09/12/2013 08:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Things I Learned in Pageantry (That Apply to Life in General)

1. Self-pressure is your number one enemy.

In life, there will always be pressure: Succeed. Finish by the deadline. Make impossible things possible (usually within 24-48 hours). Many of the same stressors in pageantry are just as familiar in "real" life: Make sure you look the part. Don't goof or blank when speaking in public. Don't have any questionable social media posts. Grace and elegance, tact and flexibility, win. Be the best.

Of all the outside stressors, the pressure we put on yourself is enemy number one. We push ourselves so hard, and half of the time we call it "motivation" or "self courage." But sometimes we need to honestly let it all go. We put so much pressure on ourselves to succeed, to do things right, that it becomes our focus. That should never be our focus -- our joy should be the journey. So put a filter on all that outside talk, and those outside expectations, and enjoy the ride. (And p.s. at some point you will say "um" in a speech. It's OK.)

2. Slang terms don't always translate.

Butt glue. Yep, I said it. When you walk into Academy or any other sporting goods store and ask for Firm Grip or a similar item, they will usually ask you (out of politeness or genuine interest sometimes) what you are using it for. When you say "butt glue" fully expect their eyes to pop out of their heads. Some things just don't translate outside of your circle. Be prepared to have an alternate answer, or an explanation. And some good-natured humor helps. too. So when you use corporate speak, remember that not everyone knows and it's awkward. Like butt glue.

3. Politics exists in every circle.

Mean girls exist. In pageants. In professional careers. In your own friend circles. Sometimes they aren't even female. Politics exist everywhere. It is a fact of life that you need to learn how to navigate politics, interoffice cultures, and social traps. Most of the time, the politics aren't even at the top -- it's "mid level" cultures. Best rule of thumb I have found: Be genuine. Be honest with who you are, and how you think, and what you represent. It will save you the time of dabbling in these politics and allow you to find your fit perfectly from the beginning.


4. Most of us just want to know we are valued.

When I was standing backstage before one night in prelims this year at Miss Texas (rocking out to the opening music no less), I looked around and saw some of the most incredible women I've ever met. Teens who stand up to bullying on a daily basis, Misses who fight the stereotypes of their gender every day. Hostesses who give up an entire week of their lives for us selflessly, and countless more volunteers who sacrifice time and energy to make sure we as contestants have a chance to pursue a dream. At the end of it all, each one of us just want to be valued. For our time, for our gifts, for the little moments of honesty we share with one another. My co-workers want the same, my friends want the same. The cashier at my local CVS wants the same. Are we appreciating one another for who they are? Are we doing our best to make sure others know they are seen? Not validated, but appreciated?

5. Cyberbullying is just as prevalent in adults as kids.

What is it about anonymous forums that gives people a free rein to be hurtful? When we don't have to be accountable in name for what we say, why is it OK to say cruel things about another person? Whether or not your name is on it, the words are still said. And my friends, cruelty still hurts. Message boards can be a great forum, but sometimes people use them to destroy self esteem, to tear down girls who are chasing something that matters to them, or honestly to further propagate negative body image. So many people wonder why bullying is such a predominant platform... it's because it is real and it exists. And adults are doing the same. Kids learned it somewhere.

6. Mentoring really does work.

Some days you need a kind word, and other days you need a firm kick in the butt. Knowing someone who can speak wisdom into your life, and hold you accountable to your goals, is critical to both success and sanity. But being a mentor goes beyond all that. It means listening with a warm heart about your hopes and fears, and helping your discern the best path for success. Sometimes it means putting things in perspective. Mostly, it means guidance with genuine love. Pageant directors have the opportunity to absolutely change your life (yes, really). Their support, encouragement, and direction can help mold you into a successful and vibrant young woman. They see your strengths and opportunities for growth from the outside. And they (key word) can make you stronger and more confident. Directors are most certainly mentors. There are others... coaches, friends, circles of influence. No matter who it is, a mentor has immense power. Use it wisely, because we trust you. (So don't hurt us.)

7. Be flexible.

Downward Dog into Chaturanga Dandasana... just kidding. (OK, only a little, that kind of flexibility certainly helps in the health sector!) I'm a planner. Really... I plan everything. But our plans only go so far in life. Have a goal, have dreams, think ahead -- but be prepared to change. Very little in life goes as planned. So when things go wrong, or someone asks you to do something way out of the expected arena, don't be surprised. Give it a try. (Unless it involves snakes. I have a hard line there.) Roll with the punches and enjoy the ride because adventures are incredible.

8. Strong is the new skinny.

Body image. Self perception. Media blasts this idea like crazy: what is the "ideal" and how we should feel about ourselves? I don't mean to say media tells us to be 102 lbs and 5 foot 10. I mean that it tells us we should always be focused on it. Either we are too unhealthy, or we are uber-health conscious. It seems like we must always live on one extreme, both emotionally and physically. The Lifestyle & Fitness competition (aka swimsuit) has gotten a bad rep from some people, and I can understand why some people think this way. But for me personally, the swimsuit competition over the last three years taught me a lot about myself and what health means to me. I've practically lived at the gym before, and I've also been on the opposite when I didn't think about what I was eating or doing and how it would affect my health. Earlier this year, I was talking to my "princesses" (some of the young ladies I mentored) and we were talking about a pool party right before Miss Texas. Someone good-naturedly mentioned that I'd only be eating carrots and celery sticks at that time, and it hit me like a wave. I didn't want these young girls, all 12 or under, to see me being so strict because I was on stage. I wanted to teach them confidence and a healthy lifestyle- including self perception and food consumption. Most importantly, I didn't want "health" to rule their life. I wanted it to be an equally important part, much like school and making memories with their friends. So I made an effort this year to apply that to my own life, and lived by the motto "strong is the new skinny."

I weight trained, and did cardio, and shifted to organic food. I also didn't let preparing for swimsuit control my every thought and action. Because if my princesses wanted a cookie, we had a cookie. If I missed a session at the gym, I didn't beat myself up for it. Because mentally being strong about your health is just as important as the physical. I lived (and still do) a lifestyle of health- emotionally, physically, and mentally. It's all about balance. So if I don't have a six-pack, that's OK with me. What I won't be OK with is if my fitness focus overshadows my joy in life. I like my curves and my muscles. And red velvet cupcakes from The Cupcakery.


9. Invest in others.

Yes, you want to do well in life. But just how well are you doing if those along side you are faltering? Do you want to simply be the best, or do you want to be the best of the best? If it is the latter, that means helping others and investing in their success. So if a fellow competitor needs help mentally preparing for an event, it means helping her through it. If a coworker asks to use your template for her document, let her. It may mean she is recognized and you aren't. But it will mean you have invested in your character as an individual, and their success is your success.

10. Memories are better than photos.

I'm a social media junkie. I've accepted this fact, and so have most of my friends. But as much as I post, I have 200 more memories for the taking. Living life is better than posting about it. The photos are there to spark a memory, to share a story later down the road. So as often as I post on Twitter, on Facebook, and on here, I have more memories of sitting outside of Red Mango frozen yogurt with my best friend, or sitting on a hotel floor after finals eating food and laughing about things during Miss Texas week. I have memories of my judges smiles, and of the sound of my sweet teen yelling for me every time I stepped on stage. Photos are wonderful, but the memories are far more valuable. Live in the moment.


Miss America Through The Years