Tuesday, May 24, 2016

3 Years Down, 3 Weeks to Go...

Hey, y'all!

I never used to say "y'all," but four years of school in the South has me a changed woman.  Additionally, three years of competing for Miss New Jersey has changed me in ways I can only begin to recognize. I thought, being that we have three weeks until Miss NJ check-in, I would reflect on some of the ways my time with the Miss America Organization has made me not only a better competitor, but a better human.

My very first year competing for Miss New Jersey, I had come off of a three year break from pageantry after competing in the Miss America's Outstanding Teen Organization.  I had seen a lot of success as a "Teen," and honestly, expected to find the same in "Miss."  I competed for Miss Seashore Line, and outright lost. I say this not because I'm bitter, but because that experience made me better.  I did not win a single preliminary award, place as a runner up, or win a title in the triple-crown pageant.  That first local changed my perspective and taught me that no one can expect to succeed in this Organization just because 1. they have succeeded before or 2. they have worked hard.  Everyone works hard.  Everyone puts in the time and effort it takes to be a competitor.  I left that first pageant accepting the fact that perseverance is the key to success, which would prove to help me for years to come.

After winning a local title and securing my spot in the Miss New Jersey 2013 competition, I counted down the days until my first Miss NJ week.  When it finally came, I was itching with excitement and looking forward to having the time of my life.  I woke up each morning thrilled to find out what the day would bring and was utterly shocked to make the top five on Saturday night.  I was lucky enough to hold Cara McCollum's hands as she found out she would be the next Miss New Jersey.  Today, I feel even luckier than I did that night to have shared such a special moment with such an impactful woman.

I entered my second year determined to be "Carol's girl" and secure the Miss Seashore Line title.  Not only did I secure my spot for the state competition by winning that title, I secured a new family member in Carol Taylor.  It's no secret that Carol is a New Jersey pageant legend with her honest opinions and ability to make any crowd laugh with her sarcastic humor.  She hates her picture taken, but I snuck a few during our time together and ultimately, was lucky enough to place first-runner up to Cierra Kaler-Jones at Miss NJ 2014.  This was the year that I was reminded that you can work hard and do your best, but at the end of the night, lots of girls have done the same.  Cierra captivated the judges and was an incredibly active and inspiring Miss New Jersey.  I am glad to have been able to watch her reign and to have the opportunity to learn from her generous heart.  Again, perseverance is key.
I entered my third year in hopes that I could represent my home county, Gloucester.  I won the title and with it, my pageant sister, Kelcie.  We had become friends our first year at Miss NJ as roommates, but this year together brought us even closer.  We worked tirelessly at the gym, in mock interviews, in our communities, and watched countless hours of state pageant DVDs and Miss America top five interviews.  Our directors, Tracy and Sandi, became family and we enjoyed spending every waking moment together!
We also somehow managed to unintentionally match at every single appearance for a year straight...
As this was my third year vying for the title and I was feeling the pressure of being 1st runner-up twice in a row, Kelcie developed a sixth sense for my stress.  She would look at me and say, "stop thinking so much."  It's not every day that you find a friend so in tune with your own thoughts that they actually read your mind.  I will always be thankful for Kelcie's calming demeanor and silly antics for keeping me sane.  This year I learned that stress and pressure are detrimental to not only success, but to your own happiness.  I was so worried about doing better than I had in previous years (aka the only other option would be winning...) that I was unable to enjoy my time.  Placing 2nd runner-up was a blessing in disguise- I finally felt the weight of pressure fall off my shoulders.  I had done "worse" than I had before, and I was fine- breathing, smiling, walking in 6 inch heels.  I learned my third year at Miss New Jersey that not winning wouldn't kill me.

This year, I am happy to say that I am at perfect peace with the experiences I've had and the work I've done.  I have enjoyed getting the opportunity to be "Carol's girl" again and cherish every moment I spend with my directors, pageant sisters, fellow contestants, and pageant family.  Through years of success, rejection, smiles, and tears, I have learned that while hard work and perseverance are necessary, so is happiness.  For three years I have worked hard and persevered in this organization, and for the next three weeks I will continue to do so and to focus all my energy on trusting in the process and enjoying my time.

21 days until the next Miss New Jersey week begins and I cannot wait to see what lessons I'll learn alongside my fellow contestants!

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