Community//

Alan Shelton: “Don’t mistake this with effort”

The big idea that will change the world is the unvarnished and unapologetic dive into our original story. What is that you might ask? We all come into our existence as a perfect story. Joseph Campbell would have called this our original myth. But soon after our arrival we are conditioned or molded into family, […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

The big idea that will change the world is the unvarnished and unapologetic dive into our original story. What is that you might ask? We all come into our existence as a perfect story. Joseph Campbell would have called this our original myth. But soon after our arrival we are conditioned or molded into family, society and institutions. We lose our original story and become a bastardization attempting to fit in a world where there is no fit. Does it seem to you that the world at large is in constant turbulence and turmoil? Why is that? We don’t know our true identity or our true story. We think that what we have learned to project is who we are, but most of us walk around with that uneasy feeling that something is wrong. That is our intuition, the voice of consciousness, telling us we don’t know who we really are.

Imagine a world where we all recognize our own original expression of life.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might ChangeThe World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Shelton.

Within the corporate world Alan Shelton is known as a ‘modern day sage’, a master storyteller, by mentees and loved ones and is the creator of both “Story Theory” and “The Spiritual MBA”.

There is nothing which thrills Alan more than tending to the ‘wisdom pond’ which began in earnest in 2017… however, there is a different life story proceeding this eventual destination and that began in 1977.

Alan began his careerat Price Waterhouse, structuring and negotiating Fortune 500 merger and acquisition transactions. After years managing and advising large multinational companies, he migrated to designing curriculum for executive development for some of the largest brands in the world including Nike, Boeing, IBM, Vans, The North Face, and many others.

In his late thirties, Alan left the corporate world for several years to travel to India. Once in India, Alan spent this time meeting some of the true masters of the spiritual world. It was here that he logged thousands of hours inprocess and encounter groups as well as meditation. This led him to become a therapist facilitating groups of seekers in primal, encounter, and meditative offerings.

After leaving Osho’s ashram, Alan developed a close relationship with Ramesh Balsekar, a former CEO of the Bank of India, and well-known teacher of Advaita. It was upon the recommendation of Balsekar that Alan returned to the United States and began creating programs for seekers looking to apply spiritual realization to the business world.

Alan is the author of Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self Mastery. The book won two business ‘Book of the Year’ awards, was reviewed by the Huffington Post, and has been used as part of the leadership curriculum at USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown.

Alan now teaches his Spiritual MBA program to select business executives and The Path of Non-Separation to spiritual seekers around the world.

He lives in Pahoa, HI with his wife Justine and their two dogs, Gaylord and McKenna.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up with two fierce components that I have spent a lifetime cobbling together. My grandfather was a wise man who embraced intellect. Intelligent engagement was a staple of any interaction with him. At the same time my family, grandpa included, were hard working normal folk. So that intellectual embrace was required to be real and live in everyday life. Knowing that, it is no surprise that a young boy wanting to be a philosophy professor became a large deal guy who later morphed into a leadership resource in the corporate world. The grittiness of the corporate terrain was the perfect place for a budding philosopher to transform into a wisdom resource.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had a long career so I will pick one. In my younger days I was privileged to be in a process group of CEOs. There were 14 of us and we would meet for a whole day once a month to be a working board of directors to each other. Now, I was just 29 at the time having rocketed into success very young. And around me sat “long time” executives of household name companies. Over the 5 years we were together these men became my dearest friends, but early on I was still clearly the puppy of the group. On one of these early days we were asked to go around the room and point out the most powerful attribute of each CEO. Of course, all of the seasoned leaders were easy to classify. But when they got to me you could see this room of executives was clearly at a loss as to what to say. Finally, one of the men said, “I think Alan’s most powerful personal attribute is the ability to make the obvious more so.” This of course threw the room into a fit of laughter as we all were now off the uncomfortable hook. Now years later I see that this story is exactly the case. The simplicity of the obvious is the wisdom that often is overlooked due to its very simplicity.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I was once asked what my main internal drivers were. I recognized in my answer that my drivers have been a constant in all of my behavior throughout my life. Could I have told you what these were and was I aware of these as guidance as I went along? Nope! They simply are. My drivers are that anything I do needs to land, and secondly it needs to make a difference. The sense of landing and making a difference live in the felt experience of life itself. In the early years I tethered money and influence to this understanding. These both fell off early on in my journey.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

The big idea that will change the world is the unvarnished and unapologetic dive into our original story. What is that you might ask? We all come into our existence as a perfect story. Joseph Campbell would have called this our original myth. But soon after our arrival we are conditioned or molded into family, society and institutions. We lose our original story and become a bastardization attempting to fit in a world where there is no fit. Does it seem to you that the world at large is in constant turbulence and turmoil? Why is that? We don’t know our true identity or our true story. We think that what we have learned to project is who we are, but most of us walk around with that uneasy feeling that something is wrong. That is our intuition, the voice of consciousness, telling us we don’t know who we really are.

Imagine a world where we all recognize our own original expression of life.

How do you think this will change the world?

The deep dive into self has long been the staple of the wisdom tradition. In the East, Buddha, and in the West, Socrates, pointed to self-knowledge. But in the West, the need to perform and produce soon eliminated the wisdom traditions. Why work on the inside when all that matters is on the outside anyway? Knowledge and wisdom became conflated. Today we live in a knowledge culture where data and content are seen as the pinnacle of humanity. We have traded in our birthright of self-realization for money and influence. The stabilizing anchor of humanity is authenticity. The presence of the authentic, alone, will eliminate turbulence and turmoil as the presence exuded broadcasts and magnetizes within our tangible lived experience. What would that be worth in a world of conflict?

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

It’s impossible to assess this idea from a binary position. The very base of our existence is the awareness that we are. This awareness doesn’t live in a context of positive and negative poles. What could be the consequences of authenticity when this is our original self? I don’t induce folks to think more deeply, I induce them to be more deeply. Thinking is highly overrated.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My early career was highly influenced by my mentors. Peter Drucker, one of those mentors, constantly spoke of modern business organizations as the new gatekeepers for human development and cultural responsibility. I think that this message has been largely overlooked, although I have spent my years in its service. Perhaps the tipping point that allowed me to see how to deliver this as a possibility within organizations was the recognition that executive presence was the same as any kind of presence. It exuded and attracted. Only the authentic original story could channel such powerful essence. It was this moment that shifted my course in my career. I could see that it was possible to take executives on a journey that allowed them to become the most authentic version of themselves.

A case in point.

There I sat across from the CFO of one of the largest apparel brand companies in the world. He was asking one question, “Can you make the initiatives that are presented to me more compelling?” You see he felt that the cases presented to him were becoming flat and that the company was losing its anchoring in their own brand story. I looked at him across the desk and told him I could create that change. He then followed on and replied, “Then I would guess that we will see the best designed cases that we have ever seen”. Another moment that knowledge was seeking to supplant wisdom. I immediately responded and said “No, your cases are already as well constructed as is possible. But you want them to be compelling, and the sense of compelling lives in the depth of the presenter.”He immediately stopped and said, “I know that is true as it’s obvious. But why hasn’t anyone told me that before?” I told him that most consulting companies didn’t focus on the inner development of the executive as a doorway to productive outcomes. As a result, most folks spend their time teaching their executives knowledge and how to polish their ego. The deeper dive into wisdom and authentic story requires more commitment from those with whom you surround yourself.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The adoption of a wisdom approach is in the broadcasting of its power. Authenticity, whether in use or not, lives within every human. The broadcast of the possibility will always magnetize leaders to want deep rooting. In a sense, the beauty of reclaiming our birthright in wisdom has no other need than being heard.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

This will be the toughest question. The first thing to see is the assumption on which the question rests. It assumes that there are things you can skip that would make your journey easier or more effective. This possibility only lives in the mind that believes that it can rearrange the course of life itself. Stephen Covey, another of my mentors, would often compare our movement in life with the 7 days that God took to create the world. He would tell all that would listen never to skip any of the days. He saw the crisis of leadership as one of leaders pretending. Pretending they had lived day one and two of the path but had actually skipped to a later day. He was clear that every experience was necessary and should be harvested as part of the human development possibility.

So, when you ask that question, I want to encourage everyone to boldly encounter every experience. There is no category of “things I could have skipped”. In fact, the appreciation of everything that led one to any point in life’s journey should be extended to all events. Of course, my hope is that this answer isn’t seen as cute or dismissive. I teach this pointer in all of my corporate development engagements. So, I humbly submit that this may be the wrong question to ask.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

The most successful habit or mindset is that of earnestness or endless dedication. All the rest live on top of this one. Authenticity is the magnetizer of movement towards itself. Don’t mistake this with effort. There is a difference between the egoic effort within the inauthentic story and the magnetization of the authentic itself.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

In today’s terrain of brand story and simply story itself, the point of difference is the magnetizing of the market to that story. Any company, no matter how great it’s product or service, is at a disadvantage in the market if it ignores its own authentic story. Companies are recognizing this dynamic currently by concentrating on the internal development of the brand story within a company and those who deliver its message. The individual story of each leader in a company locates within the greater brand story itself. I would never enter a race starting 10 meters behind. I wouldn’t bet investor dollars on a company that didn’t seek to secure its place in the market in every way that it could.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/awakenedstories/) Linked In (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alaneshelton/) Instagram (@alanshelton) My websites are alanshelton.com and awakenedleadership.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Big Ideas: The Netflix of Personal Branding with Kareem Mostafa, co-founders at tribetactics

by Christina D. Warner, MBA
Community//

Sahmi Chowdhury & Mashiat Mutamainnah: “Start building trust before thinking about money”

by Fotis Georgiadis

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.