Category Archives: achievement

Full Circle


Roundabout traffic sign

It’s funny how some things can only be seen through the rear view mirror.

I remember taking the trip down for the interview. I was 23 at the time so had plenty of driving experience, but nothing could really prepare me for the Appalachian Mountains.

It rained the entire way and I was at the will of a GPS that chose to take me through the backwoods. Going up the mountains in a downpour was a struggle in my little Ford Focus, going down was worse. Spinning out in any situation is bad, but along a mountain side the stakes are a little higher. It was one of the very few times I’ve actually feared for my life.

Eventually I meandered my way into North Carolina. By then it was dark and still raining, but I trudged on to Spruce Pine. Despite being a town of 2,000, I couldn’t figure my way around town. Everything was closed and no one was on the road. Finally I managed to reach my destination, the Pine Valley Motel. I was wondering if had made a huge mistake.

I awoke to a clear skies and finally saw the mountains that the rain and darkness had been hiding from me. But I couldn’t dwell on them too long because I had an interview to attend although I’d hardly call it that. My soon to be boss took me around the county and practically warned me about what I’d be signing up for. I think he was just impressed I drove all the way down.

After the interview I walked through downtown Spruce Pine, which consists of two streets, Upper and Lower. It’s a quirky town. I think people either love it or hate it. Eating lunch at the renowned Knife and Fork restaurant (Google it) I became the former.

The rest is history. I took the job. I became the only reporter covering a county of 15,000. I took pictures during the county’s numerous annul festivals, I covered the ups and down of high school sports, I covered everything from local government to crime. I made mistakes, I learned and made new mistakes.

Slowly I not only learned my new job, but also about a new community, region and way of life. Throughout that entire time I didn’t think I was doing anything special. In fact, I thought I was doing a pretty subpar job.

Last fall I made that same trip to North Carolina on my way back from Thanksgiving in Ohio, two weeks prior to accepting my new job. Once again it rained the entire time, maybe even worse than my first trip. But this time I wasn’t scared, I was simply heading home.

That’s when it hit me, what i had done two years ago. I, shy and awkward Andrew Mundhenk, left everything and everyone I knew on a whim for a chance in North Carolina. Not only to North Carolina, but to a town of about 2,000 people. Who does that? Certainly not many 20-somethings I know.

I’m not going to lie. It wan’t easy. Not surprisingly, there’s not too many people my age living in Spruce Pine and even less to do in the way of entertainment. The loneliness was crippling at times. Nothing replaces home.

I see the experience as a gift now. I truly learned how to live by myself. I’m not talking about learning how to pay the bills and cook food. I mean truly learning how to live with yourself. It’s not something everyone can do, which is why there’s so many people stuck in miserable relationships. They’re afraid of being alone. I’m not.

Between that time and now I’ve gotten a new job at a bigger paper and now live in Asheville, which has a little bit more going on to say the least. According to my new boss, part of the reason I got the job was because she impressed with my apparent maturity to move away from home and stick it out in a small town for a couple years. Asheville is where I’ve wanted to live since I first stopped in two years ago. I’m ready to take on the next chapter of my life and all the challenges it’s now throwing at me. There are many.

But I will never forget my time in Spruce Pine and Mitchell County. I’ve never lived in a place where everyone knows you and you know everyone. I take pride knowing that a 20-something-year-old Yankee came down to a small town in the south and was able to tell what’s going on in their community.

As a closing note I’d encourage anyone who has lived in the same place their entire life to take a chance and leave if possible. SO many people I know said they were going to leave Ohio only to stay put and root in.

I’m not saying Ohio sucks and the only way to be happy in life is to leave your hometown. Moving makes you appreciate what you had and what you have. I hold it to be a necessary step in becoming a well-rounded individual, but what do I know.

I’ve made many mistakes in life and continue to do so, but taking the leap was not one of them.


The difference a year makes


What a year in weeklies  looks like.

What a year in weeklies looks like.

On August 5th, 2014 a young Midwesterner came to the southern Appalachian Mountains fresh out of college to start off what he hoped to be a successful writing career.

The first couple of months were a blur of course. After spending the last 23 years of his sheltered life under his parents roof, he was now juggling how to write articles and take photos on top of learning about the downside of student loans, how to balance a budget, how to “cook” and …

I could spend this time telling you the entire story but I think that would be rather boring. After all what I did was nothing special, but I’m still proud of the fact I made it a whole year on my own considering where I started.

The truth is I wish my past year was the fairy tale story about the rookie reporter who came to town and unearthed some deep seated corruption, but it was nothing of the sort. In fact, it was probably the exact opposite. Needless to say I got a serious wake up call from many departments of realty.

Obviously in the past year I’ve learned a lot about being a reporter: learning how to write, taking printable photos, finding out what’s newsworthy, developing sources etc. I’m well aware it will take a long time before I am a master of my craft. More importantly, however, I’ve learned some more important lessons not just about work, but life in general.

Not the least of which is how to take a proper beating to your ego. Naively I entered the job thinking I would have some sort of small town celebrity status by being the reporter and a northerner. Hahaha, that didn’t exactly come to fruition the same way it did in my mind. I’ve never considered myself as a guy with a big ego but opening my writing up to the public firing squad for critique did sting a bit.

This past year I can say I’ve dealt with a lot of growing pains with very little, if any, signs of reward from it. I felt as if every time I did something good I got a kick to the crotch from something else that put me right back down. Every time I needed a moral victory I just couldn’t get it. It was incredibly frustrating to say the least.

The give up button was dangling right in front of my face. I missed my friends and family (still do) and my continued frustrations only added kindling. The feeling would come and go, each time stronger than the last. It would’ve been so easy to just throw in the towel.

But I didn’t give up. I somehow said no to the beast every time. Enduring the growing pains has only made me a better as a journalist and reporter. The only way to get better is through failure and by giving up on this job I would’ve gave up any hope of living a life not dictated by fear as so many people do.

Lately I’ve had to do something I’ve never really done in my life: believe in myself. I’ve had to believe I’m doing the right thing and that one day will be my day. As long as I’m putting in the work to better myself, no matter how smaller an improvement, the opinions of others don’t matter.

Looking back I can say I’m a better person than I was a year ago. I’m more humbled for sure but my willpower and confidence are better than ever before. In fact, confidence was a foreign concept to me before I took the step to leave everything I had ever known and loved to start a brand new life. Now I feel unbreakable. The worst is over and nothing is going to stop me.

It is my belief success is really just having a strong work ethic combined with the will not to give up. It just takes time.

Here’s to another year.


Critiquing critique: A blessing in disguise


How to avoid criticism

This isn’t a post about how to deal with criticism. People deal with it in their own way…some more maturely than others. I want to address the benefits of criticism to those lucky enough to step out and welcome it.

Reporters join athletes, leaders, politicians, actors and many many others as members of the public eye. It certainly has its benefits but as the door opens up for all the glory so does the pain.

Of course the public eye is more than your parents, your friends and your little rah-rah group that supported you throughout your life. It’s also made up of people with completely different upbringing, morals, beliefs and standards. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just humanity. I’ve dished out my own fair share of criticism. Everyone does.

As I’ve grown into my new job and have gotten over the rookie hurdles, I’m now trying to focus on the quality of the work over simply meeting deadlines and learning how to write. Lately I’ve been taking some hits from the community over my work not being up to par with other papers. I’m surprised how bad it hit me really, but looking back at my life I can see why it did.

I’ve been a hermit my whole life living in a sheltered little bubble. Obviously I’m shy but it goes beyond that. The strategy in my life until lately has been to avoid conflict at all costs. Seems simple, if I avoid conflict and confrontation I can’t be hurt. Of course I also can’t reap any awards. I would only make a move when it was almost 100 percent fail proof, otherwise I wouldn’t do anything. I’ve always been a people pleaser. As long as everyone else was happy I was, but everyone had to be happy or it’d kill me. Everyone had to like me or at least be indifferent about me. If someone messed with me or picked on me I couldn’t comprehend why and it would tear me up inside.

I’m realizing now later in life that negativity has always been there, I’ve just hid myself from it. I realize now even if I do something 100 percent perfect there will still be critic. Even Gandhi has haters.

It took me a while to understand this concept but if I had never stepped up and became a reporter I’m afraid I never would’ve. Part of the reason I became a reporter was to confront all of my fears and demons head-on and this was one of the unexpected ones. I’ve grown more appreciation for the successful athletes and other figures I’ve criticized throughout the years for what they do and what they have to deal with.

I realize now criticism isn’t a curse, it’s really a blessing. Obviously I don’t take everything to heart. However, I do agree with some points my critics make and I do agree I need to make changes. Feedback, both positive and negative, is the only real way your blind spots become exposed and become fixable. The only way to get feedback is to step out and throw your work to the hounds. That’s why I’m thankful for it because I know there are millions of people out there just as I was, too scared to step out. Sure they will never be criticized but they’ll also never be able to improve themselves and be the best they can be.

I’m not telling you to f**k the haters, I’m not telling you to ignore them, I’m not telling you to label them as bullies and do the same thing they do to you. I’m telling you to love them as hard as it may be and accept they will always be there. Channel it into a positive.

Now go on and give this one star.


Never Lose Sight of Your Goals


“Be prepared to start at a small place. Take it and do it and do your very best. Always do your very very best work and have a very high bar. Be willing to work long hours and show that you care enough to do these stories, don’t watch the clock. Be willing to work in small places and work your way up. Be patient, and just do your very very best work. Never lose sight of your goals.”

Advice a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist gave to be about a year ago while I was still in school. It was part of a class project we had to do where we had to interview an expert in our field for their advice entering whatever career path we were about to take. I stumbled upon it while looking through old files on my computer and, honestly, the reminder could not have come at a better time.

Frustration would probably be the best word to describe my life recently. The feeling where I’m putting in the work and the sacrifices but I’m not seeing the results. Maybe the results are there, but they are so small they are hard to see with all the other issues, errors and setbacks.

I didn’t post this to complain about my life, quite the opposite. I believe frustrating times like this are what truly make a person. I believe true success is measured by your response when your back is against the wall, when there’s no signs of success to be found. Sure I like to reflect on my meager successes so far in my young life, but I wouldn’t be that person without the dark times. I understand I have to take the hits in order to reap the rewards. I also realize it’s going to take a long time to get to that point. A frustrating but true fact of life. After researching various figures in history who were masters at their craft, I see they weren’t born with some special talent, they worked hard and failed again and again.

At the same time I can also see how far I’ve grown from that point. Listening to the interview I could hear how nervous I was, talking at a speed of 100 miles an hour and feeling as if I was wasting his time. Listening to my side of the interview was completely cringeworthy, but my hope is some day I’ll sound like the other guy.


New Year’s Resolution 2014: Work Against Resistance


https://i2.wp.com/blog.utest.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2014-Numbers-free-Happy-2014-New-Year-Image-Wallpaper.jpg“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Since 2011, I’ve publicly made a new year’s resolution to better hold myself accountable to it. Every year I’ve been able to back it up. In 2011, my goal was to leave my dead-end fast food job which I had been working at for the past five years. I did that in three months my life completely changed for the better. In 2012, my goal was to reach my full potential and shake off my shyness. This is a lofty goal which obviously can’t be done in a year, but in one year I reached out and secured two internships which set my career up. In 2013, my goal was to have a positive mindset. No self-putdowns, no negative mindset. This positive mindset gave me the ability to go out on my own and kick off my career. These goals are not simply new year’s resolutions. They are new ideals which I add on to my life every year, each one building off the other. I continue to work on these past goals to this day.

Now it’s time for 2014.

From 2009-2013 the end goal was finding a career and graduating. My mentality was focused on gaining experience and building my resume so I could get a job. I worked relentlessly with that one goal in mind. Now that I have that I have a job I feel like I’ve let my foot off the gas. Like it’s over, but it’s not over. It’s just the beginning.

My New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to work against resistance, not just external forces but internal as well. In fact it’s the internal resistance that worries me the most. It’s so easy to come home and sit on the couch after work waste the rest of the night away doing nothing. After going to school full-time and working two jobs I forgot what so much free time felt like. My goal for the next year is to work on the little things. To better utilize my free time. The comfort zone is truly a horrible thing in my eyes and it is so hard to escape it. Some people never do.

It’s not just laziness I must get over. Fear is always present. While I’ve taken risks and learned how to control my anxieties I still have a long way to go. I must work on my interviewing skills and my source building skills.

What I realize more than ever is success isn’t just something that one works at for a certain amount of time and then stops. Success is a mentality and a lifestyle. After researching some of the most successful people in history I realize it is an everyday thing, down to the smallest details. Every single day stacks up.

Personally my motivation comes from the future vision of myself. The thought of living a mundane life controlled by fear scares me more than anything. It’s time to put my foot back on the gas. I will not let fear or laziness control my life.

No more laziness. No more fear. 2014 is the year of doing for me.

Work Against Resistance and, as always, I wish you luck in achieving your own goals.

What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jiddukrish130342.html#WUkkiA5TRrhIvW7x.99

What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jiddukrish130342.html#WUkkiA5TRrhIvW7x.99


Three Months


Linville Gorge looking towards table rock.

Linville Gorge looking towards table rock.

 

I can’t believe it’s been three months since I left home. Since then I’ve covered everything from a power company’s controversial use of herbicides along power lines to folklore tales of legendary mysterious lights seen in this very gorge. I’ve also been able to explore a whole new region of the country. I miss home like crazy but I know what I’m doing is right and there is no turning back.

There are certainly times when I feel like a fish out of water, try all the time actually. With a name like Mundhenk I pretty much scream that I’m clearly not from around here. Things are different here but I’m glad I get to see another side of things, a new culture. I hope I can be a positive impact as a member in this new community.

There are many things I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve been able to do within this short time span, not least of which is the simple fact I’ve survived three months. I treat this like a milestone because it really is. I’ve made it through the roughest part I feel. The initial homesickness, the strange new world. I’ve also learned a lot about myself in the process. How to live alone, how to manage a budget, how to do all the little things my mommy and daddy used to do for me. What has impressed me the most though is walking into a subject I’m covering that I’m completely clueless about and by the time I’m done I’ve learned something completely new. I’ve walked into a story plenty of times wondering how on Earth I’m I going to do this and have somehow managed to do it.

Make no mistake. I’ve had several frustrations and growing pains and continue to do so on a daily basis. My goal for the first three months was to simply make it to this point. Now I’m ready to step up a bit more. I feel like I’ve reached a plateau, and I hate plateaus. I want to step up my interviewing and writing skills even further. I want to crawl out of my shell just a little bit more. I want to follow in the steps of past reporters who have worked here and gone on to do big things. I have so much potential here and It’s up to me to make the most out of this opportunity.

Just have to continue to trust the process.


Why I Became a Reporter


On the way to Mt. Mitchell

On the way to Mt. Mitchell

Throughout my life lots of people have asked me what I want to major in or what career I want to go into. However, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me why I wanted to become a reporter, and if they did I probably didn’t answer them honestly.

Sure there’s lots of reasons as to why I became a reporter. I like learning and understanding new ideas, people and concepts. I’m genuinely interested in informing people on what’s going on in the community. I also like to write and generate content that people want to see. But one reason really trumps all the rest.

It forces me to confront my greatest fears.

My general social anxiety. My fear of confrontation. My lack of assertiveness. All are directly addressed being a reporter. It’s no secret for those who know me that I’m a shy guy. As I’ve said before I’m not ashamed to be an introvert but there’s a difference between being quiet and avoiding social confrontation due to fear. I am a firm believer that if you aren’t facing your fears you truly aren’t living at all. Looking back most of the major milestones in my life I walked into them fear and hesitation but did it anyway.

It’s not just about my social fears though. I never let the constant, almost daily news I heard of reporters being laid off and newspapers shrinking dissuade me. I didn’t give into a more stable career. I didn’t look at the employment numbers or the money. I didn’t listen to the little online surveys that determine what career would best fit my personality. In fact, most surveys said the last field I should go into is journalism. I knew what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let anybody or anything stop me from doing it. I have to believe if I’m constantly developing my skills and moving with the times that I will remain employed. If not, at least I tried.

This is truly what I want to do and I feel. I hope to one day become an investigate reporter. I want to do something to better the world no matter how small it is. I do know though it’s going to take some effort on my part. I have to come out of my shell but I’ve already seen a large improvement in the two months that I’ve kicked off my career. I’m excited to see how far I’ve developed a year from now.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. I have a lot to learn and it will likely take a long time to be the type of reporter and person I want to be. I’m not judging anyone’s lifestyle but I have seen so many people in my life with such potential only to see it pissed away. I applaud anyone who takes a chance and pursues what they truly want in life.

Having a big salary, big house with the picket fence, wife and kids, and job security is nice but I would like to think there are other ways to live a satisfying life. Entering an “evolving” field only makes me more determined to work harder.