Despite having a loving family and being a successful banker, Benj Bostic ’10 (MBA) felt unfulfilled. He decided to chuck it all in and attempt to get his golf handicap down to zero. Along the way, he’s found out a lot about himself.
Benj Bostic’s mountaintop is a sand trap. Or, more precisely, a series of them, along with greens and fairways and tee boxes.
For Bostic, sometimes inner peace and universal knowledge can be found on a tiny island off the coast of Iceland. Or at a country club in Tijuana. Or at Pinehurst No. 2.
At the ripe old age of 37, Bostic has chucked it all in and hit the links. In a bid to find greater meaning in his life, the former Wingate soccer All-American and 2010 MBA grad stepped down as a vice president at Wells Fargo earlier this year, moved from downtown Charlotte to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, and embarked on a quest to lower his handicap and increase his happiness score.
“My internal psyche was so awry with the way I was feeling about life, I was willing to go all in to start a new life,” Bostic says.
So far, so good. Bostic plays golf every day. He travels often. He writes every week. While his wife, two-time Wingate graduate and former All-American swimmer Christy Cousins Bostic, leads the nonprofit Hope Floats Foundation from their temporary home in Gautier, Mississippi, Bostic works – hard – on his golf game. He grinds on the course, usually playing solo rounds at Shell Landing Golf Club, about 10 minutes from the cabin the Bostics inhabit on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. In about six months, he’s dropped his handicap from a 14 to a 5 (meaning that on an average day he should shoot 5 over par). His goal is to get that down to zero.
But that’s not the real goal. Bostic’s ultimate aim is to find himself. He is searching for something, and although he’s not certain what that something is, he knows that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
It’s a gutsy move, and one he realizes not everyone is in a position to make. Bostic made what he calls “good money” at Wells Fargo. He, Christy and their 4-year-old son Banks lived a reasonably happy life in a large house on the edge of uptown Charlotte. They walked to Panthers games, ate at nice restaurants, worked a lot. Like many young families do, they overscheduled themselves sometimes, but they were also what most people would consider immensely successful.
“It ticked all the boxes of what prevents people from making a change,” Bostic says. “It’s hard to give up good money, and it’s hard to give up good benefits and all that stuff.”
But Bostic felt unfulfilled. There was something missing, and early in 2017 he started a quest to figure out what it was. An admitted clotheshorse with a fondness for a stylish brim and colorful shoes, Bostic began writing a men’s fashion blog, Anything But Khakis. The writing eventually morphed into more of an introspective peek into his life, incorporating his newfound love for golf.
The personal writing sparked something in him. He did what he calls a “deep dive” into his soul, searching for the real Benj Bostic. What he discovered is that he was living with what he terms “borrowed beliefs” – those guiding principles “that kind of got pounded into your head in your formative years.”
“That can be anything from your parents to marketers to the television, the preacher, anybody,” Bostic says. “That term applies to those beliefs that you have never actually, intentionally thought about. Your parents were Baptist, so you’re a Baptist. Everyone in your family went to graduate school, so you go to graduate school. There’s a zillion of them. Those are just easy ones.”
Bostic had grown weary of just floating along, so he examined every aspect of his life, deciding whether he was thinking and believing for himself or whether he was simply on autopilot. He put them all under a microscope and realized that he actually agreed with a big chunk of them. He just doesn’t consider them “borrowed” anymore.
“But there were also plenty that I didn’t necessarily, when I actively thought about them, agree with,” he says. “I’ve taken the steps to own those different opinions personally instead of borrowing them from the first 35 years of my life.”
The process has been eye-opening. “It’s amazing what that exercise does for you in terms of internal freedom,” Bostic says. “Someone who’s been holding something inside for a long time and they’ve just gone along with the status quo because they live in a small town and don’t want to rock the boat, it’s a huge burden off their shoulders.”
These days, Bostic is in a perpetual state of burden removal. The quest is to find greater meaning in his life through the process of achieving his goal of becoming a scratch golfer in a year or two.
He admits that most of the golfing world would consider it an impossible task (becoming a scratch golfer in such a short period of time, that is). Then again, most people don’t have the luxury of devoting hours a day to it. For most of America, turning on, tuning in and dropping out isn’t a realistic option. Just how is Bostic able to search for the meaning of life while most other people have to pay the mortgage, get their brakes fixed and save for retirement? Bostic admits that he was in a good position to pull off his grand pivot. For one thing, his in-laws retired to Mississippi a few years ago, so Christy was happy to move closer to them.
Financially, the Bostics were able to make it work for a few reasons. The couple sold two houses they owned, and they have a decent amount of savings after working in professional fields for 15 years. Also, as affordable as North Carolina is, the cost of living is much, much lower along the Mississippi coast than in uptown Charlotte. To keep his golf obsession affordable, Benj paid a couple thousand dollars up front to be able to play as many rounds as he wants at Shell Landing.
“Christy’s salary keeps the lights on and food on the table,” he says. “I am pursuing a dream and am willing to use some savings in order to pursue that dream.”
Engaging with life
So, back to the dream. Aside from the long-term golf objectives and the overarching search for self, Bostic has a couple of travel-related goals he’s working on: to spend time in all 50 states and to visit as many countries as he can. So far, he’s at 43 states and seven countries, including Iceland, which he visited earlier this year simply to experience somewhere cool and off the beaten path. While there, he took a puddle-jumper from Reyjkavic to the 6.5-square-mile island of Vessmanaeyjar, where he played 18 holes and took in a professional soccer match.
He’s also spent time all over the United States – Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, Iowa – much of it on golfing expeditions. The travel isn’t cheap, though he economizes when he can.
“I’m willing to shell out a little bit of money,” Bostic says. “I’m willing to not have a paycheck for a little while. And I’m happy. I’m not on cruise control. I’m being intentional. I’m being passionate. Every day I’m engaged with my life.”
The intentionality and passion are showing up on his golf scorecard. Six months ago, a round with 15 or 20 mistakes was just another day on the course. Now, Bostic has improved to the point where anything more than a mistake or two leaves him feeling disappointed. “Otherwise, you’re not having a good day,” he says. “And that’s tough.” But it also means he’s approaching “scratch” status, which, of course, is one of his goals.
The golf quest might seem frivolous, but there’s logic behind the drive to perfect his drive now, rather than when he’s in his 60s. Bostic has battled arthritis since he was a teen, and he knows it’s just going to get worse. Even now he feels serious pain in his right foot after walking 18.
“Retire and then go live your dreams, right?” he says. “I understand technological advances and medicinal advances, but when I’m 65 years old, my arthritis will probably be pretty stout. That’s probably not the time to try to become a scratch golfer.”
The arthritis makes all the golf feel like work at times, especially in muggy, hot Mississippi. But again, Bostic’s grand experiment is only partially about the golf.
Bostic drops Banks off at school every day and picks him up in the afternoon. He takes boat rides just to try to spot gators. Most days, he feels fulfilled and satisfied with life.
Bostic knows he can return to banking if another path doesn’t open up in front of him, but for now the mystery of the future is exhilarating.
“I have no idea where it’s going to lead,” he says. “It makes Christy nervous, makes the in-laws nervous, makes my parents nervous. For once in my life, I just don’t know. I’m not going to pretend to know. It’s exciting and fulfilling. You just pay attention to each hour of each day, do the work, and who knows where it’s going to take you.”
November 8, 2019