Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Post Pageant Thoughts

Two weeks ago I boarded an airplane to begin the adventure of a lifetime. I embarked on a journey that only 51 girls get to experience each year, and I was ready to soak up every glorious moment of it.

From the minute I stepped off the plane I experienced cameras flashing, camcorders rolling, tourists screaming, exciting events, as well as outrageously beautiful, intelligent and talented women from all across the glorious United States. With thrills exploding from every angle, it’s hard to believe that it was only two weeks ago. Those quick weeks seemed to last a lifetime – I wasn’t even allowed to use the restroom without security guards! And now, much to my dismay, it’s time to get back to real life – but a life fully changed.

I say I’m returning home “to my dismay” because as I’m sure you know … Illinois did not succeed in taking home the beautiful crown for 2010. In fact, a woman from Illinois has not managed to bring the crown home for more than 30 years. The last woman to win the Miss USA competition from the Land of Lincoln was in 1974! I wish I could have been the girl to change that, but now it will be a goal for next year’s lucky lady to try. In the mean time, all I can do is share my story:

Spending two weeks with 51 of the nation’s most beautiful women who are competing for a chance at fame, fortune and opportunity can get a little messy. It is nearly impossible not to judge each other, to analyze them up and down, question them to find out their values (and also their intelligence!) and “borrow” whatever beauty tips you can get. Yes, we all laughed, smiled and had a wonderful time together, but it was a competition, the stakes were high, and unfortunately being overly judgmental is aaaaaall part of the business.

I think being in the top 15 at Miss USA was my true goal. I didn’t have my heart set on winning the crown as much as I did for the Miss Illinois pageant, but I really wanted to stand in the top 15. When the states’ names were called and Illinois wasn’t one of them, my heart sank deeper than it ever has before. For the first time in my life I felt as if I had failed at something I shouldn’t have. I trained for a minimum of 2 hours (sometimes as much as 4) in the gym every single solitary day since the beginning of December. I ate healthy food I didn’t really like. I said “no,” to outings with friends so I could practice walking, or interviewing, or building my wardrobe. I spent thousands of dollars I worked years to earn. I dragged my mom with me to cities all across the country to learn how to do my make-up, hair, and things of the like. And to top it all off, I invited everyone I knew to watch or attend the big event on May 16th. Over 50 people had flown to Las Vegas and purchased tickets to be present at the Miss USA Pageant so they could see my hard work pay off. I think it was to their dismay as well that Illinois was left behind with the other 35 broken hearted women.

As the 15 “chosen” ones stood on stage basking in the glory of the spotlight, the rest of us returned to our dressing room to change into swimsuits for the dance we were about to perform. Silent tears dripped from my eyes. I didn’t sob, I didn’t pant, and I didn’t make a sound. But the make-up that had taken over 45 minutes to apply was being ruined because I felt nothing but sadness and disappointment. Everything I worked for, everything I had given up had seemed a waste. I thought of my friends and family in the audience who were now there for nothing, and it make me cry harder. I thought of my boss who had given me time off to “be the best.” I thought of my trainer who didn’t see her kids as much as she would have liked because she was always working me out. I thought of the little girls who sent me letters and internet messages because they looked up to me and believed in me and couldn’t wait to watch me on stage. It felt awful. I tried to suck it up and wipe my eyes since I knew I would have to be on stage in only a matter of minutes, but there truly was no stopping it. Suddenly, although I was trying to stay quiet and keep to myself so the other girls wouldn’t see my sadness, Miss Alaska came up and squeezed me with an embrace so warm my body gave up. I finally let the noise out, cried to her, and apologized for being so silly. When I looked up I noticed she was crying too, as well as nearly 15 others. It wasn’t just me who couldn’t manage to be brave … we were all feeling disenchanted. What a terrible thing to work so hard and believe in yourself sooooo much, and be turned away in an instant. That moment was probably the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself. And hopefully I will never have to feel that way EVER again.

Regardless of the fact that I am saddened by the results of the competition, I am now returning home with a brand new outlook on life. For a brief moment, I lived in the spotlight, and realized how much of a real person a celebrity is. Although at one point I thought so, I now know that fame isn’t everything, and neither is wealth. For the last few months of my life I gave up a lot that, for now, didn’t seem to do me any good. It only took two weeks for me to realize it though, and now I can move on and have no additional regrets from here on out. However, I realized that what I did for this competition, I am also doing in my daily life. In addition to being Miss Illinois USA I work full time at a marketing agency that takes me two hours to get to every morning and two hours to get home from every night. Once I return home I start working on my freelance projects … usually staying up for hours into the night designing and coding websites or putting logos and presentations together for my clients. I work work work work work and waste so much time making money that I don’t have time to spend on things I enjoy. During my time preparing for the Miss USA Pageant, I worked for six months to discover that I wish I had done it all differently. What this experience has taught me is that if I keep living my life the way I have been, I am going to eventually regret that as well – but its going to be 50 years of regret instead of only six months. I now realize how absolutely incredibly important the journey is. It is the experiences that make the memories, not the paychecks. Have you ever heard the phrase, “We spend our health to make money and then we spend our money to fix our health?” That’s how I feel right now. I don’t want life to be for nothing. I want to do it right so that in 50 years when I look back on it I can think, “Ya, I really had a good time.” This pageant has taught me that, for example, when my friends invite me to come over for a potluck dinner and movie night and I refuse because I’ve got to go to the gym, I’m being silly and I will regret it. Some things are just more important, and for me … that is life’s journey.

Now that this chapter is nearly at an end, I have some new goals. First of all, I would like to stop designing and coding websites as part of my freelance business in order to open up more time for “life.” I would like to focus on my career at Robinson & Maites, with the hope of advancing to a position within the company that would keep me from having to work side jobs. In addition, I want to participate in activities I enjoy that are NOT work related! Perhaps I will take a dance class, a cooking class, or even just visit with the Best Buddies program more regularly.

Lee Ann Womack once sang, “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” I hope that with this lesson under my belt I will say ‘yes’ to life experiences that are worth having. I hope I will befriend people and touch their lives in positive ways. For me, family and friends are what make life experiences grand. Without them to share things with before, during, or at the end of the journey, life is meaningless. I am happy to have had this ride down the road to the Miss USA Pageant, and I will carry the memories with me for the rest of my life. Yes, now that it is over there are things I would have liked to do differently, but it is all part of God’s plan. I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all … the journey has only begun. ☺


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. All of us at R&M look forward to your return to work! There are 2 quotes I keep in mind as I travel life's journey. The first, by Rose Tremain-"life is not a dress rehearsal"--the second by John Lennon--"life is what happens when you're busy making other plans".
See you soon.

The Boss.

mcifonie said...


Your thoughts are beautiful and genuine, just like you! I can't imagine how disappointed you were, but I do feel the need to reassure you that NONE of us felt like you let us down!!! We know what an amazing person you are, inside and out, and just wish the rest of the world had gotten the opportunity to see that as well. But, we are all SOOOO proud of you! And, your hard work showed-you were absolutely stunning on TV. Can't wait to see where God leads you next, but wherever it is, you will give your best with beauty and grace just like you ALWAYS have!!
-Donna Cifonie

Rhonda said...

You've won something bigger and better than the title of Miss USA. Through your pageant journey, you've discovered what your life's true passion really is. Some people never experience that. They go to the grave with regrets and hold an unsung song within them.

Ashley, you sing every song to its fullest, and I have no doubts that you will creatively make a difference in this world....one StarBurst wrapper at a time :).

Time will reveal many more treasures from your experience in Vegas.

For now, take a break and relax because you played full out. Well done :)

Rhonda Shappert

Freck said...

This is an excellent post. Congrats to you for making it to the big pageant. I was rooting for you (being from central Illinois) and in my eyes I felt you'd already won for representing Illinois. Best of luck to you, and welcome home :)

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