Before reading any further, you should know that I got barbecue sauce all over my keyboard because I was trying to type and stuff my face with barbecue chicken pizza at the same time. If that doesn’t scream “ex-pageant girl,” I don’t know what does.

I was thinking about pageant land the other day, because I got a spray tan for no reason other than the fact that it makes me feel skinnier, which in turn motivates me to stop eating so much so that I can look just as good when the spray tan fades. This is the life I live. And I’m proud to say that feeling the need for an occasional spray tan is the worst of my pageant-induced issues. Seriously. That’s coming out on top.

Last week, I had a 3-way Skype date with two of my closest friends from pageant land: a former Miss America and a former Miss D.C. (America system)/Maryland (USA system, the one formerly owned by TrumptyDumpty)/USA Supernatural Supranational. The DC/Maryland/Supernatural friend did a lot more pageants than the rest of us because she has the body of a Victoria’s Secret model simply because God was in a good mood when he created her. The rest of us don’t have time to look like that year round, so we just stuck to striving for Miss America, then went back to the life of squishy butts and nonexistent triceps.

chicken moisturizer

As the three of us caught up on the latest ways we fear that we may have peaked at the age of 24, I realized that doing pageants was the greatest life choice I ever made. Once you’ve done something that feels pretty big, it’s impossible to settle for mediocrity. Blending in no longer feels like an option, which is the greatest motivation in the world. Of course this leads to a lot of self-doubt when we find ourselves eating a block of cheese for breakfast, but we know that deep down, we’re capable of greatness.

Doing well in a pageant isn’t what makes us aware of our potential for greatness. Nope, knowledge of our own greatness comes from what we learned during the pageant prep process, plus the very obvious influence you have on others when you’re a titleholder (which I call fake celebridom).

When I was gearing up for a pageant, I was in full be-the-best-you-can-be mode. I read the newspaper every morning. I went to the gym every day. I ate healthy foods. I did a lot of introspection to make sure I had a solid, authentic personal brand to present to the judges. I volunteered a lot. I mean, I was on top of my game. I felt entirely confident and proud about pretty much every aspect of my life. For those of us lucky enough to avoid being swept away with trying to be a perfect robot, the whole preparation thing was a really solid way to see how far we could push ourselves to be the best at whatever we did.

Then, while holding the title– for me, Miss New York, but this applies to any titleholder– I realized that people listened to me more than they ever had before when I spoke. This may be silly and unwarranted since the only difference was that I had on a shiny hat, but the clout that brought along with it was remarkable. I was a keynote speaker at events. I did countless assemblies in schools. I even gave a long toast with the help of a Chinese interpreter. Heck, Mayor Bloomberg was my red carpet pal. Oh, and millions of people listened to my opinion about allegedly sexist/racist Superbowl commercials when I was a guest commentator on The Sean Hannity Show. Life got really cool there for awhile.

Right before I did my final walk as Miss New York, a few minutes before crowning Nina Davaluri, who went on to win Miss America 2014

Backstage, right before I did my final walk as Miss New York, a few minutes before crowning Nina Davaluri, who went on to win Miss America 2014

When pageant days are over, you have to figure out how to keep life just as cool as when you had designer clothing and shoe sponsors dress you every week for free. Most of the time, you feel a little lame, but you can’t forget the taste of success once you’ve tried it. I don’t mean success in terms of fame or money, but success in terms of doing something exciting and different than the typical, expected paths of life.

I love some of the typical, expected paths of life. I love being married and eating Chinese food with my husband on the couch. I love getting excited about buying a new shirt since I can only afford to do so once in a blue moon. I loved going to college and the people I’ve met in my office jobs. “Normal life” is great.

But I still have a strong yearning to do more. To never settle for anything less than my wildest dreams. Hellooooo I got to be a princess when I was 24. That was super fun. Now, it’s possible to believe in other dreams, too! I don’t want my blog to provide laughs and new perspectives to a couple thousand people– I want it to reach a couple million people.

When I was little, I used to think Miss America was a distant, mystical figure. Now, she’s a phone call away. In the same vein, I now view successful, well-known writers as untouchable, out-of-my-league talents. But my experience with pageant world gives me that seed of hope. Little old me could quite realistically join their ranks. It’s possible.

Almost every ex-pageant girl I keep in touch with– which is a large number– feels the same pull towards greatness that I do. You can look at it like we’re attention hungry, or that our expectations have been set too high….OR you can look at it like we’re lucky enough to be motivated by the fact that we’ve already seen an impractical, lofty dream come to fruition in our lives. I choose to look at it the second way, because what an awesome way to experience the world! Knowing that any dream can become a reality is pretty spectacular.

So, thanks, pageant land. You continuously keep the magic alive in my life, even though I’ve long since resigned my citizenship. May every competitor leave with such gusto for life, and may the worst issue they develop be an addiction to spray tans.