In light of the 2016 Miss America pageant airing this weekend, I thought it was as good a time as any to write about my experience as a state titleholder and the life lessons I gained from competing in Miss America.
If you don’t know much about the Miss America pageant the word “pageant” may conjure up images of Toddler’s in Tiaras, Honey Boo Boo, and women with barely there bikinis parading onstage (we do have a swimsuit competition but it is always tasteful), but I can assure you that the Miss America pageant is nothing like the aforementioned images.
Miss America prides itself on the fact it is not just a pageant but a scholarship organization for women, but in truth it is much more than either a pageant or scholarship organization.
The process of competing in the local, state, and national pageants is rigorous and if a young woman wants to be successful in this world she needs to have the whole package; brains, beauty, talent, fitness, confidence, passion, and exceptional speaking abilities just to name a few.
When I started competing at the ripe old age of 20 I possessed only a few of these qualities, but somehow managed to win my first local pageant (I can only assume they were judging on potential because I look back at that video and, well, yikes!) and that’s when the real work began.
Over the next four years I competed in Miss America local and state pageants, winning some, losing some, but eventually winning my state title which allowed me to compete in the granddaddy of all pageants… the Miss America pageant.
But the real reward was not winning my state title or competing on the Miss America stage. The real reward was in the life lessons I learned along the way… lessons and skills that have given me much more than a crown or a sash.
These lessons have molded and shaped me into the woman I am today, paving the way for success and fulfillment in my life. Here’s a look at some of the life lessons I gained during my days of competing:
1. How to Overcome Shyness
Not many people realize the extent of my shyness before I started competing in pageants. I hated picking up the phone to call for a pizza delivery, let alone standing in front of thousands of people giving a speech. If you would have told me that at some point in my life I would spend a year as a motivation speaker, speaking to over 75,000 people, I would have said you should be committed to an insane asylum, pronto!! But that’s exactly what I did.
The first year I competed I had a very wise local director who pointed me to the teachings of Dale Carnegie, which provided a foundation for the interpersonal skills I would gain over the next few years. This along with great mentors like my local director, personal development books, and coaching helped me to overcome shyness and become a confident young woman and an articulate orator.
2. Self-Knowledge/Personal Development
Without a doubt the most important phase of competition in the Miss America pageant is the interview. Judges are looking for woman who is confident, smart, genuine, well rounded, knows who she is and has the confidence to share it with others. In order to become this woman I had to dig deep. I needed to learn who I really was at the core of my being… my passions, my strengths, my weaknesses, my areas of self-doubt, and how past hurts were hampering my success. I had to learn who I was and then develop and better myself.
I worked hard on my areas of weakness and resolved many of my lingering issues. What emerged was a strength and self-assuredness I had never known before. My interview coach called it a “quiet confidence”.
People couldn’t quite but their finger on how I had changed, but they certainly noticed it. This, of all the life lessons, was the most valuable and I believe it is the reason I finally went on to win my state title.
3. Only Compete with Yourself
You may not realize it, but pageants are a mental game. You can have all the right qualities and skills, but if you start comparing yourself with others and let doubt get a foothold, it’s all over and you’ll lose your ability to perform at your highest capability.
The same is true of many sports like golf, gymnastics, and figure skating. I remember watching the winter Olympics and US Women’s figure skater Sasha Cohen stated she never watched the other competitors because it would mess with her mental composure.
I didn’t go as far as that but instead I learned to appreciate the talent of my fellow competitors and still not let myself get sucked into the trap of comparing myself with them. Obviously, this was easier said than done because after all it is a pageant and the judges are most certainly comparing you against the other women.
Instead, I learned to compete against my best self, striving to be better each time I stepped foot on that stage.
4. How to Market and Sell Myself
When competing for a pageant title you are the product/brand. When you win a pageant you become the face of the Miss America Organization to the people you meet. Therefore, you have to sell the judges on the fact that your brand/identity is congruent with the image of Miss America.
Because of this I began reading branding and marketing books my first year of competing starting with Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. Along with selling yourself in the interview room and onstage, you also had to sell yourself in your paperwork.
The first impression a judge has of you is by reading your pageant application and platform essay, therefore you need to quickly and efficiently sell yourself in your paperwork. The process of writing and rewriting my paperwork helped me develop and hone my copy writing skills.
Pageants taught me tenacity and how to bounce back and learn from a loss. I competed in my state pageant for four years before eventually winning my state title. I learned to use my losses as tools for further growth instead of letting them dissuade me from achieving my goal of winning my state title.
6. Seek Out Constructive Criticism
Far from avoiding constructive criticism, I craved it and sought it out because I learned this was the best way for me to improve and grow. I sought out experts in each of the categories of competition and worked with them to improve my skills.
Of course some of the criticism was hard to hear, but without their honest feedback I would have never have won my state title.
7. How to be Well Rounded
During the Miss America interview you can be asked questions on everything from tort reform to pop culture so not only do you need to be knowledgeable about many different subjects, but you need to have an articulate and well-formed opinion. Needless to say I learned a lot about a wide variety of subjects.
8. Time Management
While competing I had to juggle many responsibilities… preparing for the pageant, work, college, ballet/performing, duties/appearances as a titleholder, and managing to squeeze in somewhat of a social life. I learned to use my time wisely, as well as the fine art of multi-tasking.
9. Interview Skills
As I stated earlier, the interview competition is by far the most important category. It is often said that pageants are won and lost in the interview room, and it’s not without good reason.
Interviews are usually the first area of competition, therefore your performance in the interview room can impact your scores on stage (even though it’s technically not supposed to). If the judges liked you in interview, you better believe they’re going to be pulling for you to do well onstage.
The process of preparing for these all important interviews, taught me how to get my message across in a concise and clear manner, and I learned how to tackle difficult or even uncomfortable questions.
10. How to Effect Social Change
As a titleholder you have what is called “a platform”, meaning the social issue that you have chosen to focus on during your year of service. During my years of competing I worked with and created awareness for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Best Buddies, and the American Heart Association.
Not many women in their early twenties are afforded this tremendous opportunity and responsibility, I was so grateful for the chance to speak to thousands of people about social issues I was passionate about.
I hope this helps you view both the organization and the young women who compete with a greater sense of respect. And while I might not always agree with everything that is done in the pageant world, I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons I learned while competing in Miss America. It truly made me a more “beauty-full” woman.
*If you want to catch the 2016 Miss America pageant it is airing this Sunday, September 13th at 8:00 EST on ABC.
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