Learning From Losing

Kiley is in the white floral dress, and I am in the light yellow dress. 

Kiley is in the white floral dress, and I am in the light yellow dress. 

Foreword: Kiley is my first and favorite pageant friend, she is also a big reason why I had the courage to start blogging, and the person who made my cool logo. The picture above is from our last year competing in Miss Kentucky's Outstanding Teen together (where she got 1st runner up three years in a row), I was 4th runner up that year. For those of you who don't really know much about pageants, the Miss America System is all about intelligence, talent (Kiley is an unbelievable pianist), your chosen platform, and communication skills. Are you the ultimate role model for every little girl in your state or maybe even the country? What I'm getting at is, it is a really big and important job. Now that you know about the pageant system, let me tell you about Kiley. Although we have always lived far a part, we have stayed in constant contact over the years and I have always considered her one of my favorite people. Her journey to becoming Miss Kentucky was one that taught her a lot, and whether you understand the importance of this title, most of us go through similar situations in our lives. When our heart breaks and we feel like our dreams are shattered. I want to share her story with you because I find it so inspiring and humble. She doesn't act like everything is okay, because sometimes it just isn't. Just think of a time where you gave something every single part of you, that is what Kiley did. That already shows you the find of person she is. 

I went every year to watch her compete in Miss KY, and would route for her to win with everything in my body! Im not going to lie, I cried when she didn't win her last year. I knew what she had given to that system, and what she had sacrificed. Love you, Kiley. Thanks for being humble and sharing your story. We all need a little more of that sometimes. 

I Lost My Shot at Miss America: 10 Things I Learned When I Lost Miss Kentucky

It's been almost a full year since I last stood on stage, smiling my face off in an evening gown that weighs 15 pounds. It's been almost a full year since I performed my talent for an audience of hundreds and a panel of judges, and cried happy tears when I stepped offstage, knowing I had just had played my face off. It's been almost a full year since I was told I would never fulfill my 10-year dream of becoming Miss Kentucky and competing for the job of Miss America. 

To many of my peers, the Miss America Organization is a joke; out-dated, irrelevant, a mockery of women. But no matter how my feelings about the MAO are skewed by my own, at times bitter emotions, I will ferociously defend the tradition of the Miss America Competition as long as I live. It's incredibly likely in today's society that the only ones who see value in the tradition are the young women who compete, and the parents, directors, and countless volunteers that witness the evolution of these young women as they transform, mind, body, and spirit into the 'best' version of themselves.

The 'best' version of oneself means something different to everyone. I am my best version of myself when I'm working toward a goal.  In the past year, I've been somewhat floating, with no true grip on what I want to achieve, and for the first time in my life, no 5 year, or even 1 year plan. In that time, I’ve found it particularly difficult to justify to myself feeling as much sadness and emptiness as I have felt since competing for Miss Kentucky one last time and, well, losing. In the days and weeks after Miss Kentucky last year, the sadness was much more tangible, and if I let my mind wander too much for too long, it would completely ruin my day. I remember standing at an overlook of a mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico, engulfed in emotions and crying these huge, ridiculous tears; not from the beauty of the setting or the amazing gift of life, but because I could have been leaving for Miss America that day. I couldn’t see past what I wasn’t doing, and a year later, I certainly thought that would have changed.

Closing in on a full year of feeling lost and without purpose, it's time for me to re-evaluate. Instead of only recognizing what I didn't accomplish, I'm acknowledging the things I gained by coming up short--ultimately failing to succeed at the biggest goal I set for myself to date.

1. Talking about failures is tricky, but it should be a part of your reality. It's humbling to admit that you missed the mark, and there is no shame in shouting that from lowest valley or the highest peak. Actually, I would recommend shouting it from the highest spot you can climb. It's the first step in setting ourselves free from our own impossible standards. 

2. People will tell you what you want to hear. Don't listen to them. "There's better things ahead." "Forget about it." "You were the real winner." That's nice, thank you. But I'd much rather hear: "It's okay to feel empty. It's okay to have lost sight of who you are and what you want to be. With time, you'll find it again. Until you do, you don't have to act like you've got it all figured out."

3. Goals are important, but they're not the most important thing. Set them, work hard for them, defend them and protect them, but don't allow yourself to be destroyed if you don't meet them. Choose goals that will teach you something (in my case, many somethings) even if you are unsuccessful. 

4. Which leads me to Number 4: write your own definition of success. If the only way you'll be successful is by winning Miss Kentucky or Miss America (in my case), then the odds for happiness are stacked against you before you even begin. Success comes in many forms and many placements. Even though I made the Top 13, I know there were contestants who didn't make the Top 13 that enjoyed their Miss Kentucky week experience more than I did....some would say they were more successful than I was.

5. Her success is not your failure. Yes, I had to step back from some of the close friendships I made through my years competing for Miss KY in order to lick my wounds and deal with my own emotions. But, I'm proud of myself for not blaming another competitor for performing better than I did, or connecting with the judges on a deeper level than I did. I never looked at another girl's talent as being better or worse than mine; just different. And I'm happy to say that I didn't view myself as 'less than' when the whole thing was over. Truly, for the first time in years of doing pageants, I didn't let my self-confidence take a beating because I didn't come home with the crown. 

6. Which is a perfect lead-in for Number 6: Healthy competition is a good thing; with yourself and with other women. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending extra hours in the rehearsal hall, extra hours with a personal trainer, or extra energy on preparation as a whole. In my opinion, self-discipline and self-motivation are hands down the MOST valuable assets I gained while competing for Miss Kentucky. When competing with yourself, it can be fun, challenging, and almost always rewarding. When competing with other women, whether it's for a scholarship, or a job, keep it in check. In many competitive scenarios, the decision is in someone else's hands. In other words: someone else, no better than you, is deciding something about you. That can't be helped. Work hard to do your best; work hard to be on an even-playing field with the in-office expert or the most flexible yogi in your weekly yoga class, but always acknowledge how hard they have also worked. And don't be upset if they're still a little stronger than you in one area or another. 

7. If it fulfills you, who cares what anyone else thinks? Goal-oriented, extremely motivated, fiercely focused folks (say that 5 times fast) have the ability to turn others off with their intensity. Be self-aware, but otherwise OWN it. It takes a special person to work hard for something they want and/or believe in, and you can't help it if others don't share your passion for fitness or your zeal for being vegan, sustainable, and environmentally friendly no matter the social cost (just an example!).

8. Tell yourself that you're going to succeed, but remind yourself that might not. There are several schools of thought that involve envisioning exactly what you want to achieve, and absolutely nothing else; focus so intensely on the end result that the Universe MUST give it to you. While preparing for Miss Kentucky, I envisioned myself winning every single day, multiple times a day. Sometimes my visions were so real that I was flooded with emotions of joy, disbelief, and relief that I would lose my breath and sometimes cry (yes, the pageant cry). I practiced winning all the time. But I never practiced losing.  Don't believe that anything is promised to you, whether you've worked for it, whether you deserve it, or not. Always believe there's a chance it won't work out, and deal with those emotions because they are real and they are overwhelming and they will surely take you to a place you don't want to stay for very long.

9. Take care of yourself and give yourself time to heal. This is true for every facet of your life. Take care of yourself mentally, and physically, and spiritually. If your head and heart are the right place, I guarantee the outcome will not make or break you like it did me. If you do get burned, allow yourself time to bounce back. Don't let anyone rush you out of feeling the natural emotions of failure. Just as you gave yourself the opportunity to succeed greatly, you must give yourself the opportunity to recover if you fail greatly.

10. Whatever you decide to do, do it for yourself, and because you love doing it. There's a lot of stuff I do not miss about pageants: the money involved and the immense pressure being two of the biggest things. But, most of all I miss having a tangible goal. I miss having a deadline and knowing that I HAD to be as ready and prepared as possible by THIS date every single year. As much as I may have complained about all the hard work and time that goes into preparing to BE Miss Kentucky/Miss America, I loved every second of it. Now, I’m grappling with that loss; with all the time I have on my hands. I no longer have this very specific reason to learn incredibly challenging piano pieces, spend 1-2 hours in the gym, only feed myself the most nutritious foods, or be incredibly involved in my community. I have to do all those things for MYSELF now. The fact that I know how to do all of those things should be a GIFT that I give myself every single day. Instead, it feels like a burden that weighs so heavily on my shoulders. I'm still working on where my old 'lifestyle' fits in with my new low-pressure, fun, young and in love lifestyle. But, I look back on a decade spent honing all my best skills, and I have #noregrets.

As hard as this year has been for me: filled with emotional highs and lows, a huge move, missing my family and closest friends...I am grateful for the things I've learned about myself through my failure. And I'm excited to set new goals, with a much healthier perspective on what it means to succeed.

Tell me, have you ever failed?

Blaine MenkeComment