on that subject. But Landmark is definitely one of the reasons lululemon can seem cultish.
So what is Landmark? To give the short answer… it is a three day intensive workshop (literally from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fri, Sat, Sun) where you are asked to look at why you aren’t achieving what you want in life… and they tell you that it is largely your fault (or at least the construct you have of yourself in your mind which has been formed over the years by your experiences both good and bad). It brings up quite a few topics on the way to the ultimate end point of “I can make my life anything I want, because the construct I have created of myself isn’t real (which is totally true)”… one of which is:
1. “Personal Responsibility”- which is actually super important. It is a large idea that to put simply means you are responsible for all things in your life because of the decisions you make. Were you late to work because you missed the bus? Nope… it is because you didn’t get up early enough, or you spent too long making toast. But you made that choice. Hate where you are in life? That is probably because somewhere along the way you made choices that weren’t the best. But the idea is not to dwell on it. The idea is to learn from it, learn that those bad decisions don’t define you, and to go forward armed with new knowledge. This concept from a personal perspective is actually very true and very important if you want to be really successful in both your personal and professional life. It is a no excuses and take no prisoners kind of philosophy… but the times when I have really employed it I have seen some amazing results.
The other aspect that is discussed briefly at landmark but is a cornerstone of lululemon is:
2. “Living a life of possibility.” This concept is fairly straight-forward. Whenever an opportunity comes up… do you think about it from the perspective of why it won’t work… or why it will work? It needs to be the latter. It is the idea that if you put a thought out into the universe and put in the hard work associated with it… that it will happen. This shit is for real. It is almost scary how well this works. Come at anything from a positive perspective, set goals, do the legwork… and watch it happen. That is how I got my job managing for them in the first place. It is also a huge part about how I transitioned out of lululemon and found an amazing opportunity just six weeks later working for an even more amazing company in a terrifying economy. Don’t believe me? Try it.
So how did personal responsibility, and living a life of possibility, two seemingly amazing things, play a part in my leaving lululemon?
Personal responsibility is amazing in the professional setting because it really allows for your teams to trust that you will do what you say you will (that is a very short answer… but it will have to do). However, from the stance of decision making in the personal realm in regards to your professional life choices… personal responsibility also absolves the company of any responsibility in your success or failure. Is the company taking responsibility for any of it’s actions, or just blaming the failure on your leadership? If a company makes the decision to open a year round shop in an extremely seasonal community that is really tough, and you try your hardest to succeed by the standards set before you and can’t… is it your fault as a leader? When you ask for help and the two most common responses are: “I don’t know, you tell me” and “I don’t know what to say… you do have a really tough community”… is that is my lack of personal responsibility or a point to where upper leadership is copping out? I will leave that for you to consider. I shockingly, don’t have an opinion on the subject. I am just so glad to be out of it. Regardless, it is super strategic move on the part of Human Resources. You will pretty much be given the choice of being fired by HR, or you can fire yourself.
One funny point: I had the honor of spending several meals with the founder of the company throughout my employment, and the first time I met him and told him which shop I would be managing…. His immediate response was: “Oh, so what are we doing there?” I somehow took it in stride and immediately responded with “Well Sir, we are starting over.” An expression of foreshadowing or not, his statement made it clear that I was not the first to take on an untamable beast and fail quite miserably.
Living a life of possibility is amazing because it means there are no bounds. It is true that if you put something out into the world and work hard… that the universe will make it happen for you. However, living a life of possibility will make you question if you are “settling” all the time. And yes, I am talking about your personal life. I think people can sometimes get lost in a breakdown, a moment of unhappiness over something that isn’t working, and choose to say that it ‘wasn’t the right personal choice.’ Perhaps in reality… maybe we just needed to exercise patience and put it out into the universe that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and work harder/communicate more to see that light. This isn’t necessarily applicable to my situation, but I have tons of friends involved with lululemon who have gone through this pain in their personal relationships. In the midst of a breakdown in communication (which happens in all relationships at some point), they chose to side with the company’s thinking and move forward… leaving their loves behind. And when they finally leave lululemon, the veil is lifted… and they realize that their love has been there through it all… even if now they are just friends. Some get back together and some don’t… for those of you in that place… I wish you the best.
When I left, my boss told me over the phone: “lululemon thanks you for your contribution,” which was vague and not connected. It eventually made me ask the question, exactly what did I contribute to a beast that no longer remembers me? Here are a few things:
I am the reason that cool racerbacks went up to $42 from $39. To consumers… I am sorry. For lululemon’s profit… you’re welcome.
I also coined the name Escape to Yoga Island… an event that lululemon ran for a couple of years in New York.
But my only meaningful contribution to lululemon came about a year after I left the company, when one of my friends/former teammates called me during her landmark (you are asked to call people on your breaks to connect with them over various things). She simply called to say thank you for believing in her and giving her the chance to grow into a leader… because she had continued to grow with the company. Despite that there wasn’t any crying or earth shattering revelations (which these calls can sometimes produce), she was someone who was always genuine… and her very small gesture meant that my time with lululemon hadn’t been just a growing experience for me… it had also been a growing experience for someone else. And that is enough for me.
Cult or not… the truth is that lululemon won’t be with you forever. But some of their teachings/ideas/motivational tools will. One day you will leave, and you will be left to take the pieces you want from it… and leave what you don’t. lululemon advocates for throwing your whole self in… which I still agree with. My only advice is to be good to those who will be there when you leave. Because nothing is permanent… except for the true love of family and friends. Namaste bitches!