It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? I’m sitting at my kitchen table in Wisconsin, sipping on my after-dinner tea, taking a second to reflect. Although, to be honest, it’s probably going to take more than a second for me to process the whirlwind that was Miss Tennessee week, and the two-word question that seems to be poised above me every second these days: what now?
I probably could say a lot of things about Miss Tennessee week—like how honored I was to be there, how I genuinely felt such admiration and respect for the women I spent my time with, how the support of my family and friends both in Nashville and Wisconsin was the strength that carried me through the week. I could even talk about the moment I knew why I was at Miss Tennessee—when I got to stand in front of thousands of people and break the chains of shame that had held me as a sexual assault survivor for so long, and in the process, encouraged others to come forward and find their freedom. Those are stories for other days.
Today, I just wanted to take a minute and share with you the most valuable lesson I have learned and taught this year as Miss Nashville. It’s one that holds more true than ever before. When I make a school visit as Miss Nashville, I always start off my presentation with a game called Name That Person. It’s simple—I hold up a poster with three clues, and have my students guess who it is. Notable names include Beyoncé, Megan Barry, Stephen Curry, Harriet Tubman, and Stephen Hawking. At the end of the game, I ask my students what all these people have in common. And after a little discussion, we always come to the same conclusion: they had a dream, and they pursued it. Seems easy enough, right?
However, the most important thing about these leaders isn’t that they succeeded. It is, in fact, because they failed.
Every successful person you can think of, from Walt Disney to Steve Jobs, encountered some sort of failure on their life path. And not minor ones, either. Big, I-want-to-crawl-into-a-hole-and-never-emerge-again kind of failures. Ideas gone wrong, jobs lost, debilitating diseases, genuine mistakes. The thing is, we would never know the names of any of these people if they hadn’t been bold enough to pursue their dreams in the first place. And we still wouldn’t know them if fear of failure or doubt had kept them paralyzed. But they didn’t let it define them. They used MORE courage, MORE strength, and dreamed new dreams. This is what I try so hard to help my students remember. Anybody can talk about success—it takes guts to talk about and deal with our failures, and learn how to pick ourselves up and try again.
The morning I woke up after Miss Tennessee and realized a dream I had invested so much in was not meant to be mine at this moment in time, I had to take a moment and remind myself what I would tell my students if they were in my situation, a truth that I needed to hold on to now more than ever. I could not be more proud of the work that I have done as Miss Nashville, or how prepared I felt for the job of Miss Tennessee. And what an honor to have finished as 4th runner up in a group of truly outstanding women. Still, there is that natural tendency when you don’t achieve a desired outcome to question yourself. Why did I invest so much in this? Why didn’t I have a backup plan? What am I going to do now?
The truth is, that doesn’t really matter (at least right now).
If I could tell you one thing I learned from this entire experience, it’s that you will never regret throwing yourself full-force into a dream. We live in a world that is so afraid of commitment—people don’t want to be in a job for more than two months, trying to be in a stable relationship is nearly impossible, and we hide behind our phones in an attempt to avoid genuine connection or confrontation with those around us. To be reckless and vulnerable in your dreams is nearly unheard of in this day and age. We would rather sit comfortably in mediocrity than risk reaching for greatness and failing.
But life is nothing without growth. It’s not about the goal, but who you become in the process. It’s about the sacrifices you make, the limitations you overcome, and the discipline you develop. And yes—sometimes those things are met with success. Other times they are met with failure. And yet, you reach the end of the journey and realize that it’s who you became, not what you did, that matters. And isn’t it better to experience the mountains and the valleys then to stay on the flat road and experience nothing at all?
So it’s going to take me a second to sort myself out. That’s okay. There will always be new dreams, and I’m welcoming the season of rest that I feel God’s calling me to. I am more myself than ever for having pursued this dream of mine, and I feel ready to handle whatever may come my way next. And time and time again, I will say that this journey has been worth it—even if I didn’t reach my goal. Especially because I didn’t reach my goal.
If you got anything from my random musings, it’s this: apply for the job. Go on the date. Sign up for the class. Call the old friend. Make amends. Eat the cookie. Train for the marathon. Buy the plane ticket. Let go of the past. Embrace your one, wild future.
Life is only worth living if we go all in. Here’s to doing it together.