Tag Archives: fear

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.


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.


The Ultimate Leap of Faith


Bakersville, NC

My new home.

A lot has happened since the last time I’ve posted.

I put my money where my mouth was. I proved that I love my fear. I picked up everything I’ve owned and known in Ohio and accepted a newspaper job in beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.

I’m a week in so far and I can already tell it’s going to be a great experience for me. I’m learning how to take photos and cover a variety of different topics from sports to hard news. I also realize I have a long way to go before I become a successful journalist. Hopefully the paper puts up with me until then.

I always knew I wanted to leave Ohio. Not because it’s a bad state but because I wanted to see another part of the country. It’s one thing to say I wanted to move but when the time actually came for me to follow though it got hard. While it may be easy for some it was hell for me. Leaving all my friends and family, leaving the only place I’ve ever known. But while making the decision I saw two distinct paths: one where I stay in my comfort zone for the rest of my mediocre life and the other where I take a chance and realize my dream of exploring new areas, meeting new people and learning a new culture.

I needed this. I needed to be ripped out of Ohio before my roots grew too deep in my comfort zone. I felt like if I didn’t take this leap of faith now why would I do it when the next big situation came up, or next one or the one after that.

When making some of the greatest decisions in my life I have always been seconds away from wanting to pull the plug but somehow I managed to convince myself to push though. It’s almost like the more you fear something it’s all the more reason you need to do it. It’s still too soon to determine what this decision holds in store for me, but all that matters to me is that I took a chance, I didn’t give into fear and I followed through with what I felt would be good for me.

Of course I would be a lair if I said I did it alone. There is no way I could’ve done this without the almost unanimous support of my family, friends and former professors. I feel so grateful to have such a strong support group.

I know what I did wasn’t amazing or something that no one else has ever done before. I’m also not saying everyone who chooses to stay home is a coward. I just hope my experience can serve as a small example to those who are afraid of moving out of their comfort zone, even though doing so could be the best thing that has ever happened to them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m suffering from homesickness more than I ever thought I would. I just hope and know that it will get better with time.

I plan to update this blog more often for my friends and family back home and for my followers as well.


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.