Category Archives: Advice

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.


Grounding (Process vs. Outcome)


“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.” – Alan Watts.

Stop thinking.

How can such a seemingly easy task be so difficult to initiate? Well we are humans, natural problem solvers. We like to think about problems whether they could happen, may happen, probably will happen, or not happen at all. It doesn’t matter if we have any control over said problem or not. Whatever the issue is, it will be sure to make its voice heard inside your head.

People can’t wait to graduate, can’t wait till the weekend, can’t wait till they get that six pack or house in the suburbs. Most people are obsessed with the outcome but don’t care very much for the journey it takes to get there.

Is it bad to think? Absolutely not. Is it bad to have outcome-oriented goals. No, that’s where the majority of people’s motivation comes from. Too much of anything, however, is bad. Sometimes you need to shut your mind off. Sometimes you need to think about the process. Sometimes you have to ground yourself.

What is grounding? I would consider grounding shutting your mind off, stop day-dreaming, stop worrying about the future, and just simply live in the present moment. It’s great to have big dreams and aspirations but it can be equally beneficial to come down from the clouds and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Enjoy the Process

Why do we watch movies, play video games, and read books? That is, why do we view them in their entirety than just skipping to the end. Its because we want to see the gradual development of the character. We want to see Luke Skywalker grow from a simple moisture farmer on Tatooine to a fully realized Jedi Knight. We don’t just watch Return of the Jedi to see the dancing Ewok scene at the end.

This model applies to any great story, whether it be a book or other medium. If we like having our entertainment set up this way then why don’t we do the same with our own lives? I fear that many people are just too outcome-oriented. I know I was.  I came up with a pretty simple realization my senior year in high school. I found whenever I was in a period of life I would consider good (aka not depressed) I savor every moment and dread it coming to an end. On the flip side, during bad periods of time in my life (which were much frequent) I’m very future-oriented not caring about my miserable present at all. Seems like common sense right? If your having a good time naturally you don’t want it to end and of course when the rainy day comes people hope for the future to get better.

The tricky part is enjoying the present during the bad moments as well. I know that it can be hard for people to see the good in a bad moment. What I’ve come to find though is that it’s those bad moments that make the good moments worth living for. It’s good to embrace the bad moments with the good. When you are depressed embrace it rather than bottling it up. If you don’t like the way things are going do whatever you can to fix them right now instead of waiting for things to get better. The honest truth is life isn’t supposed to sunshine and roses all the time. Think about it. Would you want it to be? Not myself personally. How can you know how good you’ve got it until you’ve experienced how bad it can get?

I’m not saying being outcome-oriented and looking towards the future is a bad thing but there must be a balance. Just enjoy the small steps on the journey towards your goal. My main wish for you is to stop wishing for a bad period of life to be over with. I’m sure your life will be better when you get that promotion or get your degree but enjoy the current situation in the meantime. Don’t become too fixated on the outcome because the ultimate outcome in life’s journey is death.

Enjoy the Moment

My advice would be to take time everyday to just enjoy the moment. When your walking around take a look at everything around you, the people, the scenery, the weather. It’s amazing when you incorporate it in your daily routine and start noticing things you never saw before. It’s pure bliss. Suddenly all your worries, concerns, problems are gone for the time being. You start looking at the big picture and may even realize most of your worries are over things you have no control over whatsoever.

Grounding is a great tool for social anxiety, probably the best tactic I’ve found yet. If your tuned in on the present your head isn’t fixated on what other people think about you. You’ve got to get out of your head. It may seem contradictory, but thinking really complicates conversations. Thinking about the subject matter at hand isn’t bad, but thinking about what the other person thinks of you is a problem.

Grounding

People have big dreams, some of them may be a little too big, unorganized, or not thought out entirely. It’s easy to make extravagant goals, but it’s another thing to follow through with them. Grounding helps you sink your head back down to Earth and makes you think how you can realistically make these goals happen. Bottom line is I believe everyone can benefit from enjoying the process and just enjoying the present moment.


Establishing Good Habits


If you’re interested in bettering yourself, no matter what the skill, developing good habits will be essential. Deciding that you want to change your ways is the easy part.  The hard part is obviously following through with it. That means every day. No exceptions!

How to Start

First you must establish what you want to change or what new habit you want introduced in your life. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. In fact, small changes might be easier to digest at first. Also, try to introduce only a few new habits at a time. You don’t want to be constantly shaking things up all the time. Allow the dust to settle for a little bit before taking on something new. It’s good to have a little grounding.

You might see the immediate benefits or your new habit…or you might not. The important thing is to give it a chance either way. Some habits take a while before they finally pay off.

Get Ready for Resistance

It might be easy to practice your new “habit” for the first couple of days. After a while, however, you may find that it gets harder and harder to stick to it. Eventually you start doing it every other day, then a couple of times a week and the next thing you know your back to where you started. The old habit has been ingrained in your brain for so long that it will take about a month for it to rewire itself to the new habit. In the meantime, you may find that your body and mind will throw whatever they can to resist the change. Humans are naturally habitual beings. Most of us do not like change. If you feel the change you are making is the right thing to do then it is very important to persevere no matter how tired, hungry, etc. you are. Taking one day off could mean the difference.

How to Get Past the Rough Patch

Motivation can only do so much. It comes and goes. It’s important to look at the good things that are happening as a result of the change, no matter how small they may be. For example, this fall I decided I wanted to meditate for 15 minutes every morning. At first I didn’t notice anything. Then I began to notice I was paying more attention in class. I used this as fuel to keep me going. After you start establishing new habits, it starts getting easier since you can fall back on the successes of your previous changes.

The Turning Point

At a certain point you feel the change has finally been made. Like you’ve made it over the hump. Like everything has finally clicked. Congrats! You’ve established the new habit. Now it should almost come automatic without having to think about it constantly. It’s still very important to not veer off the path. The old habit is still cemented in your brain and will be very easy to go back to.   

Start Now!

Don’t pick a defined date to start a change. You’re already setting yourself up for failure if you do so. An obvious example of this would be the endless amount of failed New Year’s Resolutions people make year after year. By putting off a change to later date you will most likely put it off again with the day does come, and so on and so on. There’s no reason to not start now.

Good luck!


Limbo


I finished my internship at the News-Sun a little over two weeks ago and I’ve been “enjoying” the remainder of my summer break. I would like to say that I did finish off strong like had I set out to do in my previous post. I had four articles published in my final week, one of which made the front page. Nevertheless, I know I have a ton of work to do before I’m hireable. I need to work on my aggressiveness (no surprise there) as well as my speed.

I felt a strange feeling after it was all over though. It felt like the end. For the past year I had stepped closer and closer towards my goal, first in my introductory journalism class in the fall to freelancing  in a real newspaper in winter and spring to having a paid internship. Now it’s all over. I’m not stepping higher, just plateauing. All I’m doing in the fall is going to school and working on the weekends. That’s it. The reasonable side of me tells me to write for the school paper or find another small paper but for some reason I can’t bring myself to do it. I think the reason I’m telling myself  not to is because I’ll be so busy with work and school I won’t have time though? Is this true? Or am I just coming up with excuses? I want to be everything I can be but at the same time I just want to be a normal college kid for once, one who goes to parties, drinks, etc.

So for the past two weeks I feel as if I’ve been stuck in limbo. I’ve been confused, depressed, and thinking about everything non-stop. I’ve also been a sponge, using the time to catch up on reading and gathering information online. I just finished The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It’s a great book and I would strongly recommend it. My uncle gave me the book after he read my blog. After reading it I think I may have discovered my issue:

I want to be miserable again.

I’ve done a lot this past year and achieved a lot, more so than I ever have in my life. Why on Earth do I feel this way? Consciously I don’t want that but part of me occasionally wants to go back to the way I was. Life was simpler back then. I could sit in my comfort zone in front of my computer and spend the day away doing nothing. I’m having an seemingly eternal battle between my conservative self and my ambitious self. I’ve been having this battle for over a year seeing as the conservative side previously swept my ambitious side for years.

I guess you could say my fear is that my conservative side is making a comeback and I think this time if it comes back it will be back for good. Peck says in his book that laziness is the evil that keeps us from becoming great and that we must fight this urge of laziness constantly our entire lives like a boat going upstream.

Today, I leave Ohio to spend my final week of vacation in California. I’ve never flown nor have I been to the West Coast. I don’t think this trip could’ve came at a better time in my life. I hope the new experiences and new scenery rejuvenate my ambition. I’m hope in California I can find some of the answers that I’m looking for.


Taking the Lumps


Once again I apologize for my lack of updates. Now that I’m interning at the Springfield News-Sun on top of working at my other job I really haven’t had a lot of free time. Also, I didn’t really have anything floating around in my head that I thought was worthy of a post, until now at least.

I’m entering week 6 of my 8 week internship. It’s been a great experience for me and definitely a wake up call. I thought after freelancing for a year at school I would be ready to take on the world.

I was wrong.

During the course of this internship I’ve felt strange like I was in a funk. A funk is a good way to describe it. I feel like I’m not progressing as fast as I’d like to. I’m having trouble building relationships with my co-workers due to my social skills. I feel like I haven’t been giving it my best but at the same time I feel like a haven’t gave it my worst. To sum it up I’ve felt average. For me this feeling is simply unacceptable. I would rather fail than just be average. At least with failure comes a learning experience. It is one thing to fail giving it your all but it is another thing to fail because you we’re to scared to call that extra source out of some irrational social fear. Just like seeing my goals become reality is the greatest feeling for me, seeing me not live up to them feels equally as bad.

I’m trying to pinpoint what my problem is. Could it be that I’m simply burning out after from 70 hour work weeks and not having a legitimate period of rest since spring break? Could it be because it’s only an internship and not a real job?

Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Maybe it’s something else.

I do not want to beat myself up too much considering the fact that a year ago I had never written an article besides in my high school paper. I have learned so much in just a year about the field of journalism. I’m comparing myself with my co-workers who have years of experience in the field. I’m also comparing myself with my fellow intern, who has had much more college experience than I have had so far.

In fact, I think the real problem is that I’m putting too much pressure on myself. I feel like I have such a limited time to….perfect my skills. I’ve said time and time again that I don’t want to be a perfectionist but I think with all the success I’ve had in the past year it got to my head. I started expecting instant success if I show up and put in some effort. Now I’m working with professionals, not students. I’ve only leveled up. I’m not a level 70 wizard yet. I need to realize that I’m just a beginner and it will be a long time before I’m a great journalist. It’s only an internship. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain from it. I consider myself lucky to have gotten such a competitive internship especially considering I turned in the application hours before the deadline.

Hours before the deadline. Such a life of a reporter.

Now I have yet another deadline. I have three weeks before this internship is over. I’m tired and burnt out but I intend to switch on the afterburners and give it my all. I don’t want to be regarded as the average intern. I want see a marked improvement in my skills no matter how small they are.

During my orientation one of the directors said something profound to the 10 or so interns in the room. He said we were all selected because we had talent. He also said that if we walk into this internship as if we know everything already we will fail. He said to gather to full experience of this internship you must act as if you know nothing.

I haven’t forgotten that advice and I never will. I know that I must take my lumps. It’s been hard. It will continue to be hard but eventually one day things will start clicking. The point I’m trying to make is sometimes you just have to just admit as beginner you suck and it might be a long time before you get better. The tricky part is to not get discouraged and maintain that belief through the rough times.