Steve Pavlina cult scam

A testimony from a survivor of the Steve Pavlina Cult. Read below…

Steve Pavlina is one of the biggest names on the internet. His blog ‘Personal Development for Smart People’ receives millions of visits a year. He has made a profitable business from his website, the sale of his book and other sources. His writings range across a broad range of subjects such as how to cook brown rice, polyphasic sleep, polyamory relationships and why you should quit your job to start your own business.

From the outside, he appears to be a character of integrity and honesty. However, there have been a few people who have wondered if hidden behind all of this Steve Pavlina hype, was an elaborate scam. Some have even wondered whether his movement was similar in many ways to that of a cult.

Smoke without fire?

I didn’t really believe any of the rumours. In fact, I had found his work really useful. But, that was until I came across this testimony, written by a survivor of the Steve Pavlina Cult.

In it, Miss X (name hidden for anonymity) talks about her imprisonment and eventual escape from the Steve Pavlina cult, where she spent 12 years a slave. It is a pretty shocking account:

The Testimony of Miss X:

For 12 years, I was a victim of the Steve Pavlina cult. I was imprisoned in his secret ‘campus’ in the desert in Los Vegas. During that time, I was forced to carry out slave labour and was subjected to sophisticated brainwashing techniques.  I was constantly malnourished and kept in a constant state of fear and fatigue.

This is the story of how I became imprisoned by the Steve Pavlina cult and my eventual escape 12 years later.

The Beginning: Becoming a prisoner of the Steve Pavlina Cult

I first met Steve in the early days of 2005. His website was just becoming popular and many people were drawn to travel and meet him.

In person, he was perfectly charming and seemed full of wisdom and positivity. I would later discover that this was just a false front, but at the time, he seemed charismatic and I was drawn to him.

He invited me and a few others to what he called his ‘campus’ out in the desert, to learn more about personal development. It was supposed to be a place where consciously-minded people could gather and learn to develop our better-selves in a supportive and productive environment.

Don’t tell anyone where you’re going

I was honoured to be asked and of course I accepted. I packed my bags and got ready to be there for several weeks. Steve asked me not to tell any friends or family members where I was going as he said, they might disturb the learning process and draw me back to my old life. This really should have set the alarm bells going, but at the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I just did what he said.

I was bussed there with a group of other people – men and women, young and old. However during the journey, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly amiss. The journey took several hours and we found ourselves going deeper and deeper into the desert. A few of the passenger made jokes about how we were being taken outback to the desert to be buried. We laughed then at the joke.

Oh how ironic… If only we’d known just how close to reality that joke was going to be.

Trip Advisor: 0 stars

Finally we arrived and to say we were disappointed would be an understatement. This was the furthest thing from a learning and personal environment I could imagine. It was more like a prison.

The ‘campus’ was a compound surrounded by barbed wire. There were guards with dogs and a lookout. On all the compound walls, hung giant pictures of Steve Pavlina’ profile, which later on we were forced to bow to whenever we passed them.

Then they closed the gates

After we entered the campus, they immediately closed and locked the gates. Of course, a few of us protested and said we wanted to leave, but the guards deflected our complaints and told us we would be able to leave after we had some dinner. Then after dinner, we were told we would be able to leave the next day. Then it was after breakfast and so on… Eventually we gave up on asking to leave, because we knew the answer was going to be the same.

Basically, only Steve was allowed to come and go. At the time, I didn’t realise that I was to become a prisoner of the Steve Pavlina Cult and that I was to spend the next 12 years a slave.


We were shown to our bunkbeds and I was forced to sleep in a dormitory with 12 other women who like me, had been tricked into coming to learn more about personal development, but could not escape the Steve Pavlina cult. There was another dormitory for men, who were forced to build an artificial irrigation system and work the rice paddys out back so we could grow brown rice.

We resisted at the beginning, but his guards were very firm with us. You have to understand that we were stuck in the middle of the desert. We had no idea where we were. Also, the guards were mean. They had dogs and guns.

Some tried to escape but any escapees were swiftly re-captured, punished and then buried in a hole out back. We were told they were being sent away to do a 30 day trial of living in a hole in the ground. It was supposed to help their personal development. I believe their bodies are still there if you look.

Daily Activities

During the initial induction period, I was forced to listen to 12 hours of Steve’s podcasts on personal development. We were force-fed a purely vegetarian diet of raw foods, salads, fruit smoothies and brown rice.

On one occasion, one of the newest members sneaked in a Big Mac, and munched away on it for a couple of weeks so he could get his meat-fix. The guards found it and he was harshly punished. He was buried in a big hole for his 30 day trial. I suppose his body is still there now.

Polyphasic Sleep experiments

We were constantly woken up several times throughout the night. They told us it was a polyphasic sleep experiment and that it would make us more productive. But in truth, it was just a way to make us mentally and physically worn out with the lack of sleep. Its intention was to make us more susceptible to Steve’s teachings.

The combination of raw food and lack of sleep, made us all pasty, tired and it stripped us of our willpower. We were unable to resist his brainwashing and eventually we soon came to worship the Steve Pavlina cult.  After listening to weeks of his podcasts, we lost the will for creative thinking. We started to see Steve as our Master. In fact, that’s what he made us call him – ‘The Master’.

Polyamory Relationships

Then it got worse. The master came in one day and said: My new thing is polyamory relationships. So from that day forward, we all had to start having polyamory relationships with the master. Basically the campus was made into one giant harem to serve the Steve Pavlina Cult.

Blogging Slaves

When we were not being forced to listen to podcasts, he had us all locked in a classroom with computers typing up blog articles or creating lists of ideas for future articles. People wondered how Steve was able to be so prolific with his writing and was able to produce so much quality content. Well, the reason is that he had an army of slaves living and working in sweatshop-type conditions, creating it all for him.

On one occasion, someone misspelled a word and published it without checking. As punishment, she was buried in a hole out back for her 30 day trial. I think she is still there.

The Great Firewall

Unfortunately, Steve was a skilled computer programmer and he set up a huge firewall to stop us from accessing the internet, so we had no idea of what was going on in the outside world.

Steve never liked to discuss politics at home or in his articles, so we never knew what was going on in politics or in the mainstream media.

When a new member came in and told us that America had had its first black President and that Donald Trump was running to be the next President, and had a great chance of winning, we all laughed. We didn’t think either could be possible and we believed it was a joke. But when he kept repeating it, we thought he was just making fun of us and so we pressured the guards to take him out back for his 30 day trial of living in a hole in the ground. We never saw him again.

After that, the newer members learned to never mention politics again. I still have moments of guilt when I recollect that incident.

One time we also had a new member join us who kept talking about someone called Kim Kardashian. Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before she was buried in a hole out back. I think she is still there now.

All we had for entertainment was Steve’s podcasts or his videos on repeat. If the master had come and told us that the outside world has been destroyed by a meteorite, we would all have believed him. That was how powerful the Steve Pavlina cult had gotten us brainwashed.

Personal Development for Smart People

The worst was when he was approached by a book publishing company to write his book: Personal Development for Smart People.

The Master had us all on 12-hour-rotational shifts, writing and editing his book for him. If only the readers of that book knew about the slave-labour conditions that the book was actually written in, they would be shocked at the extent and perversity of the Steve Pavlina scam.

When we finished the book, all we got in return was a day-off and an extra portion of brown rice. It was ironic that the Master was writing about living courageously, following your own dreams and making your own business, whilst secretly, his empire was built on slave-labour focused around the Steve Pavlina Cult. It was all just a big scam.


For several more years, I put up with life in the Steve Pavlina cult. In fact, I had even started to rise in the organisation. I was no longer a normal inmate of the Steve Pavlina cult. I was promoted and had become one of the guards. It was my job to help indoctrinate the new arrivals.

As the blog became immensely popular, so too did the number of members increase. Eventually, we had to build a second compound. However, with the new recruits came stories of the outside. I started to realise that I was missing out on so much like seeing my family, going shopping and eating MacDonalds.

Delegation Challenge

There was another reason why I was becoming more disillusioned.

We’d heard rumours of The Master’s new project around the compound. Apparently, he wanted to outsource and delegate more responsibility to his slaves. It was to be the subject of an upcoming trial.

At first, it sounded a great idea. We’d have more opportunity for self-determination and freedom in the campus.

Except, in reality, the master only wanted to delegate us the responsibility and hard physical labour of building a giant temple for the Steve Pavlina Cult in the middle of the Los Vegas desert.

Its completion date would be 2020 as us slaves were delegated the responsibility of digging rocks out of the ground with chisels and carrying it to the temple site. We weren’t even allowed to use wheel barrels to carry the rocks. “If the Ancient Mayans can build a grand temple without the wheel, then so too can you“, the Master told us.

That was the final straw.

Becoming conscious

Gradually, I started to see the truth and to break the hold that the Steve Pavlina scam has held over me.  With a few other disillusioned members, I started to make plans for an escape.


Fortunately, the chance came last year. The Master was away for 30 days doing a series of videos in Disneyland. We timed our escape during the night and escaped from the campus. It took several days of walking, but we eventually found our way to civilisation. A passing ranger found us and took us to a local police station. From the look on their faces, we must have looked a pitiful state.  We were fatigued, malnourished, sunburnt and dressed in rags.

The police were shocked. They couldn’t believe at first that there was a Steve Pavlina cult going on in their county. They actually thought we were crazy. But when they checked our records and saw we had all been reported as missing several years earlier, they took our story about the Steve Pavlina cult more seriously then.

Recovering our lives

Some of us had to be treated for Stockholm syndrome as we still could not eat normal food like meat or even become employees for organisations. I’ve already started 5 new businesses since I escaped the Steve Pavlina scam. In fact, I created one just yesterday.

All of us escapees are being supported to get our lives back to normal. I had to be drip-fed liquefied pork meat for a week, just to get my protein levels back to normal. Even today, I get flashbacks whenever I see a plate of brown rice.

Slowly, I am geting my life back on track and my protein levels back to normal. I am also starting a support organisation called: SSPC (Survivors of the Steve Pavlina Cult).

Miss X

Police Statement: At the moment we are unable to comment on whether there is any truth to whether Steve Pavlina is a scam. Allegations of the Steve Pavlina Cult are currently being investigated.


Yes, it’s a joke

My apologies again to Steve Pavlina. This article is of course a satirical piece. I’ll explain the reasons I wrote it at the end of this article.

But before I do that, I would like to give thanks to Steve Pavlina and give a review of his incredible work.

Should I worry about being contacted by Steve Pavlina’s lawyers?

In writing this article, I was concerned that it may come across as offensive to Steve even though it is meant as a joke, so I contacted him to run my article through him. If he had told me he found it offensive, I would have shelved it.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if I would hear back as I know he is really busy and has lots of demands on his time.

Fortunately, not only did he reply very quickly and say it was fine with him. He even told me that some parts of the article actually made him laugh as he was having brown rice and veggies for lunch while reading it!

How’s that for positive feedback?

A Wealth of Information on Personal Development

Out of all the personal development writers, Steve, is the one that has had the most impact on my life. I have gone through periods of my life just like many others, when I have been frustrated, unfulfilled and looking for answers to what I should do to live a more fulfilling life.

I have read through the popular authors such as Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, and a host of many others. There books have been interesting, but I can’t honestly say a single one of them really resonated or clicked with me the same way Steve’s articles have. And of those authors’s books mentioned above – I had to buy them all. This is worth mentioning.

Free Value

In contrast, Steve’s writings are free. Tens of thousands of words of material are available for free on his website. And it is all very insightful as he approaches Personal Development with an experimental scientific approach. He starts with a hypothesis, for example – eating raw will be beneficial for my health, and then he applies this hypothesis to a 30 day personal trial to see if it is beneficial for him. At the end of the period, he assesses the trial and usually will write an article about it. In some cases, he will continue the practice if he felt it is really good for him but if it doesn’t feel any benefit, he drops it.

This is a very scientific approach to adopting a lifestyle change. How many people follow a plan strictly because it is believed to be healthy for them, even though they do not feel any benefits from it or it may actually be causing them some discomfort? With this 30 day approach, you are actually paying attention to how your body responds to a change and respecting that.

A broad range of topics

Steve has covered a broad range of topics. Some of my favourite works are his writings on Manifestation and the Law of Attraction, which I have found practical and don’t contain the fluff aspects like the book ‘The Secret’ has. His articles about Courage and following your Life Purpose are insightful.


Another unusual thing is that he has actually un-copyrighted his work. I don’t think we give Steve enough credit for this. This is actually a hugely innovative thing to do. It breaks all the traditions.

It is actually unthinkable to uncopyright work. Yet he has done this. I’ll explain a reason, why I think this is a great thing he has done. It is clearly a decision that has not come out of a scarcity mind-set.

An example of how Copyright can sometimes restrict the sharing of information

I have an old edition of a book written by a great past spiritual master.  It is no longer in print. A person who died in the 90s. Her book was last published in the 1980s. The small publishing house that last published is as far as I know, not publishing books any more, but is still kind-of in existence.

This is a book, that needs to be re-published and updated for the modern age. It needs to be turned into an eBook so new generations of people can re-discover the work. But it isn’t.  Someone, somewhere owns that copyright and to get it, will be either costly, involve going through legal loops. or simply not possible especially if the owner of the publishing house who last published it, is dead. So this book remains lost to the world and all because of the complication of who owns the copyright.

Focusing on sharing value instead of accumulating money

So Steve’s move to uncopyright his material means that his work can be dispersed and shared with so many people. And it is free. Can you imagine someone like Tony Robbins doing that? His business model is about making money. For example, the tickets for his show cost in the hundreds to thousands range.

Steve gives his stuff away for free, so in some ways I see him like a kind of Robin Hood character. It makes it easier to relate to Steve, even though he does have a somewhat unusual life-experience, compared to Tony who talks about his private jets and thousands of people clogging the streets attending his seminar, as in the introduction of one of his books.

I think that we as a civilisation are entering a new post-materialism stage of development, particularly following the aftermath of the financial crash. More and more people are tired of this 1980’s materialist talk – making money and consume, consume, consume. I see this changing mindset in a lot of the content created by the Millennial generation on the internet and YouTube. And I think its a good thing.

So with this in mind, Tony Robbins seems to me to be all about ‘making money for himself by selling value, whereas Steve Pavlina is all about ‘creating and sharing value’ and getting rewarded in the process. There is a difference. And for this reason, I prefer Steve’s work to Tony’s.

10 reasons not to get a job

I first discovered Steve’s writings, like many have, through his viral post: 10 reasons not to get a job.

At the time, I was living in Japan and getting my bills paid by teaching English. Unfortunately, I really didn’t enjoy my work. It felt unfulfilling and frustrating. The work didn’t resonate with me and seemed to consume a lot of my energy and time.

I had qualified as an acupuncturist a few years before going and at first, it seemed like going to Japan was a great life-opportunity. And it was. However, after a while there, I felt I was leaving my dream of being a complementary therapy practitioner behind.

I remember, that I was sitting at my computer before going to my job and I was probably typing in things like “I hate my job” or “I want to quit my job” into a search engine. That was how I came across Steve’s life-changing article.

The canary in the mine

I think it is a safe bet, that if you are typing in “I hate my job” or “I want to quit my job” then the chances are, you are really not doing work you are meant to be doing. In which case, you probably should consider reading his articles if you haven’t already.

In fact, I see Steve Pavlina’s site as a kind of barometer, like a kind of canary in the mine. If I do any kind of job, where I find myself compelled to browse and re-read Steve Pavlina’s articles on my smart phone, then I know that I am not doing the kind of work I should be and I need to take steps to get out of this situation.

Good Personal Development sets off a Catalysis

I could says that his articles were a minor catalysis in my decision to get out of Japan. I had been there long enough.

Although, I had gotten to know some acupuncturists and was a member of an Acupuncture association there, it really wasn’t enough. I was still spending my daily life doing work I didn’t enjoy for a limited amount of money. I had to make the decision to return to my country, the UK to get back into doing my own business again.

It was at these times, that I had to re-read Steve’s article ‘The Courage to Live Courageously’. This was because I was effectively leaving a stable situation – I had a job, I had a new 3 year visa, I had a place to live. The UK was still suffering from the credit crash and the economy sucked. Back in the UK, I didn’t even have anywhere I could live. I was going to a situation where I would have to set up from scratch and at the time I barely had any money. I was also going to be bringing my wife with me, who likewise had a job, which she hated doing, but was stable nonetheless,

Face the fear

My decision was full of risks, but I knew that in order to follow my dream, I had to do it. So I did. And it was hard with lots of challenges. I had to take a lot of ***py jobs and live in some ***py places, but eventually, I got my business running and even achieved a little more success by landing a job in a major London charity doing acupuncture.

The story hasn’t ended there. Life is full of ups and downs, good decisions and bad decisions. And I’ve made a fair few and still making them.

Now, I am embarking again on a new challenge in life, and a new degree of instability and it is funny how once again I find myself turning to Steve Pavlina’s articles again to help me through this phase.

I am talking about my new plan to work on this website and other writing work, which is a dream that I had put on hold for a few years because I had been too busy.

I am moving away again from the kind of work I have been doing these last few years into a new venture. And again, it is Steve’s influence that has encouraged me to think of a vision for my own website.

We’ll see where it takes me. And small little encouragements like Steve’s positive email response really helps me along, because it is scary and full of uncertainties.


When you become big, like Steve has done, it is natural to pick up a few detractors. And certainly, not everyone will agree with what he writes, particularly as he writes some really controversial stuff.

For example, he is very condemning of meat eaters. He is critical of religion as being an enemy of critical thinking. Also, he espouses open (mature) relationships and considers jobs to be akin to slavery.

I don’t share these criticisms of him that some people may have. Some of what Steve writes really shakes your beliefs, which is what we all need from time-to-time. Although some of what he writes goes against convention, for example his articles on polyamory, and his criticisms against religion or jobs, I do agree with the reasoning behind his viewpoints, even though it invites some contradiction into my life. We all have our own beliefs and are entitled to them.

If there was anything, it is that he doesn’t deal much with some of the more painful experiences of human existence – things like tragedy, bereavement or terminal illness.

I don’t know whether this is because Steve has lived a very blessed existence and hasn’t experienced any, or if this is because Steve chooses not to talk about these topics and instead chooses to stay on the topic of personal development, finding your purpose in life and on topics of his own interest.

Or it may be something he writes about in the future. You never really know with him. There is a lot of unpredictability and that is what makes his life and blog so fascinating to follow.

Value and Contribution

Ultimately, Steve has contributed a lot of value in the field of personal development, which has helped me and millions of people around the planet for free.

So thank you for your great work.

Why I wrote this article

And before I go, I just wanted to explain, why I wrote this post on the Steve Pavlina Cult and Scam.

The answer is unashamedly, unabashedly, – ‘for traffic’.

The dark side always intrigues us

There have been times, when I had wondered if perhaps, there is a darker side to Steve. Perhaps, his work is all a scam, and if I investigate (i.e. use google), I might find all sorts of Sai Baba-esque type articles about how evil he really is.

So I have typed in ‘Steve Pavlina Scam’ and Steve Pavlina cult’ and did find one website by someone upset over his decision to stop his forum years ago. But that’s all. Basically, he’s just too squeaky clean, even though he is a former felon.

No Traffic

So, well, I am putting a lot of work into my website at the moment and building it up. It has been my dream for years – in fact ever since I first read Steve’s work.

However my traffic hovers close to the zero mark. When I look up from my laptop screen after checking the analytics, I half expect some bumble weed to come blowing past like an abandoned town in some old-style Western movie.

Controversial blog titles can do well

Then I remembered reading an article by Penelope Trunk, another famous blogger, about how she used a controversial keyword as a title, “Tim Ferris is a scam” or something like that, and that she attracts lots of traffic to that article with that title.

So I thought I’d try the same thing and packed my article with lots of keywords like “Steve Pavlina Cult” and Steve Pavlina is a scam” and I will see how this article goes.

A 30 day Keyword experiment?

Please excuse the over-use of these keywords. I like to think of this as a kind of keyword experiment. Perhaps I could make it a 30 day trial like Steve advises.

I could try 30 days of posting variations of ‘Steve Pavlina is a scam’ articles. For example, I could write “Steve Pavlina is a Fraud’, Steve Pavlian is a Con’, ‘Steve Pavlina ate my hamster’. The list is endless.

I just hope I am not met with an onslaught of Steve Pavlina fans telling me I am wrong to criticise ‘the master’. I’m a fan too. Don’t worry.

I suppose, if this article works, then I could start a new trend of people writing ‘Steve Pavlina is a cult’ articles. Just remember you read it here first. I could even buy the domain name – ‘’, except I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

No, sorry again, I’ll stop with the keywords now.

Steve, Please keep up the good work

Just to repeat, I really think his work is brilliant. I believe he has a sense of humour and I am glad he found this keyword-article entertaining. I am only doing what he has been teaching us all to do over the years – make our own blog or business and aiming for a more abundant life.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, and you like reading material on personal development, than you will find a goldmine of information on his website. Also I would recommend his book: Personal Development for Smart People.

Next time

I hope you enjoyed this article. In my next article, my topic will be: ‘Is Penelope Trunk a relative of Medusa? How I escaped the Penelope Trunk Evil cult’

Or maybe I shouldn’t push my luck on that one. I suspect she can be quite hard.

And if you enjoyed this article, then check out some of my other blog articles. You might find something of interest there.

Thank you for reading.

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