Connie Larkin, the woman responsible for bringing Landmark Education’s programs to Romania was recently interviewed at length by Alice Nastase of Tango Magazine, a leading women’s magazine in Romania. Excerpts follow here in three parts.
Connie Larkin: ‘It’s essential to honour your word’
Connie Larkin is the president of the ‘Landmark Forum’ self-knowledge and personal development foundation, an organisation with the purpose of bringing the courses of an international education corporation to our country. A couple of thousands of people, who in their wish to achieve the way to personal development and self-perfection, have already met this self-willed, intelligent, powerful, delicate woman.
Tango: You have an unusual life story. Please, tell me, how did you manage to leave the country in the era of communism?
C.L.: In 1978, at the age of 24, I made an agreement with a boy of the same age, who was a Jew and who had a passport to leave the country, but didn’t have the money to pay the taxes, you know: the taxes about education, the house, etc. So I offered to pay his debts in exchange for a bogus marriage. In 1978, on the 12th of July, I made it to Israel with 20 $ sewn in the lining of my jeans. I arrived in Israel, where after 3 days I automatically received Israeli citizenship. After 6 moths I spoke with a lawyer and explained that this marriage was a sham and the marriage was cancelled, not being recognised by the Israeli state.
Tango: What were your reasons for leaving the country?
C.L.: After I graduated from secondary school, I wanted to go to a university and become a journalist. But I realised that becoming a journalist during Ceausescu’s regime, I would never have true self expression, in the way of editing, in the way of communication and of the input towards society, because all was coordinated and controlled. So I chose to do something that will provide me with money and also the freedom of thinking for myself. I managed, with the help of my father’s connections, to get one of the eight positions available for that year as a hotel receptionist at the tourism school of the Tourism Ministry. I graduated from the Tourism School six months later and became a receptionist. When I started to work I realised that there was a big difference between us, as Romanians, and the people from abroad. They were free and I realised that everything I wanted was to be free and nobody has the right to prevent that, not even a leader of a country.
Tango: what happened in Israel:
C.L.: In Israel, I suddenly found myself at the airport with $20 as all my money and without knowing anybody. When I arrived at the immigration bureau I was asked where I wanted to go, if I don’t want to go to my husband. I told them no, because he was doing national service with the army in any case. And I asked them to send me to a kibbutz. I had no idea what a kibbutz meant, all I knew was that there I would have something to eat and a place to sleep. Now I know what a fantastic place a kibbutz is.
Tango: In what language did you speak to them?
C.L.: In English. During 6 moths I learned Hebrew. It was one of the hardest and most beautiful experiences of my life. I worked hard for months. That pulse of work was absolutely purifying. I became, in one year, an independent guide in the Middle East. But even though I was progressing, I was 28 and looking fantastic, I was free and I hand money, I was somehow constrained in my soul and I couldn’t enjoy those things. Above all, I had a totally Jewish name and I concealed that I was a Christian.
Tango: Did you understand where this unhappiness was coming from and what was happening to you?
C.L.: I didn’t understand, I didn’t realise what was going on with me. The only thing that possessed me was that I was 28 years old and I didn’t have a family, and it was unlikely that I would do so in Israel, not being Jewish. I wasn’t married and I considered that I wouldn’t be fulfilled in business until I had a family and I had a profound dissatisfaction which I hid very well.
Tango: When did you understand this?
C.L.: I understood that I had this dissatisfaction by chance. I had a friend who I met often at work, and every time we saw each other, we always said: ‘We really need to go together for a cup of coffee.’ And so a few years passed saying this, until one day he told me: ‘Let’s meet on Saturday! If you want to meet I’ll come from Jerusalem’ (about 45 km from Tel Aviv).
On that Saturday, I left the house to meet him, but he didn’t come. I don’t know if you have ever had the experience that somebody didn’t come to a date. You have the impression that everybody is watching you and you feel embarrassed. If you have some bad opinions about yourself, then you have a paralysing experience. I waited and I waited, then, to “save myself” I followed a group of people that were passing by, and I guessed that they were going to a museum (there where a lot of museums in that area). I entered a very beautiful building, which wasn’t a museum at all and I saw a lot of people. I was asked to fill a form and I was glad that I didn’t have to pay any money. I entered in a large hall with other 471 people (as I found out later) and I was expecting to hear a boring conference about religion, politics or art. I sat strategically near the door, by the corridor, so that I could leave without disturbing anybody in case I couldn’t stand the conversation and wanted to leave.
They closed the doors and a guy showed up, impeccably dressed, who got onto the stage and when he started to speak, I had a shock. He was talking in a surprisingly clear and simple way and about something I wanted to talk about, and I even did, but I have never heard anyone speaking so clearly and simply. Although his speech was extraordinary and I understood everything, the message I got, over and over, was only one: maybe it’s not too late, at 28 years old, to fulfil my two dreams, about which (I noticed during the leader’s speech) I was resigned. What were the dreams? To have a family and to have a business. And I started to think that maybe it’s not late for me either.
Tango: How should it be, in the beginning, that man of your dreams?
C.L.: The man I dreamed about as a teenager had to be handsome and tall, like Gregory Peck. But, in the meantime (and I noticed that all the time in the leader’s speech) the portrait was modified: could be anyway, even with a little belly, bald (sorry) a widower, with three children, because in that way I could fulfil my second dream. The speech of that leader was an astonishing revelation for me. At one moment, he said: “If you see something possible for you and for your life through your participation in the course (I didn’t realise that I wanted the course, but when he said it, I figured it out that for the fulfilment of my dream I had to do it) we will take a short break, so you can register.”
In the moment he said: “we will take a short break, so you can register” I came down from that pink cloud where I was beginning to believe, and I said to myself: ‘How can you promise self confidence to someone? How can you promise a family to someone? How can you promise the fulfilment of some dreams and then ask for money to someone?”
Suddenly I had made judgment that there was something in what he has promised that made me cringe, because I couldn’t see how you can buy self-trust and the potential or the capacity for fulfilment of your dreams by participating in a three and a half day course.
Tango: Maybe, in fact, we are too lacking in confidence in ourselves and resigned? Maybe that man will, in the end, keep his promise?
C.L.: He was promising that if you participate in that course, you will accomplish those things that you wish to do in life. He made me believe, but at the moment when he spoke about money, I realised that it could only be a hoax, a trick. Although I stopped listening to him, I heard some words: “If you see something is possible for you and for your life and you want to participate in this course and something stops you, look what stops you, because if you see what stops you, you will see what stops you in your life whenever you don’t have what you desire, whenever you don’t reach your full potential in your life.’ Of course I began to search desperately for what was stopping me in what I wanted for my life. Really I wanted to know what was stopping me from being happy and fulfilled. If I was going to find out in that evening, it was no longer necessary to register and to pay, and that would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?
Tango: And have you made it?
C.L.: No, I was unbelievably frustrated that, in spite of my efforts, I couldn’t see what was stopping me, and it could be fantastic to find out. And when the leader continued and said: ‘If you see something possible for you and for your life and you want to participate in this course and something is stopping you, but you don’t know what is…’, suddenly the hall was completely silence that you couldn’t hear a fly. In that moment I realised that in fact nobody in the hall knew what was stopping them. The he said: ‘listen to the voice in your head’. After a short break, during which I couldn’t hear anything in my head, he said: ‘And if you don’t know what voice, well, it’s the one that is saying to you <
Reviewing then my dialogue with myself, I had a moment of complete illumination. I said: ‘I want a family, I want a business, but this is a swindler’. When I said to myself that I had no idea if he is or is not, the first doubt disappeared. I said: ‘I want a family and a business, but this course costs a lot of money.’ Yes, a lot of money was asked for participation, and I asked myself: ‘How much am I supposed to pay for the fulfilment of my dreams?’ I saw that I could pay for that and for everything I was working on or doing because it was for me, to be fulfilled, to make my dreams come true. When I saw that, the second doubt disappeared. I said: ‘I want a family and a business, but what if it doesn’t work? But if it does? Can I take the risk and do not take part? I’ll never know until I participate. And then, how am I supposed to discover the thing I am expecting to work? How could I recognise it?’ I saw that if that I only got 1% of the benefit of taking part, or even if it didn’t work at all, it was not worthwhile to loose the chance if it could work. I saw that I was willing to take the risk and take part only because I wanted to, whether it worked or not. I was saying: ‘I want a family and a business, but if I register, (that is a chance) and it doesn’t work, the people will laugh at you, because you’re a looser.’ Then I saw that so as not to be a looser and so as not to be laughed at to my face, I was able to pass up this opportunity. I saw that ‘to look good’ is very important for me, and I saw how much of my freedom was restricted only by the fear of being criticised and judged by other people.
I saw that my life is a gift, that I deserve to live it to the full and completely and I was not doing so, because I was afraid that people would criticise me. As we say in our courses, if I had continued that way, ‘She didn’t live fully, she didn’t have self expression, but she looked very well!’ would be written on my grave when I died. How pathetic! This was the most powerful obstacle in my life until then. I stood up, almost burst past the people near me, went to a table and registered. Even now I remember – because it was a vivid experience – the incredible inner peace and quietness that I had in my mind when I reached the table to register. Yes, I saw what was stopping me: the conversation from my mind why I can’t be, what I can’t do, and what I can’t have. Since then I gave up excuses and took action for what can I be, what can I do and what can I have, and I can do anything. I took part in this basic course in August 1983. No more that two years later I created a business in Italy, without being married, without being Jewish, without having capital. The launch evening of this business was in held in the San Remo casino, with 300 guests, journalists, representatives of Israel and Italy, all at the expense of the City Council of San Remo. Eleven Italian newspapers wrote about my project. Within two years I got married and gave birth to my daughter in Milan. I married for love and made no concessions.
Tango: Do each of us have this in us?
C.L.: One of the things that I have learned in this work is that I can’t speak for other people. I always speak for myself. I had all the potential, I had all that I needed, I just didn’t know what was stopping me. The course didn’t make me wiser, I just found out how to apply what I knew. In my experience from working with thousands of people who take part in our courses from then until now, I saw that the same thing was stopping them too.
(Continued in Landmark Education in Romania, Part Two)