When I was in college, I participated in a number of pageants in the Miss America pageant system. When I competed in my first pageant, I had never even seen a pageant in my life, either live or on TV. Suffice it to see I was not from a family that valued such things. But my parents accepted my choice to compete and —while never approaching pageant parent status — they supported me quietly.
Coming from a place of complete insecurity over my appearance — and, in fact, mostly being motivated to join in order to disprove the unkind things said to me for years by school bullies — the most terrifying idea of all was being publicly rejected, again, and told I was no good.
While I did prepare for these pageants — and was lucky enough to earn some college money and tiaras (and the chance to spend my summers riding on floats in parades, woohoo) — I always held back. Never once did I give my all to the process.
The same thing happened with auditions. I would show up, act a bit cavalier, be a bit too laid back, and then pretend I didn’t care if I got the part. Sometimes I got parts, sometimes even great ones. But other times I was consigned to the ensemble or didn’t get past the call back. I never showed up with a determination to do my very best and to put it all on the line.
Why? Because it was easier to lose if I wasn’t serious about the event than it was if I put my heart and soul into it.
Or at least I thought it was. But I was wrong.
Do not allow yourself to lose because you were not fully prepared.
There are all sorts of reasons I might not win a pageant or get a part. Maybe the judge doesn’t like green sequins. Perhaps the judges prefer classical singing to belt. Maybe my vocal range was too low or I was too tall or to short. In two pageants I competed in, I was told (by judges!) a variation on the theme of “red heads are really more attendant material than queen material.” And redheads were rarely seen as part of a regular family, but maybe as a hooker, a home-wrecker, or “bad girl.” So, at that time in history, hairism was still fairly rampant. And there’s nothing I could do about it. (I did play Fiona in Brigadoon and the mermaid in The Fisherman and His Wife. Because Scottish girls and mermaids obviously all have red hair.)
But there were plenty of things completely within my control that I chose not to do, because doing so would make me feel more vulnerable — and standing on stage in a swimsuit was about as much vulnerability as I thought I could muster.
In hindsight, though, I would much rather have lost the pageants I competed in knowing that I had tried my best, than to wonder what would have happened if I had made a valiant effort. The “consolation” of telling myself that I didn’t really try very hard is actually no comfort at all.
I may not reach every goal I set, but choosing not to prepare will no longer be an option.
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