Tag 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.

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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.


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.


Worshipping Mediocrity


I don’t mean to offend anyone’s lifestyle or life choices with this post. This is a subject that I have felt adamant about for years and I really feel the need to express my opinion about the matter.

In many societies (especially the United States) there seems to be a dictionary definition for success.

Success- [noun] one who has graduated high school, gotten married, bought a house, reproduced, held a stable job, and if lucky retired in good health.

For a second let’s picture two guys both in their 40’s. Guy #1 is single, has no kids, and lives in an apartment. Guy #2 is married, has three kids, and a nice two-story house in the suburbs with a stable job. Which lifestyle does society frown on? Guy #1. People will talk about Guy #1 in a negative way. What’s wrong with him? Why hasn’t he gotten married yet? Is he gay? He’s such a creep. He needs to settle down. Meanwhile, Guy #2 gets the praise. He’s an engineer, has a wife, three kids, a golden retriever, a white picket fence. Man is he lucky to be living the American Dream.

Why is this sort of judgment ok? Who’s to say that Guy #1 isn’t happier than Guy #2? Perhaps Guy #2 is miserable because he settled for the life everyone told him to live instead of deciding for himself. What if I said Guy #2 went into engineering not because he wanted to but because of the pay and the job security? Who are we to judge whether a person is successful or not?

I don’t have a problem with this lifestyle. I just have a problem with it being the set guideline to follow to be successful. You must get married at X age before you’re the last one of your group of friends to be single. You must have a kid. You must get a mini-van. It seems as if some people simply live this life because they were told to live this way. Not only do we blindly go along with it. We worship it.

The problem is our defining moments in life are things are easily achievable. Think about some of the more important events we celebrate in life. Birthdays, getting married, and having a kid. These are events that the majority of the population can and will experience in their lifetime. What makes these events so special? The sad truth is anyone can get married. The real question is are you willing to put in the effort to maintain that marriage? The vast majority of the population is capable of reproduction. What the vast majority of the population can’t do is raise a child in a way that they will be able to maximize their potential? These are the events that I want to celebrate.

Life is so much more than just getting married and living your life through your kids. No one should limit their selves to these boundaries of success. This may be the American Dream to some but it is not my dream. To me this sounds more like a nightmare. I don’t want to live the same life that millions of people have lived before. I’ve already heard and seen that life through my parents. I’ve already watched that life on T.V. It’s like reading a book you already know the ending to.

Again the point of this was not to bash a person’s lifestyle. I realize that I might have come off hypocritical and started judging people’s lifestyles myself. Truthfully, most people are happy with a life like this and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with it I just wanted to point out that there are other ways to have a “successful” life. Don’t set imaginary deadlines for when you’re supposed to get married. Don’t pick a career solely based on income and job security. Live the life you truly want and only then will you be successful.

“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.” – Warren G. Bennis


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.