This is the twenty-fifth installment of the account of a journey into and out of scientology — written by one of our long-term readers. I hope you enjoy her insights, humor and style.
Lili also provided a glossary of terms.
Through the Bubble – Lili’s Adventures in Scientologyland
This is my quirky recollection of events. Others may remember things differently. Lingo is italicized on the first mention, capitalized after that. I’ve compressed complexities in the cult to simplify your reading pleasure.
The Economic Downturn and Catching Up on Bright Ideas
In 2008 the economy tanked, just in time for our biggest, favorite-est, jewelry-business season, the Christmas/holiday season. Our phones weren’t ringing much, and jewelry clients’ answering machines sent my messages straight to the black hole. In the past, when I was hurting for appointments, I’d Promote, Promote, Promote. That was the Scientology handling for Down Statistics. For me, this involved a minimum of five hours of promotional phone calls in one week. In the pleasure department, this was right up there with knocking on doors to sell shit — in the rain. But it worked. In a normal economy. After the economy tanked, I did my five-hours-from-hell call marathon and found that I still couldn’t fill my appointment book.
For years, I’d subscribed to that whole inside-the-bubble, disagree-with-reality, out-create-the-current-bad-circumstances mindset. I’d listened to the echo chamber of Scientology business owners doing their happy talk. The sky would be falling, but the Scientologists would stubbornly forward the “Everything is fine” and “Just-apply-the-Conditions,” party line.
I decided to talk to some non-Scientology business people and see how they were faring. I discovered that this particular economic earthquake had damaged a number of them. I acknowledged that many clients weren’t excited to spend their dwindling dollars on my jewelry. Making it Go Right, the Scientology way wasn’t going to erase the fact that my product was non-essential.
Most Scientology business people would tell you that their business was flourishing and not at all the effect of the latest stock market crash, real estate bubble implosion, or inconvenient societal Bull Bait. I had swallowed for years the thought that Scientology’s Positive Postulates and head-in-the-sand cluelessness were effective tools against adversity. Then I noticed that many of these same happy-talking Scientologists went bankrupt, just like ordinary businesspeople in times of economic downturns. But since it was probably an Ethics Offense to tell anyone that your business just got flushed down the toilet, the bankrupted Scientologists tended to fade away from the cherch. Or they got a 9-5 job and just didn’t tell anyone. If I really wanted to know how the small business community in Santa Barbara was doing, I wouldn’t Survey the Scientologists.
Since I had savings, I decided I didn’t want to kill myself to fill up my appointment book. I still had clients who wanted to see me, but I also had time on my hands. Deep in the bowels of my pending basket lay a mile-long list of Bright Ideas to expand our jewelry business. It was the list of things I should have been doing all along. But going all-guns-blazing for that weekly sales stat at the expense of administrative planning and execution was the Scientology businessperson’s default mode of operation. This desperate produce, sell, and raise-my-Stat mode of business operation had left many holes in my business fabric.
It was time to dust off the old list of Bright Ideas. At the top of the list was updating our ancient crappy website.
Yay, months later, the new website looked great, and I could check that box. Done! Not so yay, our wonderful web designer’s parting gift was a curated list of stuff I’d need to do to make my website visible. What? The World Wide Web is all over the world, right? I thought I was done when I cut that check. Nope. I had to get on social media, start blogging, whatever the hell that was, and get online reviews. She had to be kidding.
Looking Back on Networking and Why I Loved it
Since my beloved SCBN networking group had dissolved, I’d sampled many business networking groups to meet new people and get new business leads. When one of my clients turned out to be new to the small business world, I’d connect her up with the right networking group or groups. Networking for some business people was a groan-inducing torment, but for me, it ticked my L Ron Hubbard Stable Datum box for “Outflow Equals Inflow.” Networking for me was possibly like gambling is for gamblers. You never knew what’d happen next, and that was a rush.
If I’d ever considered a career change after being a jewelry designer, I think marketing would have been my jam. But I loved my clients, their stories, and their jewelry projects, so the impetus for change never surfaced. That, and the fact that any disruption or change would have interrupted the steady flow of cash. That would have felt like a high crime inside the bubble.
I Start a Clueless Networking Group and Van Becomes a Small Business Owner
I’d worn many administrative hats in many networking groups, but I’d never contemplated starting a group of my own. Why would I? I had to be on Course in my spare time. Or I needed to catch up on my deferred paperwork. Or dang, I’d have to spend hours of productivity-time on a non-income-producing activity. But I had this new website and this towering list of promotional tasks from the website designer that I couldn’t face, but needed to.
Clambering up the rocky cliff of that to-do list was an epic quest, like Jason seeking the Golden Fleece. I fretted that I’d blow my valuable time on untried-as-yet activities. I couldn’t face the climb up Mt. Social Media alone, nor did I want to be the only person I knew who blogged. Asking a friend to give my business an online review was right up there in my comfort zone with stabling myself with a letter opener. And forget asking my clients.
I’ve never held back when some problem was on my mind, so my jewelry clients got an earful about my new website and the massive, torturous list of to-dos. I was shocked by how many of my clients wanted my web designer’s card so they could get some of that good online promotional advice.
One of my jewelry clients was a business coach, building her own business. She thought we could get an accountability group together, which would help me stay on target and attend to my to-do list. She agreed to help me start the group. I dug her agenda idea. That sounded pretty pro to me. I also liked telling people we had a Business Coach on board when I approached potential members. This way, I didn’t have to mention my own lack of credentials for advising small business owners on how to get their social media shit together.
I also feared that starting a group to help grow our businesses and not mentioning L Ron Hubbard and his Administrative Tech, cough, would yield a negative Knowledge Report. I mentioned my new group to zero Scientologists.
I invited various business clients and friends to join the group. Social Media Action Relationship Team. SMART group. We’d saddle up, climb atop that bucking bronco of social media, then gallop onward to the distant goals of online visibility. Some of us would blog to educate our potential future clients and establish that we weren’t dipshits, by giving good advice in our fields. And finally, we’d try out each member’s services or products and leave honest online reviews for each other.
Every week, I’d spend a couple of hours studying up and searching online for social media Bright Ideas. Ideas like posting photos of you and your smiling client with a heartwarming story of how you solved their screaming emergency. I’d present this shiny idea and show an example from my Facebook business page during the educational portion of our SMART meeting. I’d give out homework to do that Bright Idea thing between this meeting and the next. And while you were staring at your screen, looking at this month’s example post, I’d ask you to take a moment to click “like” and comment on it.
I did not want any of my SMART members to have Facebook graveyards, so as part of the monthly work in our group, we all had to go and leave likes and comments on every SMART member’s Facebook business page once a month. Interestingly, the women in our group were pretty good at supporting each other’s businesses in this liking and commenting way. The occasional guy members, for some reason, mostly couldn’t get out of their own way to do this. See ya. There was this one fellow, a visitor, who came to test the SMART waters early on. He flat out told us how hopeless we were. Yeah, he wasn’t welcome back.
One of the advantages of being in Scientology was a Certainty that if you were unqualified to do something, that was no obstacle. You just had to Make it Go Right. Or Postulate you could do it and bull forward like a Bison taking down a selfie-seeking tourist in Yellowstone.
To join SMART, you had to have a website, a Facebook business page, and get your business listed online on at least one review site. Slight problem, the most enthusiastic-to-join ladies I spoke to were as backward as I was in their internet promotion. They wanted their businesses to be in the swim and make online ripples, but they didn’t even have the necessary basics to join our group.
No problem, that’s what teenagers are for. I told prospective members that Van did all that social media set-up crap for me. And bing, bang, boom, Van became an entrepreneur. There was no fee to become a SMART member. You just had to do the help-the-members homework.
My SMART-charged internet visibility in the first six months consisted of an echo chamber of comments and reviews from other SMART members. Patience isn’t a virtue for someone involved in a religion with one speed; Now, Now, Now. I’m guessing all the Org staff participated in secret training sessions, from the receptionist to the executive director, where they all Drilled shouting Now, Now, Now! I’d been in Scientology for years by the time my newest jewelry website went live. I still hadn’t learned patience.
I was near fifty by the time my website designer gave me the groaning list of things I didn’t want to do but needed to. And I was drifting away from the cherch. The Santa Barbara Cherch thought I was doing stuff for the more advanced Flag Land Base, and Flag thought I was doing that dumb program they’d given me to re-take courses I’d already taken in Santa Barbara. My subtle separation hadn’t been noted on anyone’s Recovery Radar.
I threw my mind and soul into the SMART Group. My heart sang that the photographer had booked a wedding because someone had found her online. I danced inside when the woman who did PR got a new contract because of a happy-client Facebook post. I was giddy when the Realtor got a listing from someone who read her online review and knew she sounded just right for their fixer-upper.
The SMART Group opened my life to caring about people who weren’t Scientologists. Before starting the SMART Group, I’d had this vague idea that the internet was a dangerous place full of conspiracies, perverts, and attacks on Scientology. Gee, I wonder where I got that idea?
According to Wikipedia, “Scieno Sitter is content-control software that, when installed on a computer, blocks certain websites critical of Scientology from being viewed. The software was released by the Church of Scientology in 1998 for Church members using Windows 95. The term “Scieno Sitter” was coined by critics of Scientology who assert that the program is a form of Internet censorship.”
All I knew at that time was that Scientology was giving out this special program on flash drives and encouraging Scientologists to use it. The purported purpose was to help you make a one-page website allowing you to record an over-enthusiastic video about how freaking awesome Scientology was. They’d add your page to their website. I had no idea about the program’s Trojan Horse purpose.
Six months into the SMART meetings, the members were getting results. I was still on page sixteen of Google for the keyword Santa Barbara Jeweler, or some equally dreadful result. I exaggerate. But without SMART, I doubt I’d have stayed the course. I’d have fallen back on my personal-touch promotion, which was effective, but quite time-consuming.
We may have been slow on the whole internet uptake, but the SMART group propelled many of our members out of the shadows, into larger contracts, bigger business, and after months of plugging away, broader influence.
Strengths-Based Coaching, the Opposite of Finding My Ruin
The whole thrust of Scientology’s come-on is finding and grinding you into your Ruin. They’d locate your pain point or points from the answers you gave them on their free Oxford Capacity Analysis. Per Wikipedia on the Oxford Capacity Analysis, — “The test is an important part of Scientology recruitment and is used worldwide by the Church of Scientology to attract new members. However, it is not a scientifically recognized test and has been criticized by numerous psychology organizations, who point out that it is ‘not a genuine personality test’ and allege that Scientologists use it in a ‘highly manipulative’ and ‘manifestly unethical’ fashion.”
Inside the bubble, it’s just called the free personality test. The Test Evaluator terrorizes you with the idea that if you don’t get this Ruin of yours sorted, you’re destined to a twilight life of discontent and depression. Before I joined Scientology’s culty ranks, I’d waste time dragging myself back through embarrassing moments of my life. As if torturing myself would stop me from doing the same crap again. It wasn’t hard for that Test Evaluator to convince me that I wasn’t up to snuff.
The Strengths-Based business coach in the SMART Group gave me a questionnaire. We met to do a short coaching session based on the results. This test evaluation would enable me to leave her an online review where I could detail why she was a unique and helpful business coach. In that thirty-minute coaching session, she pointed out my many strengths. She encouraged me to reorganize my business to focus my activities and schedule on performing the tasks I excelled at. She had me list actions I took that A) Frustrated me. B) I struggled with. And C) That did not lean my strengths. She said, “Delegate them.”
I took the coach’s advice. I delegated some duties and focused on my strengths. I was happier, more energetic, more productive, and worked fewer hours. I didn’t tell any of my Scientology friends about this mind-blowing experience because I knew without asking that getting coached by someone outside of Scientology could end me up in the soup. I compromised by not setting up a follow-up coaching session, or ten. Sigh.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of helping someone use their strengths to soar. I’d spent decades thinking the only way to happiness was to fix my faults. The coach told me the research in Positive Psychology showed that strategizing to harness your strengths was a faster path to meeting your goals than flogging yourself over your shortcomings. But, wait, I just spent decades and tens of thousands of dollars forcing myself to learn how to overcome my weaknesses and my stupid Reactive Mind.
I was so impressed with this shiny new idea (probably not new to anyone who subscribed to Psychology Today), that I wondered how long the Strengths-Based training took. I fantasized at odd moments about getting certified and having that kind of impact on someone else’s life.