Why I Risked My Reputation to Live With 2 Names for 10 Years: Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way
They said I was crazy. And I should kill one off. I would lose my business, if I didn’t. But deep down, I knew this was a path I had to take.
Maybe you’ve considered a name change yourself, but haven’t been sure how you would do it, or even why you wanted to do it. Over these next days, I’ll be sharing my name change journey, culminating in the announcement of what I have discovered as my one true name, and the integration of a decade of personal work around identity.
If you are struggling with any confusion around your own identity and the name(s) that represent you, this series may be one that could help.
IDENTITY: What’s In a Name?
If you’ve been around these parts for any length of time, you know I’ve been in a BIG kerfuffle around my name for quite a long time. Alexis Martin Neely, Alexis Neely, Ali Shanti … which name is truly mine?
Of course, the question was much deeper than that.
“Who am I?”
“Why am I here?”
And, “what’s mine to do?” were my perpetual wonderings.
It wasn’t my name I was conflicted about, it was my entire identity.
Lawyer, hippie, mother, artist, CEO, entrepreneur, multi-dimensional being, human … who am I and how could I be all of it when there seemed to be so much paradox in all of those various parts of me?
But ten years ago, when suddenly a new identity began to emerge through me right when I was at the top of my success game, there were no role models.
I would have to figure it out on my own. And, it was confusing, at best. Crazy-making at worst.
When I first “came out” with it on Facebook and my blog, a woman congratulated me for my mad pride and invited me to join her movement. “Oohhh,” I thought, “how nice of her to see me as extraordinarily prideful about the personal work I am doing.”
And, then, I saw the link she posted with her comment and realized she wasn’t congratulating me for my pride, she was inviting me to be a spokesperson for the cause of celebrating pride around mental illness.
CALL TO THE UNKNOWN: Was I Going Insane?
My Alexis Martin Neely part was mortified. I was being seen as literally insane. My Ali Shanti part loved it. But that part didn’t have much standing inside of me, as she was leading me straight into the path of everything that terrified me the most, what I now understand as my shadow.
As I allowed the parts I was hiding to emerge from where I had hidden them, I had to face all that I had been avoiding. I thought these parts were ugly and shameful, so I hid them away behind a mask of superiority and specialness named Alexis Martin Neely.
And while that superiority and specialness was satisfying to a degree, it was never going to be enough. Alexis Martin Neely was a construct, a facade, a terrified ego who looked good on TV, but was rotting on the inside.
As Alexis Martin Neely, I followed all the rules of the collective game, and was winning. Or, so it seemed. Fame, fortune, a house by the beach, a fancy car and my kids in private school. I should have been able to keep climbing.
But, I couldn’t. Something was off, disconnected, and hurting.
It would take an ayahuasca journey for me to begin to see what it was. Today, journeying with the plant medicine ayahuasca has been fairly well normalized. It’s even advertised on Facebook! But, ten years ago, when I first got the call to ayahuasca, it was still very underground, and I was pretty sure people were just using it to get high. Until I experienced it myself and saw it was anything but that.
That first ayahuasca journey showed me what I had not been able to see myself. Ayahuasca (called the grandmother medicine) showed me a world that works for everyone. Through her guidance, I understood what Charles Eisenstein would write about four years after this journey, in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. But, at the time of that first journey, no one seemed to be speaking or writing what I saw so clearly.
The reason I was so discontent with my success was because I desperately wanted to create and live in a world that worked for everyone, and yet everything that I had been taught to do, every way I had been taught to be, and everything that was creating my success was the exact opposite of that reality.
During that journey, I saw with my own eyes and felt throughout my entire being that my winning was at the expense of others. My success was built on the backs of the people who worked for me, and my pursuit of money and freedom was at their expense.
I wasn’t creating a world that works for everyone. I was creating a world that worked for meeeeee! And I was winning.
My winning was perpetuating the win/lose dynamics that are leading us quickly down the road of extinction. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. But, I had no idea what to do it.
I didn’t know any other way to be. I had been taught to play a game I no longer wanted to win, but I still hated losing. And didn’t yet understand the concept of win/win dynamics.
I began to find myself in a confusing state of depression.
One thing became crystal clear, as I sat on the sound stage of the Nancy Grace show, waiting to gossip about Tiger Woods divorce, I would have to stop doing what I had been taught and figure out what it meant to create the world I wanted to live in.
Step 1: I would have to stop doing television until I could do television that would truly make a difference.
So, I left Los Angeles, the place where my ego was so comfortable and wildly rewarded, and moved to Boulder, CO, where I would begin to find my heart, a new part emerging through me, and a need to give up everything I had created at a far greater level than I would have ever imagined.
Ali Shanti was the soft, feminine, yielding heart of my unknown.
Discovering her, living as her and with her, would be a ten year journey of discovery and confusion and spiraling up and down and all around the wheel, my personal hero(ine)’s journey.
Books, not written, and even a book deal lost, because which name would be on the cover? Though maybe in some alternate reality the book did get published by Alexis Neely in Spain. Weird.
Podcasts not launched, because which name would I use?
Branding confusion in my companies.
Through it all, I maintained that I needed both names because that’s what was true to me, and nothing more true had presented itself.
So, even though it was HIGHLY uncomfortable and fantastically inconvenient, for nearly ten years, I lived the both/and of Alexis Martin Neely, Alexis Neely and Ali Shanti.
Three Facebook profiles, two different names on my Insta profile and Twitter.
Some people who knew me as Ali Shanti, others as Alexis Neely. Those who knew me as both and just got it were automatically part of my inner circle, a filter I probably needed to some degree, as I had to begin developing a new internal capacity for discernment.
But, most people didn’t get it, and said I just needed to choose one and kill off the other. But, I couldn’t. It wasn’t what was true. And to kill off either would have been like cutting off a body part.
These names represented parts of me that needed to be fully seen, known, felt and heard.
CONFLICT: What Was Wrong With Me?
The Alexis Martin Neely/Ali Shanti split was the external representation of a deep inner conflict that I chose not to hide, from myself or the world.
Conflict between the masculine and feminine parts of myself.
Conflict between the parts that wanted to extract and exclude and separate and those that wanted to include, and transcend and merge.
Conflict between the “Orange” and “Green” values sets that Scott Jeffrey describes in this article on How to Use Spiral Dynamics for Psychological and Leadership Development.
In the midst of all of this conflict, I had to find a way to be all of myself out in the world, and living with two names seemed to be the most aligned and integral way to do it, even if it was confusing to most people.
Choosing to present a dual identity that was confusing to people was not an easy choice.
My “Alexis Martin Neely” part was pretty pissed about it, in fact. The part of me that she represented was mostly driven by image and reputation and achievement (classic “Orange” values).
But, my Ali Shanti part refused to stay hidden any longer.
At the top of my Orange game of success, in the midst of regular TV appearances and on the verge of the fame and fortune I had been questing to create, I had a foreboding feeling that something was wrong and that if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to get sick, or maybe even die.
Thoughts of illness and death and escape permeated my mind, nearly constantly. And, even though I had huge amounts of support on my business teams and in my home, I resented and felt burdened by all of it.
What was wrong with me?
TRANSFORMATION: Awakening Into Meaning
Now, with the benefit of ten years of hindsight and personal growth work, I know what was wrong with me.
I was awakening through a crisis of meaning. For the scientific, cognitive and historical perspective on this collective awakening that tracks at a macro level what it seems was happening for me on the micro individual level of my life, this video series by John Vervaeke lays it all out.
At the time it was happening through and for me, there were no scientific or cognitive explanations.
I thought I was losing my mind.
It turns out though, I wasn’t losing my mind, I was finding my heart.
But, I didn’t know how to hold the ambiguity and tension of the opposites and paradoxes that lived within me — the deep conflicts that seemed to exist between my mind and my heart — so I cut off aspects of my humanity, just as Jeffrey Scott writes in his article.
Back then, I didn’t know anything about spiral dynamics or shadow work or awakening. I only knew that everything I had learned about how to be in the world seemed totally wrong, and I couldn’t seem to see anything that would show me the way toward what felt right.
At one level, I lived with a deep distrust of myself and humanity and judged everyone and everything, especially those closest to me.
At another level, my heart was calling for a level of connection and a trust of Life that seemed to be in direct contradiction to what I had learned would lead to the success I had been bred to create.
I looked for the stories of others who were experiencing what I was and couldn’t find anyone who was transparently talking about what I was experiencing. So I shared as much of it as I could, as it was happening with the intention of hopefully making sense of it all, and also finding others who may have been experiencing what I was too.
There was so much I couldn’t share in the moment though, because it was too confusing to me, but I documented as much of it as possible, and hope to publish the whole story one day.
Maybe as a result of reading my story, you will shortcut your own process to finding wholeness and the integration of your own conflicted parts.
Bits and pieces can be found in my chapters in the books The Path of the Priestess: Discover Your Divine Purpose and Pioneering the Path to Prosperity: Discover the Power of True Wealth and Abundance. Infinite gratitude to publisher @janeashley for these works.
I lived with this internal conflict, dis-integration and fragmentation for years, eventually coming to the belief that I was in the midst of some sort of a multi-year initiation process and that every painful and confusing experience I was experiencing was teaching me something I needed to learn about how to become a human I would appreciate, love and respect.
Because if I couldn’t be someone I appreciated, loved and respected, how could I ever really appreciate, love and respect anyone else? And, if I couldn’t appreciate, love and respect others, how could I ever find the true success, fulfillment and meaning I so deeply desired?
I even named my company “It’s All Happening LLC” so that I would be reminded, each time I forgot, that everything that was happening was happening for me, not to me.
Because when I forgot, I would sink into a despair that seemed difficult to get beyond. In those moments of forgetting, suicide seemed like a rational choice.
But when I re-membered, I was able to move beyond what I can now see as a deeply ingrained inherited legacy of victim consciousness into a seeing and knowing that I was being trained by these experiences for something greater than I could understand through my limited mind’s eye.
I began to see my Life as a microcosm of evolution.
If I longed to see something different outside of me, I would have to make the changes inside of me. I would have to do as John Vervaeke now so rationally and clearly makes the case for at the end of this first of his many videos on Awakening From the Meaning Crisis, and disrupt my framing.
I would have to awaken to the unconscious patterns that were keeping me stuck in a world not worth living in, in order to create a life worth living.
But ten years ago, John Vervaeke wasn’t making videos like this. I felt alone, lost, and deeply troubled by it all.
Awakening into meaning has been my personal journey over these past ten years. It’s been full-on, full range, full spectrum, throwing myself into the fire again and again, so I could experience and learn from it all, until I could find meaning and hope in a world full of terror, horror and despair.
By living as the both/and all of me that was the split between Alexis Martin Neely and Ali Shanti, and allowing Life to continue to guide me, through often hard and painful lessons, I have finally become a woman I believe in and trust.
I am now beginning to know how to see the world not just through the egocentric lens of the “I”, but through the lens of True Love. I continue to be a work in progress, learning, growing and evolving. But finally, it all seems to make sense. And these multiple names and name changes have been a critical part of the process.
By living so fully in the duality of my own inner conflicts, I’ve been able to gain some of the insights necessary to begin to see what it all means, where and how it all resolves. Much more on this to come.
A few years ago, I began to sense that integration was coming.
INTEGRATION: My One True Name
It started when I was at an event called the Roots Gathering in Punta Mona, a permaculture farm on the far south of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The way I had gotten to Punta Mona and the Roots Gathering was full of synchronicity and magic.
I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
My life appeared to be falling apart at an entirely greater level than ever before. Even more so than the years earlier when I destroyed everything I had created, moved to the farm, and filed bankruptcy. I had bounced back from that, and figured I’d made it through the worst of times and, yet, here I was at what appeared to be an entirely new level of worst of times.
But this time, I had far more resilience. Whereas moving to the farm was in part a giving up because I didn’t see any other options (and thank God and Goddess I did because I found my humanity there), going to Costa Rica in the midst of what appeared to be a massive crisis in both of my businesses and at home was an act of empowered choice.
My time in Costa Rica showed me how I want to live. And, it also showed me how much I wanted to die. Or at least some part of me did.
While I was there, a new name presented itself to me. Another freaking name! A name I knew was mine. But I could not imagine a reality in which I would take it on, and let go of the others, and I couldn’t imagine a reality in which I took on yet another name.
So I held this name close to my heart. Truth was, I just wasn’t ready. My integration was still incomplete.
And, now it is. I’m ready.
I’m ready to drop all the other names and step into the one name that is mine, and that represents all of me.
I’ll be sharing that name along with a video I’ve been working on with Adam Roa, Ryan Fontana, and Matthew Ayriss, the amazingly talented crew from the show, the Art of Choosing Love, on Father’s Day.
It all makes so much sense now, and it’s been worth the waiting, and the trust and patience I’ve gotten to cultivate through the process.
Between now and then, I intend to tell you the rest of the story of how I came to discover my one true name, and why that might be important for you and your own process of discovery.
So if you’ve been started to get a sense of wanting to change your name, or perhaps have been in your own confusing journey experimenting with different names and identities, know you are not alone.
It truly is all happening. For me, for you, for us. ❤
Thank you for being here, and continuing to show up for this Eyes Wide Open Life.