Why I Do What I Do

B8D2E974-C4E9-4F0E-BD58-D96435FD7743I have a wife. Her name is Christy. She is very talented at a lot of different things. She is an excellent mother. And she is actually who introduced me to my adventurous side some 12 years ago. I have a 3 year old son named Banks. His birthday was Saturday. He is ridiculously talented at a lot of different things. He is a daredevil (from me) and is super kind (from Christy). I have 2 dogs. The Jack Russell Terrier is named Becks. She’s nuts. The chihuahua is named Happy. He’s deaf. I also have a job. I am a banker for a large bank in Charlotte, NC. Believe it or not, I have been in banking for almost 16 years now. And you know what, I am keenly aware that I never write about any of this. It’s not that these things are not a huge part of my life or that they are not important. It’s just not what the blog is about.

72632E48-8E28-449A-93D8-2398092AFA1FReason 1: I have always been very private about certain aspects of my life. Definitely my “private” life. You are not going to see a lot of it. Example 1A: Banks’ birthday Saturday. I’m not going to send him a post on Facebook about how he is the best kid ever and how I can’t believe he is 3. I can believe it. It feels like roughly 3 years. He also doesn’t have Facebook. Instead, I decided to spend 2 full, quality days with him hugging him, kissing him, and telling him how much I love him. It was great.

CEDC3098-A494-4659-AD59-B43174B6599AReason 2: the first piece of advice I got when starting this blog was twofold. Your content needs to be awesome. And do something that no one else is doing (a good piece of general life advice also). You don’t need a blog on my private life. I’m a husband, a father, and an employee just like you. I have my ups and downs, successes and failures. If you want a blog on those topics, just open up your social media feed. You’ll immediately have about 200. But if you want that other part of me that is so important to my individual fulfillment? You know, the exploration, the insanity, the renegade. Then tune in. Going to Indiana by myself last Monday was awesome. Wearing the below hat this weekend to the party was awesome. Wearing the below tie to a client loan closing next week will be awesome. (BTW, my clients freaking love it. Why? Because it is different.) That individual expression and fulfillment piece is being ignored by so many, and it is so important. (Not a theory. Firsthand experience.). I know my idea of individual excitement might look a little weird by society’s conformist standards. But let’s be honest. I don’t care. What I do lights my world on fire, and it makes me so much better in all the more “normal” aspects of my life that you never see.

75B33642-C0AB-4FF6-BACA-891085AFFFD3So what’s the moral of the story? You’re only getting bits and bobs of my life in this blog. It’s not meant to be a full-fledged autobiography. It’s not meant for you to live vicariously through me. It’s not meant for you to be a “follower”. It’s sole purpose is to encourage you to go grab life…whatever that means to you.

Have a great week.- Benj

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I Don’t Travel for Fun

BAC15589-FD7C-41EA-8134-43E6CE2CAA7DDon’t get it twisted. Travel is a ton of fun. But it’s not why I travel. In the past, I’ve simply told you what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I’m gonna start letting you in on  why I do what I do. The way I think. Because if you simply say to yourself, “that looks fun”, you are gonna miss the boat. So why have I started travelling like a maniac? I’m frustrated. The world is super-divided right now. Old and young. Black and white. Rich and poor. Democrat and Republican. People don’t understand each other, but more importantly, no one is taking the time to try and understand each other. So I told myself last year, I’m gonna go figure this nonsense out. I’m gonna go see firsthand how people live. What they do for fun. What their key issues are. How they think. What their backyard looks like. To me, that is the only way to truly start a worthwhile conversation. I overhear more conversations that start “You know what the problem is…” If you’ve lived it, I’ll listen. If not, you’ve already lost me.

B71A78A2-CD48-44C2-A448-5CC8DA936F57I post these pictures on social media of landmarks, adventures, and games, but my true experience is so much deeper. You recently saw that I went to Churchill Downs, Indy Motor Speedway, and Hornets vs Pacers. What you didn’t see were my lengthy stops at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and University of Indiana to admire the architecture and explore years and years of history.

EEE0C69E-BE44-4136-8772-0AD8C17F2642257E1D3A-074C-41C1-BEF4-E4892FEB9993CA62CFB4-C068-4A73-AF8D-03B0001FE5B2I told you Kevin Hart was hilarious, but I didn’t tell you how deep he goes into the real life problems he has recently experienced. Or how he ran the NYC Marathon and went to Japan recently to get out of his comfort zone. I posted a picture of the “Grand Canyon of the South” and how it made me feel like I was in a James Bond movie. What I didn’t tell you about was the town I explored just 10 minutes away that time has forgotten. I had a few drinks with my buddy Gazza in Kentucky. The first minute we caught up on the “who, what, and where”. The other 2 hours were the “why and how”. Pay attention to that. The first part is just gossip. The second part is where life’s fulfillment comes from.

517ED46B-9E65-4D3A-94B7-EA75ADEFA4F5I got emotional at Churchill Downs as I experienced the day. That 18 minute IMAX video about Derby Day will get you. Some go there to party. For others, it is their life’s crowning achievement. I ate at this diner adjacent to the track called Wagner’s that took me back to the 1920s. I felt it in my bones. I talked with my shuttle driver whose entire world is the .2 miles surrounding Churchill. You can’t understand his life until he actually tells you. I hung out on the Ohio River at sunset in Evansville, Indiana. It was gorgeous, and rather cold. There were beautiful, old mansions close to the river, and then not 1 minute away was a humungous gathering of homeless people. I saw it with my own two eyes. More importantly, I saw it in their eyes.

7B51F0AD-B784-4505-9A16-D0AD06EF5B27I experienced a drive across Indiana where I was the only car for hours at a time. What do these people do? Where do they shop? How do they make money? The people of Indiana were fantastic. I arrived in the middle of a snowstorm with my smart-ass self dressed from head to toe in Charlotte Hornets gear. It started loads of conversations, which is what this world really needs. The tour guide at Indy Motor Speedway helped me understand the magnitude and importance of the track to American culture. I ate at St. Elmo’s, a legendary steakhouse around since 1902. They made me feel like Frank Sinatra. At the Hornets-Pacers game, I got booed. I got my toboggan pulled over my face by the mascot. But I also had conversations with every person that passed about who knows what. They were curious, and so was I. And finally on the trip home, I went through Cincinnati. GPS told me to take the bypass. Nope. You don’t learn anything on the bypass. Gotta go through downtown. And then I hit a couple of local BBQ spots on the ride home. Just to compare and contrast.

0F381678-49EC-4CAE-965C-AA5E434BCECFSo there it is. Sometimes I travel by myself, and people ask why and if I get lonely. Considering I talk to everyone I come across, that answer is no. I wanna be a part of the solution. I wanna stir the pot. I wanna start conversations. And the most credible way to do so is to experience it firsthand. And so I do.

3EE8AFF5-0867-41B2-A48D-312E2CC81B5BIt just happens to be a ton of fun.

Have a great week.-Benj

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Pay Attention to Yourself, Please

Some of the most selfless people I know are also the most selfish with their time, and let me tell you what I mean. Hell, let’s use this blog as an example. I desperately want to help people. Fact. I want to let you see and hear a different mindset, thought process, and way of life from what is getting fed to you by the masses. Maybe it will positively affect or enhance your quality of life. But here is the deal. There is absolutely no way that I can write what I write each week if I don’t pay attention to myself and the things that I enjoy. There is no way to offer perspective on life if I don’t go out into the world and get perspective. There is no way to offer a different thought process if I don’t carve out time for myself daily to read and learn. There is no way to offer credible advice to someone if I don’t first experience it myself. And so I do.

As I was doing my weekly reading this week, I came across some great nuggets. “Learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make.” “Intellectual capital will always trump financial capital.” “Why do the world’s smartest people find at least one hour per day for deliberate learning, while others make excuses about how busy they are?” And last, “It’s never a waste of time or money to invest in yourself.”

C26ED611-4A36-4C14-A2DC-7804C108104BI’ve had a few times in my life where I wasn’t really paying attention to myself, and in hindsight, it was an absolute nightmare. So I spent the better part of 2017 getting reacquainted with myself, and check this out. I did more living life in 2017 than I had ever done in my life, and guess what, I helped miles more people than I had ever done in my life. That is not a coincidence. The energy that you get from understanding what makes you tick in addition to actually doing the things you love is out of this world. I felt like I could run a marathon.  I felt like I could climb a mountain. (Oh wait, I did.)

Part 1 of the process is really getting to know yourself. Part 2 is learning how to say “no” to things that you have no interest in or will not better your life. Your time is the most valuable resource you have, and I see a ridiculous (I mean, ridiculous) amount of time wasting going on every single day. I am the master at saying “no”. Honestly, it does not bother me. A pal told me this week “Your life is too much fun.” Only because I am deliberate and intentional with what I want to do with my time. I sometimes come off as aloof or uninterested, but it is because I have had too much real life experience of shooting the breeze at some mediocre party or networking event to know that I am actually not missing a thing. Instead, I choose to pursue what I want.

I had a great conversation with a high school friend a few months ago. I asked her what she was doing these days, and she told me this. “I had a child. My drive to work was 2+ hours round trip each day. I dug deep with myself. And I quit my job.” I wanted to kiss her forehead. Boom. That’s what I am talking about! She realized she wasn’t living the life she wanted anymore, so she changed it. And she had a massive smile on her face as she told me.

I’m not asking y’all to make crazy-ass decisions without digging deep, but I am asking you to get to know yourself. And if your life isn’t matching who you really are or want to be, change it. I call it being brutally honest with yourself. I’ve said it at least 5 times this week to people already. I’ve got to be honest. I’m not totally there yet. But I am well down the path. And the amount of true freedom and positive energy that you get when you understand and make time for yourself is unreal.

And then you can help people. Lots of them.

Have a great week.-Benj

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An Adventure a Day Keeps the Boredom Away

FD069C53-2DCA-4DD7-AA86-DAE9C5BA3E83If you had told me 15 years ago that I would ever write something titled this, I would have said you were crazy. But nonetheless, here I am, and it is proof that people evolve and that many behaviors can be learned. What do I mean? I can hear some of you saying right now to yourselves, “this doesn’t apply to me because I am just not adventurous.” That is what I would have said 15 years ago, but not today. Not anywhere close.

42082754-C39B-4997-8DF5-694E6395CED7I’m always talking about mindset, and I am going to break that down for you today. Do you have any of these feelings right now: life is dull, I do the same thing every day, I need some excitement, etc.? Then pay attention. Start small. Go to a new restaurant this week. Wear an article of clothing you would never wear. Do something different that you usually would never do. But start small. You want to make sure that the worst case scenario of doing this is meaningless. For example, you go to a new restaurant. It sucks. $25 wasted. Not the end of the world. Upside, however, is: You’ve never tried duck. It was awesome. You took a tiny risk. It worked out. That was exciting. You like this. You’ll do more.

331E428E-7B6A-449E-8283-F49102202C59That is literally how it started for me, and now I just can’t get enough of life. Running a marathon, traveling monthly, climbing mountains, and so on. This is life to me now. This is how I think. This is my mindset. But not always. I had to put the effort in. I had to be open-minded to new things. I had to be willing to “fail” (and I did plenty of times). I had to learn to be spontaneous. I had to experience the phrase “no risk, no reward”. And it all started with baby steps. It bled into my being. And here I am now.

DACF1BCC-1CC2-4E31-96CE-781E2456357CSpeaking of now. I am on the eve of my first major trip of 2018, and I want to tell you literally how it came about. I decided the end of January would be a good timeframe, so I penciled that in my head. I then googled “Map of USA” because I’m totally into domestic trips right now. I enlarged the map, closed my eyes, and pointed. I landed on the Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana area, so that was my starting point. I went to Nashville in 2017, so that was out. I had never been to Louisville or Indianapolis, so that was in. I then checked what concerts or games might be in the area during that timeframe, and I hit the jackpot. Kevin Hart on January 28 and my beloved Charlotte Hornets at Indiana Pacers on January 29. Boom! So I booked relatively inexpensive hotels for 3 nights, snagged tickets for the 2 events, and decided the remaining details will be figured out on the fly. Spontaneous. Just have to make sure I pick up some patches for my crazy jacket.

FDA0791C-D6D3-4373-87B7-6B800B3EEF57When is the last time you had a real adventure? I’ve had 5 this week. Man, it is good for the soul. Hiked the Pinnacle Trail at Crowders Mountain. Snow-sledded during the Great Blizzard of 2018. Sat on the floor for Hornets vs. Wizards. Tried a new restaurant. Hiked the Backside Trail at Crowders Mountain.  During the first hike, my pal Junior and I reached the top of the trail and saw a sign that read “Warning: Serious Injuries and Deaths have Occurred Beyond this Point”. I wouldn’t have always done this, but I gave him the look immediately that we would be continuing our climb. That immediate decision to continue is now ingrained in me, but it can be traced back to a baby step I started with some 10 years ago. Life is a bona fide adventure for me now. I have a zest for life that wasn’t present even 3 years ago. And if you enjoy reading this every week and want to experience it for yourself, start this week. Seriously. “You can change your life to anything you want” is a phrase that has become cliché. But listen, I am going to be sitting in Indianapolis next Monday night watching my Hornets play right in front of me. Random, I know. But that is what I wanted to do on that random Monday night, and it is going to be awesome. If you want your own adventure, start small, but think big. It’s your life. Own it.
Have a great week.-Benj

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It’s Time to Get Your Swagger Back

I just realized that I need to revise my dinner party invitation from a few months ago because I forgot to invite Tom Ford. You know, Tom Ford, one of the most fantastic fashion designers in the world. I have a couple of his shirts, a handful of his ties and pocket squares, and a pair of sunglasses. The quality is beyond exquisite. Sumptuous, even. But here’s the deal. Unless you are a gazillionaire, filling your closet with his pieces is very price-prohibitive. Suits are $4,000 and up. You get the picture.

A8AE2FE8-6E2F-4037-B35E-FD48B867D0BC26CA0630-F30F-4C87-98F6-77FF9A82F0D7I’ve always wondered why I like his brand so much. The clothes are great, but there was always something so much more that I couldn’t put my finger on. And a writer from Esquire finally hit the nail on the head for me. Paraphrased: “We Americans are casual, comfortable, and nice. Tom Ford doesn’t care about any of that. He’d rather give us what we lack: glamour, swagger, charisma, polish, and a little darkness.”  I love the swagger piece. And I’ll add adventure and exploration just for good measure. It’s gone MIA in the general population, and I’m seriously concerned.

7570701A-AA6D-4C75-90CC-623D7955AB93See, I encounter a lot of people on a daily basis and am a part of or overhear numerous conversations. These conversations are significantly lacking in adventure, excitement, and open-mindedness. It sometimes takes everything inside of me not to interject my two cents to complete strangers, or better yet, fall asleep. But if it is a conversation I am indeed a part of, you will see the gleam in my eyes immediately, and you know it is coming. A different perspective. That’s it. One that values effort, spontaneity, and risk-taking, among others. My being literally cannot handle the community of complaining and closed-mindedness that some time, some how became “cool” and so many people became a part of. Here’s the deal. It’s not cool. And if you think it is because you have huddled around twenty other likeminded individuals afraid to leave their comfort zone, the joke is actually on you.  But I am here to help.

CD11EADF-E647-41B9-ACF9-08F356E2B5CETom Ford represents to me everything that is possible in this huge world. Leaving your comfort zone. It has not a damn thing to do with money. It’s about edge. Effort. Excitement. Not a single detail has been overlooked. It’s also about a certain mindset. When I wear his clothes I feel different. Ready for battle. Adventurous. That I could walk into the Ritz Carlton anywhere on the planet and feel confident that I belong. That sounds crazy, doesn’ t it?

907ED632-C5AC-4A58-8D11-F0CB9E11D6A5You have to remember that I am from little old Wingate, NC. I learned in my teenage years that the world was bigger than Union County. Bigger than Charlotte. Even bigger than the United States. But just because I learned this 20 years ago doesn’t mean that you can’t start now if that feeling is burning inside of you. Start with the idea. For example, you want to go to London in April. Then work backwards. Figure out the logistics for keeping the kids or the dogs. Figure out the savings plan to pay for it. And so on. Don’t start with the plan. Plans tend to get in the way. Start with the adventure, and that’ll make sure you go. And when, not if, you get to London, swing by Tom Ford and pick you up a tie (guys).  Wear it to a nice dinner. And then report back to me. Guaranteed you’ll have the gleam in your eye this time, not me. And then maybe I’ll let you write the blog that week so you can tell the world how you got your swagger back.

Have a great week.-Benj

Put Me in Coach

Are you in the game? Seriously. Ask yourself. Are you in the game, or are you on the sidelines of life? What do I mean? Okay, since I love and play sports, we will start there. If there was a penalty kick to be taken in the soccer game, I wanted to take it. If there was a free throw to win or lose the game with 1 second left, I wanted to take it. Field goal to win or lose the game? That’s right. And guess what? I have “won” games before, and I have “lost” games before. But I was in the game, and it was on me. This sounds strange, but it feels so much better to lose the game than to not be in the game at all. That sentence is what most people miss. Too scared of losing or making a mistake to join the party. So I ask again. Are you in the game, or better yet, will you please join?

Okay, next questions. What are your best gifts? Your unique gifts? Are you using them? Daily? Hourly? Every once in a blue moon? What are you terrible at? Are you wasting time on those instead of focusing on all the good you can do with your strengths? I was having dinner the other night with a group of friends, and the topic of manual labor came up. I think I crawled underneath the table. Quickly. Now, if you know me, I not only despise manual labor but I am no good at it. Like awful. But I am really good at helping people think freely, consider different perspectives, and be the best version of themselves. So why in the hell would I spend all day Saturday doing manual labor instead of talking to folks, thinking, or writing? Oh, because it has to be done you say? Well, funny thing. There is someone out there who is awesome at manual labor but may need a bit of my unique perspective to help them at some point in their life. They can help me. I can help them.

FF6EC63A-8D4C-4D75-894C-F1C79A564B95I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t doing enough of it. Once in a blue moon. But then I realized through a series of twists and turns that I had the opportunity to make an impact in every interaction I have each day. With a co-worker. A waitress. A complete freaking stranger. So do you. So are you? Or are you at least working on it? I am trying real hard. Through my life experiences, I have a unique outlook on life. I absolutely despise the status quo and mediocrity. I see too many people every day who are just going through the motions, and they are miserable and complaining at every turn. So I am trying to use my perspective to help bring some positive energy to family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who might have become a little jaded, timid, or stale in their daily routines. You can bust out. I did. And it is freaking great! I’m not selling you anything. Just a changed mindset. Some swagger. A little free thinking and self-analysis. That’s what I’m good at. Remember it’s 2018, not 1995. Your parents don’t think for you anymore.

But back to you. If you came to me, I could tell you within 15 minutes what you are really good at. But I bet you already know. It could be something unusual by society’s standards. But guess what? The world can use it. The world can use your effort. Not your endless hourly complaining about who knows what. No, your actual positive, God-given gifts. It could be your job. It could be a side hustle like mine. It could be a hobby. It could be volunteering. But here is the trick. Maybe you enjoy it. Maybe you are good at it. But find a way to make it enhance the quality of other human beings’ lives. And then you are in the game, and we can start having a different conversation.

Have a great week.-Benj

Can We Please Just Beat the Saints?

B37B8D4F-7ED8-4ECB-9203-F9F91A8C8C9BMaybe you are looking to add a little style to your life. Maybe you are trying to gain a little perspective on life. Or maybe you just want to see a cool new place. Regardless, New Orleans can help. Ready? Let’s go. So I was there last week for probably the 4th or 5th time in my life. Your eyes open up as soon as you hit Lake Pontchartrain. If you have any type of imagination, you can visualize the flood waters from Katrina rising, and it scares the crap out of you, even 10+ years later. You keep moving, and see rows and rows of houses that still haven’t been touched since then. You wonder where the hell everyone went? Did they just not come back? I have no idea. And then a minute or two later you are in the French Quarter where everyone is partying and carrying on. It’s especially beautiful at Christmas.

008DE76B-C529-4DD1-AD9B-A7F5068FB86BI wrote an article about money a few months ago and the 4 things that I do with it: spend, save, live, and give. It’s how I go through cities too, minus the save part (unless you count the 40% off sale I hit). The first thing I did when I arrived was walk the streets of the French Quarter. Canal. St. Charles. Carondelet. Bourbon. Smelled the Cajun spices mixed with urine on the streets. Nothing like it. Palm trees covered in Christmas lights amidst the sea of concrete. Right beside the Mississippi River. I then hit a super hip store called Friend that is attached to the Ace Hotel. I got a hand-dyed pocket square and a new patch for my jacket (see below). Both are one-of-a-kind pieces. I then went to Meyer the Hatter, the largest hat store in the South. It is 121 years old. It was like stepping back in time, mixing and mingling with an older generation that loved hats and a newer generation trying to bring them back. Just because I love to stir the pot, I asked if Cam Newton got any of his hats here. I was met with silence. And then the whole store started talking Panthers-Saints. Round 3 next Sunday. After some serious searching, I found a new willowy, moss-green fedora, and I was set.

1A86FFD0-01B3-48AC-8F4C-9A073818F3480208E975-6BA4-460A-8500-44F7A6BADB6BIt was 2.9 miles to Villalobos Pitbull Rescue Center, home of the world-famous Pit Bulls and Parolees television show. It was time to give back, so I went to volunteer and walk the dogs. I wasn’t 1 minute out of the glamorous French Quarter, and I could have been on a different planet. The poorest of the poor. Some of the areas are dangerous, but I have to see it. I have to understand. I need the perspective. On the way to the rescue center, I saw this place called Eat at Melba’s in the Upper Ninth Ward. Ooh, I thought. What’s this? I googled it. Bingo. I’d be back. Finally, to the rescue center. Panthers-Saints talk again got popping immediately. And then they brought me Tigger, an 11-year old brindle pitbull from California. His owner was in Iraq for the 3rd time. He looked lost. So I talked to him. And walked him. And petted him. I did what I could for the short amount of time I was there. He’ll find a new home. He’s a good boy. And then I was gone. Eat at Melba’s was unreal. Grilled gulf shrimp. Jumbalaya. Corn grits. Buttered toast. Cherry cream soda? That was a new one even to me, the ultimate soda lover.

BB855350-0959-4ED0-86DD-59DC546B7D5EThese types of trips are why I can interact with virtually anyone. I am as comfortable talking with a gangster as I am a CEO. Because when you immerse yourself in different cultures, geographies, styles, and so on, you learn. Hear that? You learn. Ignorance dies. Prejudice dies. I don’t speak the language of black and white. I speak the language of style, rescue dogs, and good Southern food, among others. Most people I see dress the way they dress because that is how they were raised, what they see every day, or is all that they know. Same for how and who they interact with. Never leaving their bubble. I had a great conversation about this with my buddy Steve the other day. He is from Ireland. We were later joined by my buddies from Cameroon and new friends from South Africa. That’s how you learn perspective, style, and the wonderful diversity of this world.  Try it.

DA547DBF-BC22-403E-A6AC-4C5691D4607EAnd if you decide to go to New Orleans, just remember this. When you are partying and acting a fool on Bourbon Street, there are people and dogs right around the corner that need your help. With a little effort, you can fit it all in. And you might even learn something too. Imagine that.

9009CFB3-31E4-46D5-9C89-B0E22C57B49AHave a great week.-Benj