I am a professional loser.

When I was in high school, all I ever wanted was to be an officer in student government. I wanted to make a difference, and I had this idea in my head that the only way I could make a difference, truly, was to be elected into a position.

Okay, fine. I was a power hungry 16-year-old. I wanted that line on my resume.

But seriously – I wanted to be an elected officer so badly that I ran for some sort of office a grand total of eight times during my high school tenure, from class president to student government treasurer and even student representative to the school board (twice!).

And I lost. Eight times.

This past weekend, I lost again. I prepared for four months, lost thirty pounds, performed my very best on stage and in interview, felt amazing, and still failed to make the top 16 at Miss Maryland USA. I’ve already written about how pageantry is subjective, so all I’ll add is: my omission from the top 16 was in no way reflective of my worth or of the judges’ competence. That top 16 was full of smart, talented, and beautiful women who ALSO would have been outstanding Miss Maryland USAs. There is room for everyone to be fully qualified and deserving — on this particular weekend, I was not this particular panel’s choice, and that is okay.

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I am a professional loser. I am tenacious and it takes a lot to knock me down. I take risks, I sign up, I show up, and, about 80% of the time, it just doesn’t pan out for me. And while that 20% success rate is always worth it, I’ve found a few ways to make being a perpetual loser way more fun as you propel yourself towards your greatest successes:

Realize that “winning” isn’t the only way to be a winner. For most things that are worthwhile, you invest a significant amount of your time, energy, and passion. If your only goal is winning – which, in many cases, is not 100% in your control – you’re automatically setting yourself up for failure. You have to understand the value of investing so much of yourself into a goal regardless of the outcome. For that reason, I always set a goal outside of winning, one that is entirely within my control. This time, it was simply to get up on that stage as the healthiest and happiest version of myself. Mission accomplished. Long before the “winner” was crowned, I had already won.

Learn to love the process. Competing in Miss Maryland USA required me to fully commit myself. I had to push through tough workouts, be grumpy, do things that I didn’t necessarily want to do in the moment, and get a little bit uncomfortable. If I hadn’t found a way to love the process, I would have been absolutely miserable for a significant chunk of life. Luckily, I found CrossFit, which gave me PRs weekly, and signed myself up for races. I bought myself new sports bras and found joy in seeing myself shrink. There are many ways to love your process, and you’ve got to find what works for you.

Be present and in the moment. This past weekend, thanks to the advice of my pretty amazing life coach, Kali, I made it my weekend goal to be present and in the moment. I focused less on what was coming, and more on enjoying every moment of rehearsal, hair and make-up, and, of course, meeting some incredible women. My way of being present was to try and make every interaction I had over the weekend positive. Whether it be cracking jokes with another contestant, making silly faces at teens when I was on stage, or telling staff members thank you, my goal was to leave every person I had contact with a little bit happier.

Be grateful. One of the best pieces of advice I received over the weekend was “It is impossible to be grateful and nervous at the same time.” And so, all weekend, I reminded myself how grateful I was not only for the opportunity to compete, but also for exactly where I was in my life right now. I am strong, happy, and loved. I have so many people in my life who support me win, lose, or draw. There is always so much to be grateful for.

Be happy for the winner, genuinely. I think that one of our biggest downfalls as people is that we don’t realize that the success of others is not always at our expense. Every single woman on that stage had prepared in her own way for the opportunity to be Miss Maryland USA. Her preparation may have been different than mine, but she worked hard, too. In recognition of her commitment and hard work, and in appreciation of my own hard work, I would have been genuinely happy for any woman crowned because she freakin’ earned it.

Reflect, adapt, grow. Losing can often be far more beneficial than winning because it gives you an opportunity to honestly and humbly reflect on your performance and analyze areas where you could improve. And then, you get to do it. You get to make necessary adjustments and come back better than ever.

It took me eight losses in high school elections to win my very first elected position, one that changed my life completely: vice president of membership of my sorority in college. Ultimately, you can’t win if you don’t enter. Not putting yourself out there doesn’t just guarantee you won’t win, it also guarantees you won’t grow. I may have lost the crown this past weekend, but I still think I came out on top (including an award for top score in evening gown!). And I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

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