What I Learned From Competing at Miss New Jersey USA

This past weekend, I competed in my fifth, yes FIFTH, Miss New Jersey USA pageant. This is the preliminary round before going to the Miss USA stage. 

If you would've told me years ago that I'd be competing in a pageant (let alone competing 5 times) I would've laughed at you so hard.

It was so not me or anything like anything I'd ever done. But at the time the pageant was owned and run by NBC and as a recent broadcasting graduate, it seemed like a good way to get my foot in the door. 

Fast forward four years and I can honestly say it was one of the greatest decisions I've ever made in my life. Through it all I learned so much about myself, what I was capable of and discovered my passion for coaching!

The first order of business once I signed up for the pageant in 2013 was to hire a pageant coach, a trainer and an interview coach. I embarked on an amazing journey of personal growth and development. If only everyone took this opportunity!

Yes, the goal was to win at Miss NJ USA but who I became in the process is entirely more valuable and important than any sash or crown. 

So, since this year marked my final year of eligibility (aka I'm too old to compete anymore🙄) I thought I'd reflect on what I learned over the years and my biggest takeaways from the whole experience. 

SELF-AWARENESS

Probably the biggest life lesson I’ve learned from competing at Miss New Jersey USA for the past four years (five competitions!) has to be self-awareness. Very few jobs or experiences in life force us to look at our lives as objectively than having someone give you unbiased feedback about who you perceive yourself to be and who you actually SHOW UP as. 

Body language, mannerisms, realizing you say “like” every third word or that you cut people off mid-sentence...we all have a perception of who we think we are, but unfortunately without some deep work, what you believe you are putting out there may be the opposite of what’s being received on the other end. 

You may believe you’re outgoing and friendly but what’s coming across is inauthentic and obnoxious. Now, your family, friends or coworkers may never dare tell you this, but a pageant coach certainly will. (And your family and friends alike are eternally grateful.)

But there's a fine line between objective, honest FEEDBACK and ill-intended, subjective criticism.

You’ve got to be vulnerable enough to know there is always room for improving, but sure of yourself enough to know when something is simply just not true. 

Body language in pageants (and life!) is HUGE.

From the way you sit to the way you stand and the way you walk down a runway. Yes, in the big scheme of things, this seems trivial, but it’s taught me how to carry myself in a way that makes me feel confident and sure of myself walking into any situation.

Whether it be an interview, a meeting or a networking event, I’m always aware of my body language and what my body is saying on my behalf before I even open my mouth. 

Self-awareness is probably the hardest and most uncomfortable thing to attain but THE MOST necessary tool for success in life. Between the pageant itself and the coaching in preparation for it, I’m in a constant feedback loop. I'm always asking "how could I have handled that better?", "what about me drives you crazy?", "what can I do to be better?".

Some of these questions are hard to hear the answers to, but the twinge you get in your stomach when you hear an brutally honest response is just your ego being bruised…it won’t kill you and likely you’ll be better for it! 

Fear.

Getting on stage in front of hundreds of people you don’t know, to strut around in a bikini (while balancing on 6in. platform heels), can be someone’s worst nightmare. The funny thing is, for most of the girls that sign up, that IS their worst nightmare…yet they showed up anyway to tackle their fears head-on. 

Now, being a Leo and an only child, you give me a stage, spotlight and a microphone and I couldn’t be happier.

But the funny thing about it, though, is that everyone up there is nervous. It’s human nature when you're front and center for ridicule and judgement (whether you’re in a pageant or not!) that you wanna shit your pants. People fear public speaking more than death, and I'm not surprised. 

That being said, if everyone’s nervous, then everyone’s nervous. You’re not alone. Some people hide it better than others. I tend to trick myself into believing I’m totally calm, cool and collected. 

But that’s what’s awesome about fear. You can trick your mind out of it. Someone once said to me fear stands for False Experiences Appearing Real and I love that. I’ve used it ever since. 

Any job I do requires me to stand in front of a crowd of people and talk or perform, so had a lot of trial and error and practice at this but you can totally hack fear with the right mindset.

When I’m new at something, I convince myself I’ve been doing it forever, I start acting like a veteran, almost putting on a different and more experienced persona (a la Beyonce's Sasha Fierce) You know, the whole “fake it till ya make it” thing…it actually works. 

Tips for managing fear and calming nerves:

    1.    Meditation. You knew this was coming, right?! Meditation helps you retake the reins of your brain. Without it, it’s hard to understand just how much of your mind you have control over.
    2.    Affirmations. Like I mentioned above, telling yourself you are not nervous, or scared or fearful has a much bigger effect than you might think. Little phrases like “I’m cool, I’m confident, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this!” and just repeating it over and over reaffirms your mind and relaxes your nervous system.
    3.    Public speakers all over use a little something-something called Lemon Balm Extract to help calm nerves before big presentations. Whether it’s psychosomatic or not is up to what you believe. A few drops under the tongue does wonders to take the edge off!
    4.    No caffeine. Nothing compounds nerves like caffeine. For anything particularly nerve-wracking, your body’s adrenaline will produce plenty of energy for you to carry out whatever you are setting out to do. You do not need caffeine. Ok, one more time, YOU DO NOT NEED CAFFEINE. It will make you jittery and you won’t know why you are feeling all weird and like you wanna throw up, etc. And yes, tea is still caffeine (unless it's herbal!). Stick to hot water and lemon before anything like a pageant, interview or any major life event where you need to keep your shit together.

WOMEN

Women are tricky, tricky beings. But, since competing in this pageant I feel like I’ve developed a better understanding of different kinds of women, especially young women. We speak about empowerment and sticking up for one another, yet when you pit one woman against another, it’s nothing but fire. 

The first few years competing I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t friendly (read: why wasn't everyone just like me). Some girls were outgoing and some girls wanted nothing to do with me. I used to think they must just be bitches and rude. Um, no, Kendall...they might just be shy and trying not to lose their cool. 

Women are funny (aren’t we though?! 💁🏼) we make assumptions of each other without taking the time to get to know one another. What I’ve learned is to practice some compassion.

Every girl processes things differently and just because she doesn’t want to talk doesn’t mean she’s mean or cold. It could be that she’s actually an introvert and this whole experience is terrifying or she could have really solid boundaries and wants to focus and maintain her energy. And then other times, yes she could just be rude butttt she deserves some empathy too!

Moral of the story, don’t judge a queen by her resting bitch face. 

ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

One of the more interesting things I discovered along this journey of rhinestones and butt glue is that digging deep gets you where you wanna go. What I mean by digging deep is asking yourself some open ended, tough, big picture questions. 

I use this technique with coaching clients because I believe it cracks open the door to your best life. And not just answering them in your head, but having to articulate them in complete sentences that someone else will eventually read. It’s scary as hell but oh so gratifying.

Answer these following questions in complete sentences:

What’s you biggest ambition in life?

What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?

What would it mean to achieve your biggest goal?

How would this change your life?

What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?

These are just a few examples of questions that get you thinking. We rarely ask ourselves reflective questions and I promise you there is a lot to learn from yourself!
 

HOW TO LOSE

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's being told "NO."

For as long as I can remember, I've been told "no" when pursuing a dream. Whether it was when I was 13 years old at my first modeling open call and told I was too tall for their "girls" division or later when I was given a chance to test for a *major* modeling agency at 16 just to be shown the door yet again.

I subsequently went on 50 other open calls/auditions/call backs for countless other things just to be snuffed at and told denied once again. I was relentless. The ratio of No's to Yes's I've been given in my life are 500 to 5. 

I've perfected being rejected. I've become resilient in the face of opposition as a survival mechanism. Otherwise I'd be curled up in hopeless, self-loathing ball otherwise. It's like a muscle you keep flexing. And if you throw enough shit against the wall something will stick. But nothing taught me how to lose quite like almost winning. 

Two years ago at this very pageant I placed 2nd runner up. 

And nothing was harder than that moment. Getting so close you could taste it then being crushed when you hear it's not actually yours. 

That year I learned about the art of losing. It helped me understand the attachment I had toward that particular goal, it taught me how to save face when all you want to do is cry and it showed me that life goes on even if the worst case scenario plays out. 

So for all the years I competed and placed in the semi-finals, nothing pushed me to grow more than coming in...third. 

And in all the trials in life, we have to understand the universe is always working with our greatest good in mind. For me, my greatest good wasn't to become Miss New Jersey. It wasn't to become a model and apparently it wasn't to become the new host of Good Morning America (the no's I got from TV somehow out weigh them all!).

I've learned to release my white knuckle grip on my dreams and let the universe do it's thang.

It's, like, way funner that way anyway. 💁🏼

Ultimately I've come to appreciate how pageants have taught me the importance of coaching and seeking help from those who have been where I want to go. It opened my eyes to a career I didn’t even know existed. 

I know now that my purpose of competing at Miss NJ USA wasn’t to win but to find my true path and passion in life. It opened me up to a world of self-development, pushing past my comfort zones and the discipline it takes to work towards a goal. 

I am forever grateful for the young women I met along the way, my coach who helped me step into and own my power as a woman and the entire space the pageant system holds for you to rise up and be your best self.

Although I won't be wearing platform, see-thru six-inch heels anytime (unless my career takes a very sharp turn 😳) I can honestly hang up my hat (or crown) with pride knowing that I just closed a chapter of the most transformative experience of my life. 

I'm so happy I stepped out of my comfort zone all those years ago and grew into the woman I am today. All the ups and downs, roadblocks and obstacles have helped me develop a unique set of skills that help me daily as a coach, daughter, partner and friend. 

I'd say that looks like a WIN to me!

Now it's your turn. What is something you've always wanted to do? Is it a pageant!? A fitness competition? Auditioning for a dance team? 

Answer yourself this: what's stopping you? Write a list of what you think is holding you back. From that list, find support where you feel unsure. Do you need a trainer? A coach? What will help you jump the hurdle of resistance? 

Everything you want to become stands on the other side of whatever scares the shit out of you. 

Go do it.