It began in July over morning coffee and a semi-nervous breakdown. A month before, I had driven halfway across the country to return home from school – I was tired, I was overworked and I was still wrapped up in the post-semester afterglow.

“I’m competing again,” I told my parents. “I have to.”

The previous November, I competed in a local pageant and placed fourth runner-up. Good, but not quite good enough. I stood on the stage in a row of incredible women in sparkling gowns, watched the titleholder gracefully accept her new crown and thought: I didn’t want this enough.

But come June, I did. I was gearing up to watch the current titleholder, now a friend, compete in Miss Texas. I felt that shooting-stars-tingle in the bottom of my stomach watching the lights glow and pop on that Miss Texas stage, listening to music blow through the speakers. With the live stream in front of me, my mother clutching my arm in excitement, I was mesmerized.

That could be me. I just have to want it.

So, I did. I spent two weeks in the summer training to solder and piece together circuit boards, expecting a moderately-paying factory job and wound up working overtime in retail instead. I slept a little, I wrote a lot, I pulled 30-hour work weekends, I researched, I worked out hard and often, I dreamed.

While I was researching, I realized just how precious a win in the Miss America system would be. Their values – scholarship, success, style, service – aligned with what I was looking for in a much more positive manner than perhaps the Miss USA system.

Summer came and summer went. Before I knew it, August had arrived…

Back to School

Stepping from one world into another – my home in New York to my school in Texas, or vice versa – was unsettling, as I suspect it always will remain. Since I would be living on campus for another year and subsequently eating at dining halls, my diet changed, leaving me anxious and in constant pursuit of more, more and more cardio.

When I realized I was running myself ragged, I took a few days to step back. I realigned my goals.

What did I hope to accomplish by competing?

Where did I hope to continue afterward?

In time, stress became routine, but that success-focused mentality stuck with me.

The pageant almost didn’t happen. A crisis with a director and struggles to pull together the event reshaped my narrative. I kept pushing forward, determined. If not this local pageant – then another. Toward the end of September, I received the confirmation email that the pageant was a go. I called my mother – crying, hopeful, excited.

This was it: the culmination of all I had been working for and dreaming of.

The Week Before

As I stand on the cusp of the pageant, I am many things: stressed, overwhelmed, tired, torn between pageant-mode and school-mode, frantically making checklists. Grateful, so grateful, for how God has come through in the most incredible ways to carry me to this point. Happy to have a team of people behind me that will love, support and uplift me no matter the outcome.

Should I lose, I will move on. I will hold my chin high and find another local pageant to enter. I’ll train harder, eat cleaner, love better, trust a little more. Steady the course, because if ships carry us to our dreams, I can keep following the outline of the stars.

Should I win, however, things might be a little different:

I suspect it could change my life.