Photo above taken by Heather Fairchild.
Ben Higgins captured the heart of the nation in January 2016 on the 20th season of The Bachelor, a popular reality television show that sends one lucky man on a journey to find love.
The Indiana-born then 26-year-old found himself taking flights to the Bahamas, exploring Mexico and traveling around the United States. Comedians such as Kevin Hart and Terry Fator, rapper Ice Cube and professional athletes made special appearances on the show — checking in on Higgins and offering him advice throughout the process.
Having 28 women vie for your attention on lavish dates sounds like a busy schedule, but Higgins says the experience was often times very lonely. “You don’t have friends and you don’t have family and you don’t have people there to back you,” he explained.
Viewers frequently wonder what actually happens behind the scenes when the cameras are turned off. Higgins admits that the show was difficult and new to him, which is why he had to set his priorities straight from the start.
“I wanted to try to have my relationships built on Jesus and on a foundation that God helped cultivate from the very beginning because I believed that it was a long-term thing.”
Knowing how to conduct himself was challenging, but Higgins recalled, “What ended up happening is I set a goal for myself to filter every decision through: ‘What is wise, and what is right?’”
In the end, it was Lauren Bushnell who stole his heart. Higgins got down on one knee and popped the question to the then 25-year-old flight attendant during the season finale. In the weeks following the proposal, paparazzi tracked the couple’s every move as they were caught up in a whirlwind of appearances on shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live and Good Morning America.
The couple even went on to have a short reality show stint of their own, with an eight-episode series called Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After that gave viewers a peek into their life and relationship after the show.
Many fans were surprised when the two called off their engagement in May 2017. It wasn’t something Higgins had expected, either.
“It was the first time in my life that I had legitimately believed that I was going to be partnering with somebody forever,” he said. Higgins still has great things to say about his ex-fiancé and she about him, but they ultimately decided that their personalities and goals weren’t a good fit for the long-term.
Although his love story did not end as he planned, Higgins is still thankful for the experience and the impact that it had on his life.
THE BEN HIGGINS THAT VIEWERS DID NOT SEE
Fans tuned in every week to watch Higgins, a former software company account manager, on his journey to find love. The 2016 season finale of The Bachelor reported 9.58 million viewers.
The Ben Higgins that viewers got to know on The Bachelor is not much different than the man you will find walking down the street in Denver, Colorado — the city that he calls home. He says that the show actually gave an accurate view of who he is and “touched on a lot of the things that make me who I am today.”
But there is one thing that viewers missed.
“The one thing that I think maybe wasn’t pictured or part of the show or didn’t fit in sometimes was my faith,” Higgins admitted.
It was not something that he initially expected to share. “I would love to say that I went into The Bachelor thinking that it was the place to share love and be love, but I went on The Bachelor without that perception.”
It was only once he was there that he says, “God showed me that this was a platform and an avenue that which if I was going to claim to love Jesus, then this was my time to do it well.”
Higgins says that his faith is the guiding force in how he lives his life. “My relationship with Jesus is really the reason why I am who I am. Granted, I don’t always do a good job at representing Him. I don’t always do a good job at loving people well. But, it is a desire of mine because of my faith.”
Although there was widespread support for Higgins, there was also some push back from the religious community as people questioned how a person of faith could morally participate in The Bachelor.
Critics pointed out aspects of the reality show that they found worrisome — dating 28 women at the same time and the possibility of intimacy on the show’s famous overnight “fantasy suite” date, where cameras are finally turned off and the couple has the opportunity for alone-time.
Others questioned how someone could expect to fall in love and build the foundation of a lasting relationship after a few months of filming, although it’s true that some of the couples who met on The Bachelor are still together.
Higgins recognizes that it may be surprising that a Christian would decide to participate in a show like The Bachelor, but he chooses not to directly address those criticisms. Instead, he focuses on the opportunities the show gave him to share his faith.
“It is oftentimes the most surprising things that lead to the most revelation,” Higgins explained. “That is what the show did for me. It showed me that Jesus does not leave when you do something different or that is scary. If anything, He pulls in closer.”
Higgins’ hope is “that people can see that Jesus is not distant. He is not an idea. Even though it is reality television, He can still work through it and do incredible things.”
In addition to strengthening his faith, the experience also taught him an important lesson that he told me about when I interviewed him in March. Being in the spotlight held him accountable.
“And so, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t hide anymore,” Higgins said. “The season of not having repercussions or consequences for your actions was gone from me because if I were to mistreat someone or treat someone unfairly, it would obviously be talked about and shared.”
He added, “I think the Bible speaks very clearly about when you are given more, there is more responsibility that comes with it,” referencing Luke 12:48. This is a sentiment that has extended beyond Higgins’ days on TV and continues to guide his professional and personal life.
LIFE AFTER THE SEASON FINALE
Although it has been a few years since Ben Higgins graced America’s television screens as the star of The Bachelor, the experience of being recognized on the streets and approached by fans still lingers.
“People will still get excited to come up and talk to me,” he said. “It feels like just as much as ever. People have been really supportive of me.”
His appearance on the show certainly opened many doors. “It’s always crazy that people after The Bachelor take me more seriously and see me more legitimately than before The Bachelor, mostly because of the platform and the legitimacy of the following or any type of fame.”
But he has also faced struggles, one of which has been a loss of privacy.
“When you come off the show, there is a lot of attention. After I was single and moving forward, it did change things for better or worse,” he admitted.
Higgins’ high-profile position caused him to set up new boundaries in his life.
“It did change the way I pursued people. It did change the way I was able to discreetly date without the pressure or consequences from it. It made me have to be more intentional in how I dated.”
With all eyes on him, Higgins could not just go on a casual night out on a whim. He ultimately decided to take some time off from dating. “It was actually really helpful to kind of be single for a little bit. It was a good season of my life.”
His time on the show and the years following helped him better understand and prioritize the qualities that are important to him in a future wife. For instance, empathy is more important to him than he previously realized.
“I think if both people can have a spirit of empathy and empathize with each other, then communication is easier. Judgment is less. Guilt and shame can be excluded at any level.”
As he approaches relationships now, that is what he is looking for. “I really want to find that partner that is empathetic and that loves hard and loves well so we can meet each other where we are in life.”
HIGGINS’ NEXT 10 YEARS
Ben Higgins celebrated his 30th birthday on March 23, 2019. While his twenties were marked by reality television and years of personal growth, his thirties look to be more professionally entrepreneurial.
Higgins says that he had the spirit of an entrepreneur throughout his twenties, but didn’t fully act on it. “I have always loved seeing things be created and be impactful. And I love the ability to look back on something and see the whole story unfold and be there from the beginning, from the genesis to whenever that ends for me.”
But it was not until he was 28 or 29 that he recognized his ability to launch projects at the level that he wanted to and could finally say, “Okay. We can do these things. These ideas that I have are possible, so I want to start working on creating them.”
Right now his most important creation — and where he focuses many of his waking hours — is Generous International, a company that he started with longtime friend Riley Fuller in January 2018. Higgins wants Generous to be known not only for its great coffee, but also the inspiring stories behind the company’s products.
“Our shirts are made out of plastic bottles by single mothers in Haiti. Our coffee is single-origin. It’s traceable. It’s specialty grade, and so [profits are] going back to the producers that are growing it,” he proudly explained.
“And then at the back end, we are donating our profits to organizations that are doing some new development or fighting human injustice in some of those areas around the world, including here domestically.”
Higgins’ professional vision is simple and directly connected to his faith: “It is a business in short that was created to be an avenue or an engine for support and fundraisings to nonprofits or other social causes that are really trying to do some amazing things in the world or eliminate human injustice.”
After dedicating seven hours to Generous each day, Higgins spends another four or five hours working on other projects that also leverage his connections and reflect his personal values.
One of these is Ash’Kara — an Israeli restaurant that Higgins partnered with other investors to start in Denver, Colorado in December 2018. Chef Daniel Asher serves some of Higgins’ favorite dishes such as hummus, baba ganoush, muhammara, and lamb couscous.
Higgins also makes time to work on his two podcasts. Bachelor alumna Ashley Iaconetti and Higgins host Almost Famous, where they interview celebrities and past Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants. This allows Higgins “to kind of stay within pop culture while at the same time talking about things that interest me.”
His second podcast with iHeartRadio is called Lady Bosses (and Ben) and highlights women in leadership positions in whatever arena they are operating in — whether that be sports or entertainment or business. It is an outlet where he can have conversations about women’s successes, failures, and the experiences that formed them.
If that were not enough to keep him busy, Higgins is also helping produce The Wedding Party, an upcoming venture that highlights his optimism about love and marriage. He describes the festival as one “where twelve couples from all different backgrounds and all different belief systems and with all different love stories get married at one time with a massive joint reception.”
Higgins sometimes struggles to manage all of his professional obligations, but he is committed to making them work.
“You know, they are great things that bring me a lot of joy,” Higgins said. “It does take up a lot of time and work. But hopefully it will all pay off in the end and I will be able to really enjoy some of these things and see these things really flourish and be cultivated.”
Like many busy entrepreneurs, he struggles with being present in the moment.
“I think that’s something that I could see improvement on in my life. I have really great friendships and really great family, but with a busy schedule, it makes it difficult to invest fully into the relationship. That’s something I want to start doing here, now — start investing so I have memories and moments that I will always remember from the relationships that exist today.”
When asked what he wants his legacy to be when he is a distant memory from the reality tv show era, Higgins said, “I hope that I do have a legacy.” He wants it to be something that people remember.
“I hope that it is one that I gave more than I took and that I never was a burden on anybody in a negative way. I am really excited to continue to build this legacy and see where life takes me and be able to look back on my life and smile.”