Meaning in the Midst of Madness

Amidst all of the turmoil, I found something beautiful. I always do. Buried deep in a back corner of my jewelry box that houses a handful of one-off items, I found an old watch. More specifically, I found the 20 year old watch that my MeeMaw gave me for my high school graduation. It has a beautiful face. Years ago, I slapped a beautiful deep brown alligator strap on it. It’s just…beautiful. But some 5+ years ago, it ceased working. The hands haven’t moved in years. For this watch, time has literally stood still. Kind of like my last year. Kind of like most everyone’s last few weeks.

Over the past year plus, my definition of beauty profoundly changed. Being busy is no longer beautiful to me. Neither is chasing money. Ditto to perfection.

Instead, I salivate over a crisply hit 3 iron. I yearn for a rich mix of flavors at dinner each night. I embrace the sunlight. I itch to share these words each week, hoping deep down that they may help someone.

I ripped up the roadmap and started making my own. I veered off the interstate and took the gravel roads. The skyscrapers turned into ocean waves. Life’s complexities became, well, less complex.

Last Thursday, Christy took the training wheels off of Banks’ bicycle. I was at the golf course doing some work, but he apparently picked it right up. I received a FaceTime call and two videos that basically said, Get yo’ a$$ over here, Dad. Shortly after, I got to see it with my own two eyes. He was as happy as a clam. I was tickled pink. I think mama was crying. (Or maybe that was me.) Our little boy was getting big.

But of course, I knew that. I’ve watched it up close and personal, hour after hour, almost every single day for the better part of a year. Everybody said these were the best years, so I made a decision to trade most everything for that time. Old beauty for new beauty.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen beauty from our nurses, doctors, and grocery workers, to name a few. We’ve seen incredible human spirit and grit as we all desperately try to support those businesses and causes that are meaningful to us. Personally, I’ve recaptured a wonderful, old memory of my MeeMaw and made a brand new one of my son riding his bike proudly, though still a little scared, which is beautiful in its own way.

There’s meaning hidden amidst the chaos, should we choose to see it. Meaning that can provide a reset and an opportunity to truly consider, strengthen, and own our life stories.

Hell, after the madness subsides, I may even get this watch fixed.

Have a great week, and stay safe.-Benj

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The Light Must Shine On

It’s three weeks ‘til go-time,
‘Til a whole year has passed.
Could I get good at golf?
Was the question that I asked.

245 days of grinding,
That’s the journey so far.
So close, so damn close,
To that elusive even par.

73 happened once,
There were a zillion 74s.
But if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you ten times,
It ain’t all about the scores.

It’s about waking up every morning,
Driving over to my spot.
Getting loose and getting focused,
And then giving everything I’ve got.

For 5 hours, 6 hours,
And some days so much more.
Could I do something that no one,
Had ever done before?

Could I get past the discomfort?
And play through the pain?
How far could I take my body?
How far could I take my brain?

Turns out a long way,
Even further than I thought.
“Want to” takes you places,
That can never be taught.

It also turns out POTENTIAL,
Is a huge interest of mine.
How to help others get the most out of life,
And let their brightest light shine.

But I had to go first,
To know what it entailed.
How it felt if I succeeded,
How it felt if I failed.

But the thing about this journey,
If it had just one goal.
‘Twas THE PURSUIT of something great,
That burned deep in my soul.

Not about succeeding or failing,
Just me versus me.
About trying, really trying,
To be all that I could be.

And one year is just a number,
And so is even par.
It takes time to build a foundation,
And even more to raise the bar.

So what’s the point, what’s next?
That’s very hard to define.
All I know is I’ve got a light burning,
That I badly want to shine.

So I’ll shine and I’ll shine,
And I hope you will too.
Because it’s needed, and more importantly,
It’s what we were put here to do.

Have a great week, and stay safe.-Benj

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Year One in Mississippi

“I understood that the most beautiful, dangerous, adventurous and gratifying journey of all is the one inside yourself…”- Remote Islander Mauro Morandi

On Thursday of this past week, I had my normal 6 month rheumatology visit to make sure that my arthritis was under control and that my twice monthly injections were doing their job with limited side effects. I pulled into the parking lot, locked the car, and started into the building. At the entrance, I was met with multiple signs and a woman in what looked like a hazmat suit. The message was very simple. To get in the building, you must pass a few preliminary tests. We ain’t playing here. I did, everything went fine, and it was business as usual, except that it wasn’t. But the message, as it should be during this time, was very simple: safety first. As someone who has lived with a suppressed immune system for many years, I (and so many others) can’t afford to play. It may be inconvenient for a hot minute, but it is what it is.

On this day exactly one year ago, I began a new life in Mississippi. Outside of all of the travel excursions and coaching Banks’ soccer team, unbeknownst to me, I voluntarily socially distanced myself for the vast majority of the year. On many days, I wouldn’t SEE 10 people, much less congregate with them. I was on a mission. It was much more than just golf. It was a complete life reset.

Now, hidden in all of the current chaos, most everyone has that same unique opportunity. Take a deep breath. There’s only so much we can control, so enjoy what’s right in front of us.

It’s easy to get lost in the simple narrative that Benj took the year off to play golf. While that is somewhat true, it is only a small piece of the puzzle. The most important and rewarding piece of the first year in Mississippi was to spend countless hours building a unique bond with my son and watching Christy unchain from her desk and get to do the same. I got to take him to and pick him up from school 90 percent of the time. For months, his daycare ended at 11:30am. For months, there was no daycare on Friday. Recently, there have been weeks at a time where it was just he and I, with Christy traveling for work and some much deserved fun and frivolity. As I’ve mentioned before, fatherhood did not come easy to me, so I really focused this year on redefining what that relationship, amongst many others, could be.

For the foreseeable future, most all of us have been given the gift of time. Instead of looking at the mostly anxiety-inducing “news” updates, we can focus on some life-changing self-care. Learn a new skill. Re-engage with a favorite hobby. Get fit. Have big family dinners (not too big or you won’t get fit lol). Get some fresh air. Re-get-to-know your spouse, partner, or whomever. Call your parents and friends. Have a few laughs.

Personally, I’ve socially distanced out at Horn Island, an uninhabited barrier island 5+ miles off the mainland. I continue to work on the golf daily, mostly alone or with my son and super careful not to touch anything.

We look at the snakes and alligators and love every minute. I call my parents five times a week. I sit in the sun and read. We have big family dinners and snuggle the dogs.

We are also figuring out the best way to support those who mean so much locally: daycare teachers, golf shop workers, favorite holes in the wall.

As I’ve reflected this week, every chaotic instance in my life, when put into the appropriate perspective, has turned out positively: struggling through arthritis, multiple knee surgeries, loneliness, and an unprepared entry to parenthood, to name a few.

We’ve now been forced to slow down, and instead of being annoyed, we can be grateful. That’s pretty much what I learned first hand in an unusual yet extraordinary first year in Mississippi.

Have a great week, and stay safe.- The most fast-paced dude you will ever meet, Benj

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abk Golf 11 Month Checkup

Statistically, before the great golf journey began 11 months ago, I wasn’t even an average golfer. That came as a shock to me (and my ego). I loved the game, I wore cool shoes, but I wasn’t even average. Yikes! Turns out, I was ranked somewhere between the 41st and 46th percentile of active, registered golfers.

Now, after 231 days of intense study, practice, and play, I find myself around the 92nd percentile. That’s more like it. But what’s new, what’s next, and who cares?

My days have now officially been divided between three types of golf: social, practice, and competitive. My preference is either practice or competitive just because of the way I am wired, but the course is where I get my daily human interaction, so the social piece cannot be ignored.

Given that Biloxi is a tourist destination, I often find myself playing with folks from all over America. I’ve played with bankers from Alabama, members of the Veteran Golfers Association, and tattoo artists from Louisiana. I’ve played with golf pros from Washington, retirees from North Dakota, tourists from Pennsylvania, and everything in between. I’ve gotten more phone numbers this year than the homecoming king in college, all attributed to this great game.

The problem with social golf is that I become way too interested in these folks’ life story, and inevitably they in mine, to pay attention to playing golf. I might show them where to go on the course and help them read their putts. In turn, they may want to know why I am wearing a pink hat, a white and red snakeskin belt, or a deer head necklace. Before you know it, we are talking about health, happiness, camaraderie, adventure, regret, addiction, and who knows what. You know, life. I often just listen. Maybe they realize that someone on an 11 month golf journey might deeply understand. It’s turned out to be my daily investment in humanity, but…it adds about 7 strokes to my round.

On the competitive side, I’m down to a 4.2 handicap and a 78.25 scoring average, both easily the best of my life, and those numbers are even better when I’m fully focused. (In the 17 rounds I’ve competed in, I’m playing to roughly a 3 handicap.) However, I have been careful and continue to be careful to not let the statistics dictate my journey. As with anything, they don’t tell the whole story, but in golf, they do tell a whole hell of a lot.

In fact, my primary focus right now, confidence, is something that is tricky to measure, but that is needed in droves. Going from below average to the top 10 percent so quickly in anything can make anyone question, “Do I really belong?”

At some point and some point soon, I’ve got to flip a switch. Benj, this is no longer a where you’ve been story to where you hope to go. That’s a different life ago. This is about where you are now and where you are actually going. There is a huge difference, and I’ll give you a recent example.

Earlier this week, I played in a 20-man competition. It was 80 degrees, and I had a good, long warmup. As such, I birdied holes 1 and 2. I lipped out a 3 foot birdie on 3. I babied a 5 footer for birdie on 4. I left a 10 footer for birdie on the lip on 5. After doubling 6 because of an errant drive, I babied a 6 footer for eagle on 7. Through 7, I realistically should have been 7 under par, but instead I was only 1 under. I had never been there before. My heart beat faster. Did I belong? Not at 7 under, I didn’t. Not yet.

The back 9 was the same song and dance. Made some birdies. Left a couple on the lip. Hit a few drives off the planet.

I posted a 76 for about the 9,000th time, but after deducting the 7, yes SEVEN, penalty strokes and the 5 putts I left on the lip, that’s a 64. I’m not a shoulda woulda coulda kind of guy, but do you see what I’m saying? I was VERY disappointed in myself, but I had never been there, and the occasion was just too big. Maybe next time, I’ll know better.

So here we are, 11 months in. From the 40th something percentile to the 90th plus. From 92.9 to 78.25. From 14 to 4.2. From a dream to a hope to a belief to now needing that final bit of high level confidence that I can actually do it. Because the strange thing is, I know that I can do it. Of course I know that I can do it. I just haven’t done it yet. It’s been right in front of me multiple times, and I guess I just wasn’t quite ready.

Also, I should probably quit thinking about whether I will ever belong. I don’t really belong to anything else, so who cares? One reason I love sports so much is because being good breaks down every other divisive barrier, and golf is no different. If you can play, you can play.

This past year, golf has given me lots of answers, but now the journey has started posing even more questions. This is what I live for…these tough questions. I just need to slow down the heartbeat, steady the hands, and learn to make the putt.

All statistical analysis aside, either I will do it or I won’t. I only need to do it once, and then I won’t be scared anymore. That’s basically the entire premise of the anything but khakis journey.

Have a great week.-Benj

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It Ain’t About Pants: Volume 2

A couple of months ago, I did something that made me very uncomfortable. Roped in by a Christmastime clearance sale, I bought two pair of khaki-colored Puma golf pants. I hadn’t owned nor worn a pair of khakis since Halloween 2018, which I wore as a part of a costume, but since these $100 pants were on sale for $15, I had to give them a shot. Golf is expensive. Travel is expensive. Pants don’t have to be. Anything but khakis…maybe I was evolving or at least softening my stance?

Well, I was wrong. No chance. I hate ‘em, but I’m proud of myself for trying.

Over the past few years, I tried a zillion things.

I adventured to Hollywood, Miami, Destin, Atlanta, Nashville, Wyoming, Montana, Salt Lake City, Venice/Bologna/Milan, Italy, Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, New York City, Cleveland, New Orleans, Kentucky, Indiana, Washington DC, Baltimore, Dallas, Orlando, Mexico City, Wrightsville Beach, Ocean Isle, The Greenbrier, Baton Rouge, Houston, Panthers Training Camp, North Carolina Golf Week, Iceland, Las Vegas, Boone, The Outer Banks, Primland, Cameron Indoor Stadium, West Jefferson, NBA All Star Weekend, San Diego, Tijuana, East Lake, Pinehurst Resort, JazzFest, Kingsport, Midwest Road Trip (Mississippi to Minneapolis and back), Tampa, Selma, Out West Road Trip (Mississippi to Utah to Charlotte and back), Birmingham, Chattanooga, The Cotton Bowl, Natchez, Cancun, South Florida, and Mardi Gras. Oh, and I moved to Mississippi.

I ate everything under the sun. Octopus tacos stood out. Shrimp and oysters covered in melted swiss and brown gravy became a fav. Egg rolls from a local gas station became an even bigger fav.

I slept in every kind of bed seemingly except my own. I slept in a camper in Iowa. I slept in a tent, on hard rocks, under the beautiful, yet windy, Utah sky. Believe it or not, my 6’4” frame actually slept in bunk beds.

I felt immense joy, deep grief, confusion, bewilderment, curiosity, excitement, and fear. I felt passion. Lots and lots of passion.

I met new friends, lost old friends, lost new friends (I’m not everyone’s cup of tea), reconnected with long lost souls, and every other combination you can imagine.

I learned why Iceland is a bucket list destination, but also why it might cause depression in gloomy months.

I learned why México City is a culinary hotspot, but also what Montezuma’s Revenge feels like.

I learned what shooting an 89 and being thrilled feels like, and I learned what shooting a 73 and being disappointed feels like.

I learned what it feels like to have an epidural injected into my spine and what piriformis syndrome and plantar fasciitis feel like. I learned that I wouldn’t wish those on my worst enemy.

I learned what it feels like to drive across the country, both east to west and north to south. I learned that the United States of America, while only one country, can feel like hundreds of different universes.

I learned what it feels like to personally walk across the infamous bridge in Selma, Alabama, nervous and uncertain how exactly I was supposed to feel.

I learned what it feels like to start building something from scratch, small step by small step, and the patience required and frustration felt along the way.

Repeatedly, I have worked towards and accomplished absurd personal feats, feeling over and over what it is like to do something no one (i.e. myself) ever thought was possible.

And I learned what it feels like to do these things alone, with family, with friends, and with complete strangers.

The pursuit of self mastery and the evolution of self is the most powerful, and most difficult, force I’ve ever encountered. (Please note: this is NOT the pursuit of perfection. If anything, it is the complete opposite.) This journey propelled me into new worlds, worlds that I didn’t even know existed, worlds that I now live in. (I’m not talking about Mississippi.) Everything I did made me feel a certain way, and by honing in on those feelings, I was able to take each experience as a useful, positive learning experience (especially when I felt very uncomfortable), no doubt preparing me for something grander, more purposeful in the future.

I learned to experience life in a completely different way. Things that scared me previously, I now walk straight towards instead of away from. Things that made me uncomfortable or nervous, I realized that feeling was probably either a mirage or due to my own ignorance or inexperience. Things or people that I didn’t understand, well, that’s on me, not them.

I’m not naturally a feeler, but through all of this, I learned how to feel my way through life. Now, THAT is something new.

After all of this evolution, I don’t know why I still can’t get my head around khaki pants, but I tried, and that’s 90% of the battle.

Oh, and I also can’t get my head around king cake, which I technically still haven’t tried. I’ve been looking at this Mardi Gras colored, strawberry cream cheese, cinnamon goo-filled concoction for over a week now, and I just can’t do it. It grosses me out. Turns out, I have limits too.

Anything but khakis and king cake…just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Have a great week.-Benj

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Deep South Diaries: Mardi Gras 2020

“Everywhere else, it’s just Tuesday.”-New Orleans Pelicans’ Instagram

Every morning, I wake my son up, and the first thing I excitedly say to him is “Big (whatever day it is)”. Big Monday. Big Wednesday. Big Friday. It starts his day off positively, and we talk about what is going to be exciting that day. School. Dinner. Soccer practice. Maybe a ball game. It’s a silly little thing, but it’s important. But this past Tuesday, I skipped the “Big”. It wasn’t just any Tuesday down here. Nah, it was Mardi Gras. “Bud, wake up. It’s Fat Tuesday.”

I have never been a fan of traditional holidays. First, there’s something about observing the same old rituals over and over that has never appealed to me. Second, many of these days are completely made up. Spend a little money. Get a fake high. Why not just celebrate at 8am on a random Tuesday instead? And third, during so many of these so-called celebrations, the pace of life comes to a complete standstill, and I don’t like standstills. I like action.

I remember as a young person growing up adjacent to a college campus dreading the day the students went home in May and getting super hyped about when the fall athletes reported for preseason in August. It was like living in two different places, a bustling city of its own for eight months and a ghost town for four.

Anyways, enter Mardi Gras. Enter that 8am on Tuesday morning. Maybe you’ve seen, heard about, or experienced the madness yourself. Just a few blocks away from the parade route, New Orleans was a ghost town. But along Saint Charles Avenue, it was absolute bedlam. And as I inched closer to the madness, I knew this was going to be good by the way I began to feel.

As a first timer, I had two distinct Mardi Gras experiences this year. First, I attended the Krewe of Neptune parade last Saturday night in Biloxi with Banks, friends, and a smattering of locals. It was certainly kid-friendly, super fun, and a warmup for New Orleans. Second, I attended one of the main events, the primarily African-American Krewe of Zulu parade on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, with Christy and a zillion others. It was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had.

On Instagram, I wrote that it was a combination of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Las Vegas, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve. What I forgot to write was that it also reminded me of the heart of Brooklyn on New York City Marathon Day combined with a massive, massive tailgate.

Mardi Gras is so unique and has such energy and creativity. The costumes are ridiculous. The masks are mysterious. The floats are unreal. Christy caught a beautiful Zulu coconut. Banks caught about 20 pounds of beads, footballs, and God only knows what.

I caught some things not suitable for sharing, an excellent frisbee throw, and a packet of ramen noodles 🤷🏽‍♂️. You have to be paying attention, or you are going to get popped by something. I took a blow to the back and to the knuckles, which left me giggling at the insanity of it all.

People had said, “Go to Jazzfest, but Mardi Gras ain’t all that.” Incorrect. Firsthand, that is incorrect. Just another reason I go experience things for myself instead of listening to the chatter. Both the Biloxi and New Orleans experiences genuinely put a huge smile on my face, and I only scratched the surface.

Unfortunately, I can’t stand on pavement for hours on end anymore. My joints just can’t handle it. So I learned a lot in preparation for next year, the next year, and the next. Treat it like a tailgate. Bring the cooler (no glass). Bring the grub. Bring the chairs. Dress up. The parade brings the music. The event brings the people. The people bring the energy and the vibe.

I’m sure over on Bourbon Street it can get a little rambunctious, no doubt. But over at Saint Charles and Girod, nestled five or six rows deep next to the magnificent restaurant, Herbsaint, it was an utter and complete vibe. And I will definitely be back next year, better prepared, dressed to the nines, and ready to go.

Have a great week.-Benj

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All In: Behind the Scenes of Chasing a Dream

What does chasing a dream in adulthood really look like? What does making my own path really mean? What does living life completely differently feel like? What are the good, the bad, and the painful? What have I learned?

Tradeoffs?

Moving from a 3,000 square foot house overlooking Uptown Charlotte to living in roughly 500 square feet on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

My 37 year old body being super sore 100% of the time.

Wearing compression socks and ankle sleeves for recovery each day and sleeping in a boot at night.

Stretching hourly. (I hate it.)

Going from a six figure salary to literally zero.

Having comprehensive benefits to having none, then having to research, find, and pay for insurance on my own.

Leaving most of my friends and family and moving to a community where literally everyone was a stranger.

Not contributing to a retirement account in quite some time. (I’m never going to retire anyways.)

Watching a savings account go the wrong way.

Not sleeping in my own bed in over a year.

Leaving one of the fastest growing cities in America for one of the “lowest ranked” states in many categories.

Biggest Learnings?

Fear of failure is a mirage. Failure of what and defined by whom?

There are lots of normal human stressors (and even increased human stressors) with this setup. If you are wondering “doesn’t it this and doesn’t it that”, the answer is probably YES.

My golf teacher says the hardest thing to find in people is true, bona fide “want to”, not lip service “want to”. Lots of people have talent. Lots of people work hard. Some want it more than others. That comes from deep down.

There are lots of things that I want to do, but there are equally as many things that I absolutely do not want to do. I think that piece gets overlooked.

Pushing myself, testing my limits, and trying crazy new things have taken me to a magical new place.

I had a putt on the 14th hole worth about $35 the other day. Make or miss, it’s on me, and that’s what I love about this journey.

Every day I don’t take seriously is like throwing a $50 bill into the ocean.

It takes a bit of money, sure, but more importantly, it takes self-belief. In reality, you can go make some money doing anything. Traditional job, real estate investment, selling belongings, selling my lunch in middle school lol, winning golf shootouts, setting a few hats on fire 🔥 🤷🏽‍♂️, to name a few.

Zero debt and a little cash make the world real big.

Traveling to new places with new people make the world even bigger.

Quieting outside opinion makes the world huge.

Blazing my own trail has been ridiculously fulfilling. I thought it might be lonely, but now that I have my feet under me, it is absolutely mesmerizing.

Shooting that 73 recently left me saying, “Dream bigger, son.”

213 days of golf times an average of 5 hours per day is roughly 1,065 hours. It’s a good start.

As long as it is over 32 degrees, I’m playing.

My joints (and my golf ball) are ready for the hot weather to return.

I completely rewired the way I think about life, from the way the world encourages us to operate to what I actually believe and how I want to operate, in 2-3 years. That was much harder than what I am trying to do now.

Biggest Surprises?

How much I love the coast.

How hard the golf swing is on my feet and ankles.

How big my comfort zone has gotten.

That you can buy or build a beautiful house looking out on the Gulf for less than a starter home in Charlotte. Mind boggling.

Any Regrets?

No regrets, but during the last year, I wouldn’t do all the travel and golf simultaneously. I would fully focus on the golf. I probably lost a few work days there. But some of those trips were banging and most included great golf, so who knows?

Am I having fun?

Yes, and I hope Christy and Banks are too. I absolutely love the work, the constant learning and growth, and the unknown. Also, I love that I am being true to myself.

Best Part?

Getting to be Daddy Day Care for portions of the past year was absolutely priceless. What a unique opportunity that I’m so glad I got to have.

Have a great week.-Benj

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