Rejection, Tenacity, and Miss America

This past summer, I attended the Miss Virginia pageant in Roanoke, VA. Miss Virginia will always have a special place in my heart because I competed (and placed in the top 11!) in 2013 when I was Miss Greater Springfield. Miss America provided me with over $2,000 in college scholarships, a platform to share my passion, and the opportunity to interact with some of the most incredible women in the state.

I’ve actually talked a lot on Instagram, a past blog, and Facebook about the impact that pageants have had on my life. However, this past summer at Miss Virginia, I finally identified the most important takeaway pageants have given me: tenacity.

Tenacity is the ability to keep going. It’s perseverance, determination, resolve. It’s the strength to try again after you’ve been denied. Tenacity is one of the only qualities that must be developed; you aren’t born with the resolve to keep trying, you build it by failing over and over and over again.

Pageantry sometimes gets a bad rap. Between women botching final questions while televised, the feminists who think the swimsuit competition is outdated and degrading, and John Oliver tearing down Miss America’s scholarship claims, it’s easy to characterize the women who compete as superficial, backwards, and dumb.

Here is what people who haven’t competed (or known someone who has competed) miss: there is no better arena to develop your ability to handle loss or rejection and bounce back quickly than pageantry.

Guess what ya’ll: real life is filled with rejection. It’s filled with not getting the job despite being extremely qualified, dates not calling you back despite you feeling a connection, your resume being passed over even though you used a killer template and perfect grammar, being dumped after a year long relationship and never seeing it coming.

As humans, we search for reasons and rationality. We want closure, we want feedback, we want to be able to improve. As we grow up, we learn that it’s rare enough to get feedback, and even rarer that we’re going to be able to comprehend it once we get it. Here’s where pageants come in.

You can be a concert pianist who’s spent fifteen years perfecting your craft and you still don’t win talent. You can be a college athlete with a six pack and not win swimsuit. You can be the very best version of yourself one year, leave everything on the stage, get a standing ovation from the audience, and still not make the top five despite having made that cut in the three years prior.

There’s a saying in pageantland, and it’s this: on a different day with different judges, the outcome would be completely different. Why? Because pageantry is entirely subjective. Because each judge can interpret how to give a 1–10 score differently. Because there’s not tenths of points or full points given based on quantifiable things.

And so, pageantry teaches you to accept that what one particular panel of five individuals thinks of you doesn’t define your worth. It teaches you that there actually may not be a reason that you weren’t named the winner or even that you didn’t place in the top ten. It teaches you to accept that while you might be supremely qualified for the job — and would maybe even be the best Miss Whatever there ever was — you may never get the opportunity.

Most importantly, it teaches you that many times rejection is not a reflection of who you are, but rather a reflection of a particular circumstance: Different day, different judges, different outcome.

Once you’ve accepted this, you’re able to view rejection as a stepping stone to your ultimate success. Perhaps what you imagine as your dream job is not for you, but maybe that’s because you’ve identified the wrong dream job. Perhaps your not getting the job is keeping you on the market for an opportunity that’s going to serve as a launching point to the rest of your life.

I am grateful to pageantry for developing my tenacity. For shaping me into someone who grieves a loss, but continues to be hopeful for the best that is yet to come. For giving me the ability to find peace following unexplained rejection rather that overanalyzing how I could have ended up with a different outcome.

Sometimes, it’s just not for you. The job, the interview, the boy, the crown… sometimes, it’s just for someone else. Not because they are better, more qualified, prettier, nicer, superior to you, but because it is their opportunity, not yours.

And that’s okay, because your opportunity — your job, your interview, the man of your dreams, your crown — is not for them either. It’s yours. And it’s often right on the other side of rejection.