Category Archives: Self-Improvement

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!


6 Winter Epiphanies


This winter has been a life changing experience for me. My internship, writing this blog, and reading many insightful books has really opened my eyes to a new light. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed in the past two months. Socially, I am completely different. I can approach people, maintain eye contact, and for the most part speak in an articulate manner without stuttering. My outlook on life has changed as well. I want to learn as much and accomplish as much as I possibly can with my life.

Here is a list of six epiphanies I’ve had this quarter that have changed my life.

The World Isn’t Going to Change Because You Want It To.

I’ve often walked through life thinking that I would do things different. I thought I would beat the system. That I could be shy and shallow and somehow gorgeous women would flock to me and start making out with no questions asked. I thought I could submit a couple of on-line resumes and get hired on the spot. I’m glad I found out sooner than later that the world doesn’t work that way. You get out of life what you put in it.  The world isn’t going to change. Learn to live with it or die a bitter human being.

Don’t Seek Outside Approval. No One Cares.

Last year I had a huge problem with this. Mostly because a lot of good things happened to me and I wasn’t really accustomed to having good thing happen to me. This was especially bad when I got my new job. I gloated about it on Facebook almost every other status update while my former coworkers where still stuck in misery. When I got a new car I mentioned it to almost everyone I met. The same thing happened with my internship. “Look at me I’m writing in the paper.” Soon everything became about me. Facebook in general was just bad for me. I used to write a ton of jokes on there. I would receive tons of likes from them. This positive feedback was feeding my ego. It pretty much dictated how my day was going to go. If I wasn’t getting complemented in the real world or liked in cyberspace I would get depressed. I know it sounds pretty pathetic but that’s the way it was. The truth is no one really cares about your achievements except maybe your close friends and family. Truthfully no one is envious about my used car, my retail job, or the articles I wrote. What’s the author’s name of the last news article you read? That’s what I thought. I’m not saying it’s bad to celebrate good things that happen to you just don’t go overboard with it. Self-improvement should be for your own happiness. You shouldn’t fuel your happiness off other people’s approval.

Get Over The Spotlight Effect.

Shy guys and gals this one is for you.  The spotlight effect is the tendency to believe that other people are paying closer attention to one’s appearance and behavior than they actually are. You wash your hands and you accidentally get water on your crouch. You then spend the next ten minutes pulling your shirt down in hopes no one will see.  It can be even worse than that. For example, I wanted to go shopping at a nice clothing store because I desired to change my wardrobe but all I had were my crappy clothes. I was scared to death to enter the store. I was afraid that people would laugh because I didn’t look like them. It really got to the point where everything I did, everything I said, every action I made people were watching me and judging me.

In short, stop thinking that people care because they really don’t. Do you care if someone spilled their coffee? Are you going to laugh at them? Do you care that the person next to you in class wore the same shirt twice in one week? Do you care about what other people at the mall are doing, saying, wearing? No and they don’t care about you either. You are an extra in their life as they are an extra in yours. Think about this the next time you’re in a public setting. It will help.

Don’t Give a F**k.

I cannot stress this enough. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things you should give a f**k about. Just stop caring about the little insignificant things. Stop caring what people say/think about you and most importantly stop over-analyzing everything. If you want to say something don’t wait for it to pass through the Senate and the House in your brain. Just say it. If you sound stupid don’t worry about it. Chances are the person you were talking was so worried about what they were going to say they didn’t even hear you. Don’t dwell on the conversation later that night. Don’t let the small things ruin your day.

Be Yourself…..Seriously.

This message gets pelted into people’s heads on a daily basis that I think we’ve kind of ignored it but it’s so true. It’s a shame that many people never really realize this. People can see when you are being someone else. I have this weird problem whenever I watch a movie or a T.V. show I start acting like one of the characters. Why I have no idea. Maybe because I think they are cooler than me and if I act like them I will be cool. I will act like them, talk like them, have the same facial expressions, etc. This fails miserably every time I do it. When I act the way I want to everything is better. There are fake people everywhere. Life is too short to live someone else’s life (unless you’re an actor of course).

It Isn’t About How You Fail. It’s About How You Respond Afterwards. 

“I’ve often said that man’s character is not judged after he celebrates a victory but by what he does when his back is against the wall.” -John Cena

This winter has changed me a lot but I can’t say that it would’ve happened if everything went according as planned. I hyped up this winter so much. I thought this would be the quarter that I would make new friends and my social life would finally balloon. I thought my friend and I would get back into lifting and I could make some gains. This didn’t happen. I continued to be the same shy guy I always was. I was really disappointed with my first few articles because I was too worried about my social anxiety and talking to sources rather than focusing on what they had to say. My friend was so swamped with schoolwork that I couldn’t go over to his place to life. It basically resulted in me spending five days out of my week at home, alone doing nothing. If it was former pre-2011 self I would’ve got depressed and spent the entire time video games. Instead I took advantage of my solitude. I started a blog. I started reading…a lot. I became a sponge absorbing all the information I could get. I worked on improving the quality of my articles. I started lifting at school and my house instead. Sure it wasn’t the same but it was better than not lifting at all. Now I’m stronger, smarter, and more inspired than ever. It may be hard but always try to make a positive out of something negative. Don’t give in to it.

In Conclusion…

I just wanted to say thank you for everyone that has read/commented/liked my blog. Writing this has helped me grow a lot. Mostly it has helped me enforce that I am practicing what I preach. I hope it has helped you as well. Good luck to all of you with your dreams and goals.


I Am My Own Worst Enemy


I have been walking through this trail in the woods of life. When I say trail I do mean trial, a safe trail, a well-walked trial. I’ve seen many people walk this trail and many people make it out safely. I may have ventured off the trail from time to time but never strayed too far away. This trail is all I know. I come across a fork in the road with two paths. One path looks safe, nice, and also…boring. The also path looks extremely dangerous but also looks much more exciting. I decide to take the risky path but someone stands in my way. Who is it? It’s me. My shy risk-free guardian angel.

“Can you excuse me I’d like to take this path,” I say.

“Uh….s-sorry. I ca-can’t let you. Sorry,” Shy Andrew mumbles while looking down at the ground avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“But I want to go on this path,” I say. “I’m tired of walking down this path. It’s boring.”

“Bu-but you never took the risky path before,” says Shy Andrew. “It could be d-dangerous.”

“Yeah you’re right,” I reluctantly say. “It’s too risky. Besides, I’ve been shy my entire life. What would people think if I just changed overnight?” I continue to walk down the safe trail.

“A-aren’t you glad I’m lo-looking out for you,” says Shy Andrew.

“Yeah…”

This is what happens every time I am presented with an opportunity to better myself. At least that’s what used to happen. I’m only 22 years old but I can’t even begin to list the amount of opportunities that I’ve had in my short life that I’ve missed. Not because of money issues or other obligations. I was simply too afraid to take the risk. How many questions I didn’t get answered because afraid to ask them? How many relationships I could have enjoyed but was too afraid to talk? How many jobs, internships, and scholarships I could have gotten if I took the extra effort and followed up on them with a simply phone call? I don’t even want to know the answers to these questions. The funny thing is these shouldn’t even be defined as risks. A risk involves making a sacrifice. What is my sacrifice here? Vibrating my vocal chords? All of these opportunities involved minimal risk and almost unlimited benefits.

I realize that I have the potential to be great. I’m very fortunate that I was raised in a nurturing family that supported me emotionally and financially. I am fortunate to have been born in a country where basic needs are abundant and opportunity is everywhere. I realize that there are many people on this planet that would kill to have the opportunities I have. I am in a position to do whatever I want to do with my life. There is only one person holding me back. Myself. I’m glad I realized this when I was 22 instead of 82. I still have a time to turn this around. To rid of Shy Andrew and live the life I want to.

Someday I hope to be a reporter, preferably an investigative reporter. The type that digs into the evils of corporate and government corruption. I realize that social anxiety and investigative journalism do not mix. After all, how do I expect to expose the tightly knit secrets of government corruption if I can’t even make eye contact with the cashier at Wendy’s? So one has to go: my dreams or my shyness. When you put it that way it’s a very easy decision to make.

How am I doing this? I do it by confronting my fear head on. I took up an internship this winter at my local paper. I’m not tasked with anything big. Just the small stuff like a new museum exhibit, local business has a birthday, etc. At first it was hard. I was violently shaking during my first interview. I was so worried about screwing up I didn’t even listen to what the person was saying. St-stuttering and putting an “um” between every other word when I asked a question. It was pretty bad. By the time I was writing my fourth article I was much more calm. I could get past the stupid stuff like my social anxiety and focus on the people and what they were saying. Then something else started to happen. My normal everyday conversations got better. Talking to the cashier at Wendy’s isn’t so hard after talking to a CEO of a company. It’s only been two months since I started reporting but I’m light years away from where I was. I’ve decided to continue writing for the paper through spring. Hopefully it will be even longer than that. One of the reasons I loving reporting is it makes me face my fear and deal with it instead of avoiding it. What’s life if you don’t challenge yourself? A well-walked trail.

I used to think my shyness was incurable. I was set in my mind that I was never going to be the person I wanted to be. Then again I also thought I’d never get out of my horrible fast food job, never squat more than 300 pounds, and never own a nice car and I’ve done all of those in the past year. It’s 99% percent mindset and 1% outside factors. I’m starting to see that there might be a cure to my shyness, awkwardness, and anxiety. I heavy dose of man up.

Do whatever you want and don’t let anyone, especially yourself, get in the way.