Montana State University

At Montana State: Alex Sheen

November 16, 2015

Alex Sheen, founder of" because I said I would," an international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises, talks to a master class organized by the MSU Leadership Institute. MSU photo by Sepp JannottaAlex Sheen, ounder of" because I said I would," an international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises, tells MSU students that detailed calendaring is what keeps him organized during 14-hour days and 300 days of travel. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta. At just 30, Alex Sheen, founder of the non-profit "because I said I would" tells MSU students how they can make an impact on the world. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta.

Alex Sheen, founder of" because I said I would," an international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises, talks to a master class organized by the MSU Leadership Institute. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta

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Alex Sheen has promises to keep. In fact, since he launched because I said I would, an international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises, he has had a part in 3.15 million promises kept in 150 countries.

That’s a tall order for someone who just turned 30. In 2012, Sheen stepped away from a $100K salary and a career as a software executive to launch because I said I would following the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of his father – a man known for keeping promises. Sheen’s ideas was to promote the making and keeping promises, and recording them on notecards that Sheen provides – to make the world a better place. The movement has spread virally throughout the world through social media.

Sheen is a gifted speaker and a master at using social media for positive impact. He has appeared on CNN, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, NPR, Fox News, CBS Nightly News and many other programs. He has been featured on the cover of Spirit Magazine and in the Los Angeles Times, honored as a Steve Harvey “Harvey’s Hero” and has spoken at several TED Talks. Sheen’s efforts in social media were featured in BuzzFeed’s “Most Important Viral Videos of 2013.” His posts have made the number one spot on the front page of Reddit.com more than 10 times. 

Sheen was at Montana State University Monday to deliver a lecture sponsored by the MSU Leadership Institute. He took a few minutes to talk about how he manages traveling 300 days a year, how he keeps inspired and LeBron.

Q. Have you ever been to Montana before?

A. Just driving through. But my college, Ohio University (where he graduated with a degree in marketing), is the Bobcats. And my high school’s colors were blue and gold. So it feels very familiar here.

Q. You started because I said I would because your father, who died in 2012 of cancer, was a man of his word. What was his most important promise to you?

A. My college education. My father was an Asian immigrant who came to America when he was 17. At one time he only had 21 cents to his name. He worked as a waiter when he came here, then went on to get his degree in pharmacy from University of Toledo and then an MBA from Ohio State. There never was a question whether I would go to college. But a time came when I didn’t have money to continue.  So my dad promised me to pay for half of my college, to help me get loans. He knew it was important for me to work for part of it. And, when he died, I was able to pay off the loan.

Q. You regularly work 17 hours each day. Do you have advice for others on how you stay focused?

A. The most important thing that I do is to keep a calendar. I schedule every day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. I wasn’t born this way – keeping a calendar, but now I couldn’t function without it and it actually takes away stress rather than gives me stress because I know exactly what I have to do and where I have to go. Structure is important. I gave 170 speeches last year. Keeping a (detailed) calendar is the de facto best way to keep promises.

Q. How do you separate goals and promises?

A. Goals and promises are different things. It’s hard to accomplish a goal sometimes because it seems like such a big thing that it’s digestible. The key to accomplishing something big is to break it into a million 10-minute parts. Ten minutes is doable. Many times the big goals are just a collection of a whole lot of 10-minute parts.

Q. What’s your long-term goal for because I said I would?

A. Something new is that we are opening six because I said I would  chapters where people can work together to keep promises. We hope that the members of the chapters can make unified promises and really make a dent together. Can you imagine the impact if people across the globe worked on a world-wide promise?

Q. Your company is based in Cleveland. Cavs fan?

A. Oh, yeah. All the way. In fact, I’m going to be working with the LeBron James Family Foundation in April. LeBron made quite a promise himself. Through his I Promise program, he has promised a free college education to 1,000 students from Akron to attend the University of Akron, which is actually a $41 million promise. I’ll be working with the kids in the program with some strategies about how to stay in school.

Q. You mention that you spent 300 days away from home. What do you do for fun?

A. I do have to schedule time to just go out for beers with friends or to exercise, because I can’t afford to have burnout. Everything I do has to be sustainable.

Q. What are you reading?

A. I don’t read. I listen to audiobooks constantly … when I’m waiting for the plane, waiting for a speech. Right now I’m listening to a book on Human Memory. One of the best things I’ve listened to this year is “The Meaning of Life: A Perspective from the World’s Greatest Intellectual Traditions.”

Carmen McSpadden (406) 994-7667, cmcspadden@montana.edu