The truth about lululemon…By
I worked for lululemon for just under three years, from 2007 to 2010, and even as I write this I can count 5 pieces of lululemon clothing I am wearing at this moment. I wanted to share my story because this company has made a profound impact on the person I am today.
Rumors have always circulated around this yoga apparel company as a cult, brainwashing their employees and sending them to the landmark forum to become robots and work their lives away making little in return. Lawsuits have been springing up left and right over not getting paid for working overtime and now a lululemon employee is the prime suspect for the murder of one of her co-workers at the Bethesda store (http://www.slate.com/id/2289013/). But, there are two sides to this story and I have seen and been on both…
One side is all true: lululemon has a vision to “Elevate the World from Mediocrity to Greatness” and their mission is to “Create Components for People to Live Longer, Healthier, More Fun Lives.” This seems odd to a good majority of people considering they are a retail clothing store. Since I was a thirsty horse in the realm of personal development, I quit my job at as as an assistant manager of a local kayak shop to make less money (I could barely pay rent and keep food in the fridge) as a lululemon educator. Don’t get me wrong, lululemon pays decent and there are amazing benefits, especially if you’re an athlete, it’s just that I chose to live in the most expensive county in the US. Not only was it worth it to me, but it was the greatest company in the world as far as I was concerned. The more I learned about the company, the more in love I fell. There are hundreds of reasons why, but to name a few:
– I was attending all the fitness classes I wanted throughout the community while lululemon gladly paid the fitness bill (highly beneficial to all parties, I got to work out for free and lululemon got their grassroots marketing, as I was always head to toe in the newest and brightest lululemon gear)
-The stores offer free weekly yoga classes to everyone which gave me a real sense of community for the first time
-I was encouraged to set goals based on my dreams and post them at the store (whether or not these goals included staying with the company)
-Chip Wilson (the founder and former CEO of lululemon) had his personal phone number listed on lulunet (lululemon web) as well as all other high-ups in the company (which made me feel just as important as them instead of less equal or important like most companies in my personal experience).
-The lululemon manifesto was packed with inspirational quotes to live by like “sweat once a day”, “dance, sing, floss, and travel”, “do one thing a day that scares you”, and “friends are more important than money”.
-My co-workers felt like family and quickly became some of my best friends in the world. (One is even going to be the maid of honor in my wedding next year.)
-The company paid for me to go to the Landmark Forum where for the first time I saw how my own patterns of thinking were holding me back from so many of the things I wanted in my life.
-The company paid for me to go to the Advanced Course (level II beyond the Landmark Forum) and for the first time I understood how I could be ME, fully self expressed with other people, a concept that I had never understood prior.
-When I went to Vancouver for the yearly conference, I was surrounded by hundreds of people who inspired me, all in one room.
…the list goes on.
Within one year of working at lululemon I had 4 promotions: I went from Educator to Community Leader to Keyholder to Assistant Manager, and before I could blink I was managing a store in the San Francisco Bay area. When I became manager, everything started to go down hill as I started becoming afraid of not being good enough for this amazing company.
Before I knew it I wasn’t doing the things I loved anymore, not attending as many fitness classes, and not being the shining example for my team that I knew I could be. I was hardly sleeping and becoming more stressed then I have ever been and experiencing panic attacks as I was trying to keep my head above water. Meanwhile, I continued to put on a happy face and pretend like everything was fine instead of reaching out for help. The “not good enough” feeling was taking me over and as I became less and less myself, not happy, and more scared. Still completely in love with the company I realized I was out of integrity with what the company stood for and what I stood for in myself. At the Vancouver conference in 2009 I stood up in front of hundreds of other managers, board members, the CEO Christine Day, and Chip himself. I called out my lack of integrity as well as the general others who had fallen into the same self-destructive pattern as I had (which seemed to be prevalent in stores across the US). The issue was that several managers, including myself, were working overtime without adding it on our time cards. It was all to maintain the appearance that “I can get it all done” when really I couldn’t, and me and so many others were too afraid to admit it so it kept getting worse. When I stood up and spoke out about what was happening, the subject was quickly changed and I sunk down in my chair trying desperately to choke back the tears over what I had just done.
My intention was to protect the company from what I was seeing, which was that people were choosing to work so hard and then not clock their time and then later were suing the company for unpaid overtime when really the company was trying to get everyone to NOT work so much! I wanted it to stop or else the choices that were made could really affect this amazing company I cared so deeply about.
Within a few hours, 3 people had approached me to say thanks for speaking up. One woman said she knew another store manager that wasn’t even spending much time with her kids anymore because she was devoting all of her time to lululemon. That night in the hotel room in Vancouver I couldn’t sleep.
When morning finally came we were asked to drop our goals into a basket and then choose someone else’s goals, and then find that person and start a conversation. To my shock and horror, out of hundreds of sheets of paper, I chose Chip’s goals. There I stood, holding the goals of the founder of the company and I had to go strike up a conversation the very next day after I stood up. The first thing I read on the page was that he wanted to “date [his] wife once a week” and I thought that was so sweet, he always seemed to be such a family guy. I decided to go up to him and just talk goals and not mention the horribly embarrassing scene I made. He smiled when I approached him, we chatted goals for about 30 seconds, and then he hugged me. It was a real hug (the kind with the tight squeeze), and it was proof to me that this was an incredible man.
Following the conference I saw some amazing changes taking place. They brought in an incredible girl to take a new HR position in the area and we started having calls that assisted store managers with protecting their people and the company by managing time cards accurately. I was seeing the changes I had hoped for which made me so happy, but I was feeling like an outcast and I did it to myself. Within a few more months I was losing my grip due to the stress, paranoia of losing my job due to standing up at the conference, and I was wrongly accused of a missing nightly deposit by the asset protection guy. I had decided to walk away, knowing that if I didn’t I would have most likely been fired. I was thinking “how could this have happened?” I thought I did everything right, I was a hard worker, extremely passionate and positive, honest, and loyal. I walked away from the company I loved lost, sad, confused, and heart broken.
This May will be my one year anniversary leaving lululemon. In that time I have gained a perspective I preached but didn’t fully understand before…personal responsibility. It took me a year outside of the company to finally fully understand what they were trying to teach me from day 1 and that is that I am the only one responsible for the choices I make and how these choices affect my life. There are so many people out there that have started working for lululemon and then in one way or another took a very destructive turn, and a lot of the time it’s against themselves.
For me, the truth of the matter is that if I had the same passion for myself (my own balance, health, vitality, future, fulfillment) as I did for lululemon, I would have made much more of a profound impact in my own life as well as the lives of my co-workers. That was everything I wanted, and even though I thought I understood it all at the time, I didn’t. How could I have expected to take a stand for the greatness of the company, but not for myself? It just can’t work that way.
To me, lululemon is about creating your life the way you want it, the way you love it. As soon as I stopped creating for myself and started becoming the victim, it seemed like lululemon turned it’s back on me but the truth was-I turned my back on myself.
Today I am happier, more excited, and more in love than I have ever been. The lessons I have taken from lululemon have and continue to shape my life more and more into what I love. For this I can say from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU CHIP!
all my love,
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