Losing isn't the end of the world.
Trust me. I'm pretty much a professional.
In June 2019, I was named first runner up at Miss Michigan. This was my second time competing at states, and never in a million years did I ever expect to even make it into the top 5. This crazy turn of events was almost as unexpected as the events that followed it.
After being just a few votes away from winning a state title and having a chance to compete for Miss America, I competed in three local titles in a row and didn't win a single one.
In fact, I was first runner up every time. How fun is that? (Hint: not fun at all).
I was ridiculously frustrated. I had always had a good mentality when it came to not winning, which I credit to my rad parents and upbringing (thanks mom and dad). I could usually put my bitterness aside and trust that it just wasn't meant to be, and that whatever else God had in store for me would be better. But at this point, there were no local pageants left to compete in - which meant that I wasn't going to be competing at Miss Michigan that year.
This disappointment led to my first experience crying in a McDonald's drive through. We've all been there, right? Kind of like a right of passage. ... Just me? Ok.
All of this to say, I've been competing in pageants for seven years now. I've seen girls passive aggressively stomp out of dressing rooms at the end of a pageant, trash talking the winners under their breath because they wanted to be the ones leaving with a new crown and sash. I've seen pageant moms encourage these behaviors as well, but perhaps that's a topic for another day.
Dude... I get it. I know the disappointment that comes with losing a pageant that you thought you'd win. I know the embarrassment of having your whole squad there to support you and walking away without the crown. I know what it's like to spend the days following a pageant asking every 'if I had just done x, y, or z, would I have won?' question.
Before you eat yourself alive with this feeling of disappointment, let me offer a quick word of advice from a professional loser.
1. Pageants are not everything.
Pageants are GREAT! They're such an awesome opportunity to grow and develop yourself, meet friends, make some scholarship money, and have a great time.
But there are a lot of other great things out there, too. Don't let your pageant blinders stop you from seeing that.
In the time between when I had lost three local pageants in a row and when I'll start competing again (thanks, COVID-19, for slowing this one down - really appreciate that *not*), I had the opportunity to pour so much of my time and energy into other things - organizations on campus, graduating college and looking for a job, and spending time with close friends and family.
Yes, pageants are great, but they also suck up a lot of time, money, and energy. I promise, all of your resources can be used just as effectively somewhere else.
2. You cannot win every pageant because you are not in control.
It's just not possible, honey. I'm sorry. There is only one winner at a pageant and there's no way it's always going to be you.
You're not the first person to walk away empty handed. You won't be the last. Yes, your disappointment is valid and real, and you are allowed to feel it (you're allowed to cry in the McDonald's drive through too - it'd actually make me feel better). You may feel like you were the absolute best version of yourself. You may have felt like you SLAYED every phase of competition, and like there was no way they weren't going to chose you.
I've been there.
I always like to give myself some perspective - I'm also not going to get every job I apply for (At the time I write this, I've applied for 15. I've heard back from... zero). I'm not going to get every promotion I want. People that I want to impress might not like me, regardless of my dazzling charm and good looks (*wink*). And there is nothing I can do about that, which sounds terrifying, but is actually really freeing.
One of the most fascinating things about human beings to me is our impulsive desire to control everything around us. And when you like to be in control (like me!), that makes losing a pageant sting just a little bit more.
Honey, it's time to loosen up your white-knuckle grip on pageants. Take a page out of the book of Carrie Underwood and let Jesus take the wheel. You can't control the outcome. You never could! This is why it drives me crazy when I see blog posts titled 'How to win your next pageant' - because there's no exact formula that every girl can use to win every pageant. Maybe this is a topic for another day, so I'll get off this soap box.
But anyway, you CAN control what you take from the experience. Did you become friends with the girl next to you in the dressing room? Did you learn something new about yourself that you can use to do better next time? Maybe a new warmup, a new efficient way to pack up all your pageant gear, a new habit you can implement? Did you have a really good cup of coffee the morning of the pageant? Think hard - I promise you can find a positive.
3. You learn more from losing than you do from winning.
This is by far my favorite piece of pageant advice, but it's also a heck of a hard pill to swallow.
A man named Samuel Smiles (what a name. 10/10) once said "We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."
I mean, I don't think I could say it much better than that.
And when I lose, it forces me to come face to face with why I even compete. Am I really just here for the crown and sash? Or am I here for something more?
What I've found is that I'm here to continually become the best version of myself (which can be a painful process). I'm here to meet people, to share my story, and to become better.
And these things aren't going to happen if I'm never forced to think about how I can continue to improve. Imagine if I were to have won my first pageant, and every pageant since - constantly being sent the message "Good job Sarah! That was great! Don't change a thing". I would probably still be performing at the caliber that I was at that very first pageant, which is enough to make me cringe.
I can safely say that I don't want that. Thank goodness for losing, huh?
4. Have a loser party. This sounds dumb. I know. Hear me out.
When my dad was younger, he did this thing where when he got a rejection letter from a job he applied for, he'd hang it up on his door. Apparently, he amassed so many that they started to look like wallpaper. He practically wore those things like a badge of honor.
Sometimes the best way to deal with a devastating loss is to just embrace it - foolishly, exuberantly, intentionally. Get your pageant support squad together, whether that's just your mom or a whole group of your family and friends, and go out to dinner anyway. Celebrate the fact that you had the guts to get up on stage and do what you did - that is no small feat, my friend. Maybe take a bubble bath and watch your favorite movie. Or take a page out of my book and eat way too many Little Debbie cakes in the days that follow your loss. (Or maybe don't do this. That's ok too.)
Failure is one of those inevitable parts of life that we don't like. We can't control it, we can't change it, and we can't escape it. But guess what? I'm right here with you, crying in the McDonald's parking lot. And we can hold hands and keep failing forward together.