As odd as it may seem, recently I had the honor of being a guest judge for a regional Miss Teen beauty pageant. It was my first experience into the world of pageantry so I was committed to doing my home work. I sat down to watch a few episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras and I was completely blown away. I had no idea this industry was so huge and more importantly, so cut throat. I must admit, I was anxious walking into the airport hotel where the festivities were being held. Throughout the two day contest, I certainly laughed and sighed, and above all, I saw some lessons.
First let me commend those families who travel, support and labor to help their children be a part of such a challenging competition. These kids, some as young as 6-years-old, sit for hours, practice and perfect their craft with only a hope of moving on to the next level. I noticed right at the start the massive amount of dedication it takes to go through it. I had the task of sitting with a panel of three other judges for the older teens. With poise and precision, these young ladies came into the room with the intention on impressing us. For the most part, they did. And after nearly four straight hours, here's what I gleaned:
• It costs to chase your dream: The first thing that became apparent to me as I watched these hopeful little ladies parade through the conference center was that someone paid a great price for them to be there. Some sought out sponsorships; others had whole families sacrifice to provide the funds for them to be part of the competition. And pageants don't come cheap! Factor in the gowns, travel, lodging, food and everything else that goes with the territory. We're talking several thousands of dollars. Whatever you do, know this; your dream is expensive. It has to be for you to appreciate fulfilling it. You get out of life what you pay for.
• Know who you are before you start competing: One after one these girls entered the judges’ room. Some were shaking, others had a fake smile plastered on their face and others seemed to be comfortable in their own skin. What I noticed was the ones who were comfortable, moved to the final round. It wasn't just looks; it was what I call the X-Factor. That 'thing' that makes a person interesting is really their ability to be at ease with who they are. Without it, you are dead in the water.
• We all want to win: Life has somehow perpetuated a lie that it’s just as much fun being nominated as it is to win. False! No one goes out seeking second place. No one feels absolutely fulfilled as a runner up. We have hard wired in our DNA an ideology that seeks to win. We are born with it. Unfortunate for the girls, there had to be some winners and as well as losers. I saw a couple storm off the stage in frustration when their number wasn't called. Others mouthed their anger. And for them, I had respect. It is disappointing to go that far and lose. I do not agree with the manner they chose to express their disappointment, but I certainly understood.
• When it’s your turn, shine bright: At the focal point of the evening, the girls had a chance to show why they deserved the crown. They walked; answered questions and show cased their overall charm. This is where the scoring got tough, and the ones who could display personality ended up in the finals. Some who I had high hopes for, fell short in this category. They just didn't show us. As I remember, the two finalists were girls with looks not much different than the others. The difference was their shine. Life responds to individuals who have the guts to be their most authentic self in every situation.
Turns out that judging a teen pageant can wear you out. It was tough looking into all those faces and having to decide who should win. What I came to realize is how reflective that is to real life. Every single day we go out and try to make our dreams happen while others kind of sit back and judge our performance. But in life we, not the judges, determine the outcome of our lives.
Pageants are filled with stress and waiting to see if you made it. But for the ones who win, it feels like a dream come true. You and I don't have to enter a contest to realize who great we really are. All we have to do is look into the mirror.