Que Sera, Sera

 

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Photo by: Leah LaLiberte (@haelmaee)

Whatever will be, will be.

Lately, this has been a lesson I’ve dedicated a lot of time to. I recently turned 21, I just finished up my junior year of college, and I’m hitting the ground running in this game called young adulthood. Internships, resume building, job searching, graduation planning, big life decisions, pageants on pageants on pageants, scraping pennies from underneath my car’s floor mats just to pay rent… I want to kick my 6 year-old self for wanting to grow up so quickly. Screw you, little Jess.

In times when I find myself stressed to the max, I remind myself, “whatever will be, will be.” My grandma mentioned this phrase a while ago and I felt inspired to blog about it, because there have been some recent events in my life that sparked well-needed reflection time.

Just a few days ago, I called my mom on my way home, gasping for words to explain that I’m a sobbing anxious mess, and when this happens, she usually says something along the lines of:

“Calm down, everything is fine, relax.”

This is something I hear pretty often from my parents, close friends, and boyfriend because most people who know me well enough would know that I’m naturally an anxious person.

No kidding, Jess, everyone knows this by now.

I find comfort in knowing what to expect, being under control, and always having a plan. I have a hard time accepting failure and I get down on myself when I fail to reach my fullest potential. I expect nothing less than excellence from myself, but that tends to be very difficult to maintain some days. In short, this element of my personality has been tested lately.

Some things that have happened in my life recently are incredible blessings, but it took me a while to understand that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better. In the wise words of Kylie Jenner, sometimes it takes a little bit of “just, like, realizing things.”

Over the past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to compete four times for another local title within the Miss America Organization. Any woman who has been involved in pageants understands that competing is incredibly challenging on a mental and emotional level. We all work SO hard to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network, build up our platforms, organize events, practice our talents, get our swimsuit bods ready for the stage, study current events, and somehow fit in some time to find ourselves, too. There are many highs and lows with tears of happiness, frustration, and gratitude. Of the four times I competed this year, I placed first runner-up three times. Quite honestly, this was SUCH an honor, but I didn’t think so at the time. I admit I was very frustrated, disappointed that I couldn’t measure up to what I expected of myself, and just falling short of a spot at Miss Wisconsin this year.

However, looking back now, I know that there are things I can improve on to bring the best Jess back to the stage next year. God planned something else for me, and being a titleholder this year just wasn’t in the plan, so I had to understand that something better must lie ahead. Being first runner-up THREE times in the same year is an amazing accomplishment that I am so proud of today, and I couldn’t have made it that far without the support of my family and friends, along with my “pageant family” of directors, sisters, judges and mentors. The scholarships I’ve received, the people I’ve connected with, and the things that I’ve learned over the past five months are truly priceless. I just had to remember that whatever will be, will be. There is always another door open ahead.

That door opened right in front of me at the beginning of April, when I was chosen to interview for not one, but TWO big internships. I was truly convinced that this HAD to be the “something better ahead” that I was hoping for. I polished up my resume, collected samples of past work, researched both companies, and prepared for my interviews as best as I could. The funny thing about job interviews is that they feel like a piece of cake compared to pageant interviews. They’re essentially very similar, just without the politics, current events, and platform questions that exist in a pageant interview. For this internship interview, I knew that I had to sell myself, my goals and accomplishments, and let the interviewers know that I was the best candidate for the job, just like in a pageant interview.

I walked out of my first interview feeling confident and accomplished, until I opened my email inbox a few days later:

“Thank you for taking the time to interview for a summer internship with _________. We are contacting you to inform you that you have not been selected for the position…”

*Insert sigh and eye roll here*

UGH! Of course, I was bummed, but I had to keep in mind that I still had another chance to interview for another important internship just a week later. Back to square one, and round two came along quickly. Again, I felt very confident and happy with my conversations with the interviewers at the second interview. I (im)patiently waited for a response, and a few days later, I opened my email inbox again and saw:

“Thank you for taking the time to interview for a summer internship with _________. We are contacting you to inform you that you have not been selected for the position…”

AGAIN?! UGH x2. At this point, I was feeling pretty low. I began to doubt myself and my capabilities. What was so great about the other candidates? My interview went so well, why didn’t they pick me? Rejection sucks, but it’s something we will all face multiple times. I didn’t get that job for a good reason, and it’ll take some time for me to understand what exactly that reason was. As grandma always says, “whatever will be, will be.” I had to trust that.

After a few setbacks, I also have some pretty beautiful things happening as well. Just a couple weeks after the double internship rejection, another door opened and I was offered the opportunity to work with a nonprofit foundation, managing social media outreach and learning the ropes for a potential career path in nonprofit PR. Because of this experience, I’ve gained some wonderful references and a continued love for my education in communication and public relations.

Additionally, I have been able to dedicate more time to things that make me genuinely happy. I started painting again, I’ve been making time to see friends, I decided to chaperone a mission trip this summer, I’ve been finding ways to manage my anxiety on the tough days, and I’ve been brainstorming some new ideas for GEMS (stay tuned, big announcement coming at the end of the summer)!

Over the past few months, I’ve learned that striving for perfection (though near impossible) is okay, as long as I remain realistic and understanding of alternative outcomes. I may not be going back to Miss Wisconsin this summer, I may have been rejected from two big internships, and I may still struggle some days with anxiety, BUT I’ve learned that success is not a straight line, humility and grace are crucial parts of being whole, failure is a natural part of life, and sometimes I have to let go and let God.

Whatever will be, will be. Que sera, sera. Might as well tattoo that one on my body.

Just remember that regardless of what you may be battling, there is ALWAYS something beautiful waiting for you ahead. It may not be what you want at the time, but God knows it’s what you need.

Love always,

Jessica

Life on Lexapro: 15 Weeks

“God gave you this life because He knew you were strong enough to live it.”

I’ve had a few people ask how things have been going since I last posted about life on Lexapro (thank you, I appreciate it) and I must say, I’ve seen some changes.

When I took my first dose on October 29th, 2016, I thought it might change me dramatically right away. Part of me believed I would immediately be calm, collected, and more focused on the important stuff in my life, rather than the small things I’d feel anxious about every day. Over time, I’ve found that this could be true, but I had to be patient.

When I was first prescribed, my doctor said I would see changes between 3 and 4 months of using Lexapro, but it might even take up to 8 months to notice the full effects. I was VERY impatient at first. I wanted to be cured! I didn’t want to feel so upset and on edge all the time. I thought this stuff was going to fix it!

Wrong. Since Lexapro is a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), my body has to get used to it over time, so I don’t see the therapeutic effects of it right away. It’s something I can use long-term without horrible side effects if I choose to stop using it someday. Other drugs, such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, are benzodiazepines (“benzos” for short), which calm you down almost instantly. THIS is the relief I initially wanted, but I realized these aren’t the right kinds of medications for the type of anxiety I was dealing with.

The cool thing about managing anxiety is that there are lots of different options to treat it. If one medication isn’t working for me, there are plenty more medications I can try with the help of my doctor. If one kind of therapy isn’t working, I can try something else, like yoga or art therapy. The possibilities really are endless, so if you’ve been dealing with anxiety and/or depression, always know that there ARE many different options to help you. Don’t be afraid to try new things that might be good for you!

While I was struggling with the test of time until my medicine would take effect, I tried to find some things that could help me focus in the mean time. I started taking time to read, color, journal, paint, or listen to music. I made a daily schedule and to-do lists to keep myself occupied. I set aside specific times to do homework, study, eat, clean, go to club meetings, relax, etc. I slowly began to realize that keeping myself busy and active really alleviated some of my anxiety.

By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around (about 4-6 weeks on Lexapro), I was seeing some very minor changes. Mind you, my doctor said it would probably be 3-4 months before I would notice the positive effects. However, things were changing. I noticed some mood swings, I’d still have good days and bad days, and I started feeling more emotional (my boyfriend can definitely confirm this). I felt a little bit of nausea, but with a few changes in my diet and by taking my medicine in the morning after breakfast, this was easily fixed. I also began feeling VERY tired. This is a pretty common side effect for many people, so I almost had to expect this one. The first month or two was a lot of trial and error and adjustment.

By Christmas (two months on Lexapro), I was starting to feel more adjusted and in control. I’d still feel anxious at times, but I wasn’t having the constant “on-edge” feeling like I used to have. That continuous little voice in my head slowly began to fade away. However, the true test would be when winter break was over and the new semester began. Like most of us, I feel most comfortable and at-ease when I’m home with my family, so during my winter break, I wasn’t sure if my medicine was really working or if this was just the usual relaxed feeling I always had while I was home. At this point, I was excited but also a little anxious to see how I would feel once I moved back to my apartment for spring semester. Things were looking up, but I was remaining patient.

Today, I am approaching 16 weeks on Lexapro, and by the end of February, I’ll be at my 4 month mark. I’m about four weeks into the spring semester and I’m feeling better than ever! Some of the more recent changes I’ve noticed are the positive ones. No more rapid heartbeat and dizziness, no more anxious nausea, better sleep at night, easier to get up in the morning. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack, which makes me one happy camper.

The weirdest part of this is that I still feel anxious at times (more anxious than the average person because that’s how life with GAD goes), but I feel like my brain and body are able to manage it much better. I am still able to recognize what makes me anxious, but it’s almost as if my brain just doesn’t care as much. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t, I know that sometimes I feel better when I’m alone, and sometimes I feel better when I’m busy with other people. Lexapro hasn’t cured my anxiety, but it has given me the little 10 milligram daily dose of serotonin that my brain needs to function properly.

Overall, I’m very excited to continue seeing changes in my health and attitude. I’m excited to keep exploring new things and discover more methods of therapy that make me happy (so far, I LOVE journaling and painting). THANK YOU to my friends and family for being so patient and supportive as I handle this adjustment. To those who are struggling with GAD, other types of anxiety, depression, or anything similar, feel free to comment or reach out to me on social media (see my “About Me” tab for information). I’m always happy to offer a helping hand or simply just be an outlet for you share anything without judgement. We’re all in this life together.

Love always,

Jessica

Being Miss Northern Lights 2016

Going into this journey, I knew that I wanted to remain 100% authentic and unapologetically myself. I promised myself that I would share this opportunity with my community and with the world, never hiding what it really means or what it takes to be a local titleholder. Here you go, the truth behind the crown.

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Photo by: VOSStudios

Now, I’ve only been involved with this organization for three years, so I’m no expert on the whole pageant thing. However, my year as a titleholder has taught me a lot. Self-worth, sisterhood, responsibility, respectability, selflessness, personal branding, marketability, perseverance, the list goes on.

Before I go on, it took me quite some time to finally capture a local title and it definitely was not an easy process. In fact, I wrote about my journey up until the crown in a previous article, “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” (there’s my little sales pitch, now go read it before continuing). Moving on…

Our society is obsessed with instant gratification. If we can’t get something quickly, it’s not worth fighting for at all. At least, that’s what it seems like. There are countless methods pitched to us every single day about how we can become rich and famous, skinny, happy, healthy, successful, etc overnight.

I hate to break it to you, but success rarely comes immediately.

During my two years of competing before being Miss Northern Lights, I walked away without a title five times, not even a runner-up. I spent two and a half years pouring everything I had into each competition but still seemed to always fall short. I was frustrated with myself, honestly. However, I realize now that the previous five times were not for me and I had to know that there was a better opportunity that God had planned for me ahead. I am grateful to have had a tough journey because I think it made me appreciate this opportunity even more.

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On January 16th, 2016, I learned that delayed gratification is a beautiful lesson. Before this day, I had only a small idea of what this journey would entail. I knew I would be able to compete for the title of Miss Wisconsin, I knew I would commit to a year of service to the community, I knew about the scholarships. What I didn’t know was how many doors would be opened through this opportunity; the kinds of people I would meet. I had no idea that a handful of rhinestones on your head can make your voice 10 times louder.

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Rewind to the beginning of last year…

Immediately after the pageant, Katie (my fabulous director) and I met frequently to discuss my goals for the year and how we could start preparing for Miss Wisconsin. At this point, the main priority was to improve EVERYTHING. My paperwork and resume, my platform, my wardrobe, my talent routine, stage presence, knowledge of current events, speaking skills, and interviewing. Most of my time during the first 4-5 months as Miss Northern Lights was preparing to be Miss Wisconsin.

At the same time, I had to start working on my goals as just Jessica. Building onto my platform, starting and marketing my own GEMS program, scheduling appearances, planning events with local officials, and raising money for Children’s Miracle Network (the Miss America Organization’s national platform).

Most people don’t see this part at all, which is why I believe there is such a big misconception about pageant girls. The public only sees the final product of the hard work and preparation, so it’s easy to think that it must only take a pretty face and a pretty penny to pull off the job.

A big part of my mission was to break those stereotypes and misconceptions, which was quite the challenge as one of the only girls in the history of my hometown to ever hold a local Miss America title. Sometimes, people don’t understand and make remarks or simply view you as an airhead Barbie doll, but that’s when you have to step up and do your job. You are not a “beauty queen,” you are an intelligent, confident advocate for the organization, yourself, and your platform.

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Quite honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I correct people on the true job of a titleholder in the Miss America Organization.

“So you just have to be skinniest and prettiest one and you win?”

“You basically just sign up, pay money, and they give you a crown, right?”

“You just get to be in parades and stuff.”

No, no, and no. Definitely not. All wrong.

Believe me, when I signed up for my first pageant, part of me thought that if I could fit those molds, it might be that easy. Boy, was I wrong. The more I immersed myself in the organization and what it REALLY is, I learned that it is not an easy job if you want to do it well.

Sometimes people just won’t understand you and won’t care to. Some people will see you at an appearance and only see the crown, but won’t listen to what you have to say. Some people are just stuck on the pageant stereotype (but of course, do your best to change that).

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As a representative for a large community, like the central Wisconsin region, you meet a wide variety of people. Sometimes, you will be speaking to a kindergarten class, sometimes you will be performing for residents in a nursing home, and sometimes you’ll be presenting to a Kiwanis Club. The common denominator is always you. Most of the time, people are just eager and excited to see you and know that you took the time out of your day to attend their event. THAT is one of the best parts of the job…feeling appreciated.

Aside from Miss Wisconsin preparation at the beginning, I was getting more involved in the community throughout the year. I sent emails and made phone calls to introduce myself to local organizations, speak to them about my mission, ask for support, or help out at local events.

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I had to be independent, responsible, and organized as I scheduled my own appearances. I had to be prepared and professional every time. As a titleholder, first impressions are everything! At each appearance, there were new people who come up to shake my hand and ask what I do. Often enough, this is the only time you will ever meet that person or speak to them, so you have to make an impact every time.

This adds a lot of pressure! People have expectations before they even meet you, so you always have to do your best to exceed those expectations and be the best example and role model during the time you have.

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The year is full of many high points, but in the lows of the year (and there are some), it can feel like all the work you are doing is not enough. There have been a handful of times when I asked myself, “Is this worth it?” Sometimes it feels like you are not making the big impact that you hoped to make. As I reflected on this opportunity, I had to remember something… If I can inspire just one person this year, I’ve done my job. You can’t change the whole world in a year, but you can be the fire that sparks change.

At the beginning of the year when I made my list of goals, I wanted to tackle every single one of them by the time I passed on the title. Truth is, I didn’t reach all my goals during the time I had. Another thing I had to remember was that at the end of my year as Miss Northern Lights 2016, I can continue to pursue my unfinished goals.

I can still plan service projects, I can still host GEMS workshops, I can still be a role model. The only difference is that I don’t have rhinestones on my head. Who said you have to wear a crown to make a difference? You’re still the same person, right? Absolutely.

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I think this was a pretty humbling realization. Actually, the entire year is full of humbling realizations. The little moments are the ones that make the hard work worth it. Standing next to your MAO sisters and feeling nothing but love and support for each other; connecting with business professionals, directors, and judges who push you to be your best, on and off the stage; noticing the admirable peeks of little eyes at an appearance; meeting the miracle kids you collect CMN donations for. It all comes together. Everything you are working hard for IS worth it. The lessons learned, connections made, and the skills gained truly do stay with you even after it’s all said and done.

A girl did an interview with me recently for her English class and asked, “What is your advice to people who might want to start competing in pageants?”

I say, keep yourself grounded. I don’t care if you contacted 100 people to raise your CMN donations or if your evening gown was paid for by your parents. Remember where you come from and who helped you get to where you are today, because you did not do this on your own. STAY HUMBLE.

I also say that perseverance is a beautiful thing. Keep pushing to be your best, stay focused on the goal at hand, and recognize how to improve. BE ACTIVE in your personal development and never be afraid to reach out to those who can help you. You never know when your time might just be around the corner.

This is a job that requires public attention, but you can never let it get to your head. If you are doing this for the right reasons, this opportunity should mean much more than a sparkly crown and waving in parades.

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There is ALWAYS something to improve on. If you can’t think of anything you need to work on to be better, let’s go back to the “humble” point.

During the days when you’re burnt out and tired of planning and preparing, remember why you do this. Remember your passion, your dedication to your platform, and the commitment you made to serve your community.

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It’s not about “winning” or “beating the competition” and many girls often see it that way, myself included at the beginning. You’re only competing against your own scores. Focus on being the best version of YOU, not someone else.

Remember that your job is to serve. You are NOT above anyone just because you have a crown on. I always remind myself that the crown will capture peoples’ attention, but your passion, hard work, and your voice is what will capture peoples’ hearts.

Being Miss Northern Lights was the greatest privilege. I keep my crown and sash on my desk as a reminder of the very special moments held with them. All the little hugs, firm handshakes, tears of frustration and of happiness, and smiles of gratitude and honor. Today, I’m back at square one competing for other local titles for another incredible opportunity in the Miss America Organization. There’s still a lot of work to be done and improvements to be made, but I will do everything to better myself before passing my hard work onto God’s hands. I am not guaranteed a spot on the Miss Wisconsin stage again next summer, but I CAN guarantee that this experience has changed me for the better. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I am changed.

Love always,

Jessica

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Starting Life on Lexapro

I told myself I’d never take medication to manage anxiety. It wasn’t natural. I wouldn’t be myself. I am now telling myself that I was wrong.

After a lot of contemplation, trial and error, and weeks (even years) of sleepless nights, missed opportunities, and a full mind, I decided to make that appointment with my doctor.

Naturally, I’m always nervous to go to the doctor due to the fear of the unknown at every check-up. None of us like to walk into the office and hear that we’re due for another vaccine. (GET ME OUT OF THERE BYE.)

However, this time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I thought long and hard about whether or not medication for anxiety would be a good idea for me. I’ve tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for a while, but never truly committed to that method of healing. It seemed like every session I went to was a waste of time and I never felt like I got the right resources to better myself. Being in college, I’ve also noticed that it’s hard to continue CBT along with a full load of classes and extracurricular activities. It just didn’t work for me before, but if it came down to it, I’d keep an open mind.

After that point, I had nothing else to lose and I needed to start doing something about the way I’ve been feeling for so long. I didn’t want my mind to be in constant battle with itself any longer. I wanted to take control of my life again.

I did my research, asked around, read some reviews, and ultimately decided that I wanted to be medicated. So, there it was. The appointment was on my calendar.

This would actually be the first time talking to my primary doctor about anxiety. In the past, I felt like my anxiety was never “severe” enough to be medicated or even discussed in the doctor’s office. I had visited neurologists for tension headaches, I had seen therapists for situational anxiety, but I was afraid my teenage self would be told once again, “It’s just stress.”

The day of my appointment came and I woke up feeling excited, relieved, and (of course) a little anxious. For some reason, this seemed like a monumental day.

My nurse took the vitals and asked what I was in for today.

“Just a little bit of anxiety,” I said.

Little did she know that this wasn’t “just a little bit of anxiety.” I don’t know why I felt the need to play it down like it wasn’t a big deal. For such a long time, I kept it to myself due to the fear of the eye-rolling and scoffs that I was just overreacting about something minor. I hate the stigma.

“Just a little bit of anxiety” had been running my life for years. “Just a little bit of anxiety” caused me to transfer schools, disconnect with great friends, miss out on incredible opportunities. I was almost angry at myself for not owning up to the fact that “just a little bit of anxiety” was much more than that. So, I didn’t hold back and I told my doctor everything.

…Racing heartbeat, nausea, irrational fear of nearly every situation, hard time getting up in the morning, insomnia, avoiding daily tasks, spending more time alone, crying spells, shortness of breath, mood swings, headaches…

Sure enough, my doctor explained to me that the symptoms I had been feeling definitely had a name. They call it GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

There it was, the label. I was officially branded.

From there, we discussed my options. One option was to try CBT again, which is a method that I try to keep an open mind about, even after I didn’t have a lot of success with it in the past. I know for many people, it is beneficial. For me, CBT was nice for a while because I was able to go to a professional to talk about everything I had been experiencing. I was allowed to cry or be angry or whatever I needed to feel. It was a “safe place” with no judgement and no stigma. This option has always appealed to me because I’m a fan of holistic medicine and more natural ways of healing, but like I said before, this method never seemed to work for me long term. I kept it in the back of my mind, but there was another option I was set on this time.

My other option was to be medicated. Medication always scares me a little bit because of the side effects, risks, and the way it can alter your natural biology. I didn’t want to be prescribed some medication that turned me into a vegetable, unable to feel any sort of emotion anymore. I still wanted freedom and I wanted to feel normal and happy again. I know medication isn’t right for everyone and it must be taken carefully and safely. After expressing these concerns with my doctor, it was clear that the benefits outweighed the risks in this circumstance. I wanted to give it a shot. My doctor prescribed me Lexapro.

I picked up that prescription and stared at it for a while. This little sheet of paper on the back of that tiny orange bottle gave me permission to finally feel better.

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Lexapro

My first dose was on Saturday, October 29th and I started on 5 mg (half pill) before bumping up to 10 mg (whole pill) after two weeks. While I was doing my research and talking to my doctor, I learned that Lexapro (or escitalopram, by its generic name) is a SSRI, or a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. In normal English, it’s an antidepressant that adjusts chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced, which is ultimately the scientific cause of anxiety and depression.

In other words, my brain naturally has too much of one chemical and not enough of another, which causes the imbalance that makes me feel a constant “fight or flight” mechanism…that constant feeling of anxiety. When the average person experiences “fight or flight,” or our natural stress response, there is a rush of chemicals that releases from the brain. For most people, this is only very temporary and won’t harm your health, since the chemical balance returns to normal once you relax.

However, for people with GAD or other forms of anxiety, this constant “fight or flight” feeling can be detrimental to your health due to this constant imbalance and release of chemicals from the stress response. This was a really interesting topic to learn about, so if you want to embrace the inner Meredith Grey in you and find out more too, click here.

Anyway, enough of my Grey’s Anatomy lesson. Over time, the intention of my Lexapro prescription is to balance the anxiety-causing chemicals in my brain so I can be a happy Jess again.

Today, I just took my second dose of 10 mg. Like many other SSRIs, you don’t feel therapeutic effects immediately, which is slightly frustrating some days. It will take between one and four months to notice a difference in the way I’m feeling, so I have to stay hopeful and patient. I also have to remind myself that being on medication is a mental and physical collaboration. I can’t depend solely on the medication to make me better; I still have to make a strong effort to get out and do things that are good for my mind and body, like eating adequately, drinking lots of water, and taking care of myself. Some days are still harder than others and there’s still a constant battle going on between my anxious mind and my physical being.

I am still considering giving CBT another chance, because I think the combination of medication and therapy could be very beneficial if I can stick to it long-term. As an adult, I have lots of decisions to make in the near future about school, professional life, and my personal life, but I’ll always continue to put my mental health as a priority. We all have incredibly busy lives, there’s no denying that. However, please take care of yourself and know when to give yourself some time to reflect on that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that there’s no shame in asking for help. If you are someone who is in need of a helping hand, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone, myself included. Thank you to those people in my life who have always offered that helping hand, especially recently. You all rock.

Every day is a new day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Love always,

Jessica

My Anxious Mind

This post has been in progress for nearly a year now. When I first started this entire blog, I had intentions of sharing my personal story, but I can never seem to craft the words to explain how I feel, or to explain how I feel in a way that others might be able to understand. I’ve typed and deleted, typed and deleted. I finally thought to myself, “what better way to share my thoughts than to actually share my thoughts?”

What?

We’ll get there, hold on.

One of my favorite quotes is by Rupi Kaur from her book, Milk and Honey:

“The thing about writing is I can’t tell if it’s healing or destroying me.”

(Side note: For anyone who has experienced love, neglect, abuse, or really any life altering situation, read this. It’s a remarkable work of poetry to describe cycles of hurting, loving, breaking, and healing. And no, I’m not being paid to say that.)

While discovering methods for coping with anxiety, I found an outlet in writing.. Journaling. There’s just something about a pen and paper that can focus the mind.

Here we are, almost a year in the making, I am finally publishing the unedited thoughts and reactions that happen inside my mind on a daily basis through the eyes of my choppy, inconsistent journal over the past year and a half.

What better way to share my thoughts than to actually share my thoughts?

Some of these entries might not even make sense. However, every day is a struggle in it’s own way.

Most days, I try to picture what life would be like without an anxious mind. What a life that would be.

Remember, I am not sharing this for sympathy or pity. Feel free to simply read and try to understand. Every mind is different and this is mine.

Immerse yourself in the raw workings of my anxious mind.

Monday, March 23, 2015.

(Second semester of my freshman year of college)

Today was an okay day.  I woke up feeling tired, anxious, and ready to go home.  I just got back to school from spring break YESTERDAY.. I’m so disappointed in myself.

I already started a countdown for when I can go home this Friday.. it’s only four days away, but I can’t get out of here fast enough already. A 2-hour drive often seems like home is a world away.

I don’t understand why I feel this way, because nothing is wrong.  I’m doing well in my classes, my friends are great, I’m healthy, my environment is comfortable, I don’t know why I feel so anxious and eager to be home.

A lot of my stress comes from simply having so much time for my mind to re-evaluate every little thing.

I find myself checking in on everyone and analyzing everything they do. If someone near me has a cough, I’m Googling the symptoms of the flu. If people around me are discussing their plans for the weekend, I’m busy finding a ride home. It’s getting ridiculous, but I have no answers or paths to find how I can help myself.

I’m still struggling to decide if it will be better for me to transfer next year or if I should tough it out, grow up, and stay here…farther from home. I’m so confused, tired, helpless, hopeless..the list goes on.  I’m praying for some sort of answer.

Four more days and I’ll be safe at home for another weekend.

Monday, March 30, 2015.

It’s Monday.

Surprise, surprise, I already want to go home.  That “time of the month” just passed today and I have a headache and backache. My mind always tricks me into thinking I’m dying whenever I get symptoms like these and I start feeling a lot of anxiety.

I have no idea what’s wrong with me.

I’ve been feeling really gloomy and sad and I feel like this day is just dragging on with no end in sight.

Tomorrow, my sister is coming to visit overnight and I’m supposed to be excited, right?  I keep telling myself it’s going to be fun to have her come during the week so I can show her around and get my mind off of everything, but I can’t get over the way I’m feeling today.

I can’t wait to finally get done with my class and my meetings, take a shower, and just relax and watch a movie or something.  That’s my favorite part of my day. Movies make me feel like I can temporarily disassociate from my own life and immerse myself in another one.

I think one source of my stress comes from the unknown situation for next year. I think I want to stay at this school, but who knows what kind of mess my mind will be in. I am stuck. I want to be tough and just stick it out, but there’s always that little voice in the back of my mind to tell me I can’t do it.

I pray that God will point me in the right direction soon, because time is ticking away quickly..

Thursday-Friday, March 9-10, 2015.

Had a really good day today!  Looking forward to tomorrow because it’s my friend’s birthday and we’re all going out to dinner and then I get to GO HOME.

Plot twist..

A girl threw up in the bathroom tonight.  I had an instant panic attack.  I immediately ran out, went into my room and shut the door.  A minute later, I was already pacing the room crying.  I could think of no other solution but to talk on the phone with my mom.

It was 1:30 a.m.

(Part of the reason why I hate this disorder is that I feel like I’m a burden on others. I have to depend on other people for my own sanity. WHY.)

After this incident, I was completely paranoid.

I usually go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and pee before I go to bed.

Not this time. I went all the way down to second floor of my residence hall to brush my teeth, and I held my pee until the morning.  I was shivering and crying through the night.  I didn’t sleep at all.

When I decided to get out of bed after a sleepless night, I went all the way to the basement to use the bathroom, and did this for the rest of the day. I skipped all of my classes and spent the day packing to go home and trying to feel normal again.

I couldn’t eat, I was exhausted mentally and physically, and all I could think about was what happened the night before.

I am ruined. All because someone else was sick.

Saturday, March 11, 2015.

I woke up at 11:30am today.  No surprise, because I got absolutely no sleep on Thursday night. What a disaster to my mental state.

Today, while I was home, I planned out some classes for next year and was hoping to get in contact with an adviser about the transfer process.

The adviser never got back to me.

I went with my mom and brothers to Madison, excited to do a little shopping and go out to dinner.

I got an anxious stomach ache halfway through shopping so we went home early.

As I began to do my laundry and pack up my things to go back to school again tomorrow morning, I started to cry.  I will be at school for 19 days.  The fact that I can’t even handle 19 days away from home makes me feel so disappointed in myself, like I’m a failure.

I’d love to come home every weekend!  To be able to have something like that to look forward to every week makes me feel so happy, but it’s unrealistic. I have commitments. I am missing out on so many memories and good moments with college friends because of this stupid mental disease.

I want to come home already and I haven’t even left home yet.

Sunday, March 12, 2015.

I woke up crying this morning.

It’s Sunday. I have to go back to school today.

Why can’t I be like every other student and have a good time in college?  Oh right, anxiety.

I don’t know why.  I don’t know how.  I’m terrified to be away from home, away from my family.  I wish I could stop this, I really do, but there is no easy way.  I HAVE to force myself to get through this.  I have to be strong and tough because I know it will help me in the long run.

I just wish there was an easy way.

Friday, April 24, 2015.

It’s been a while.

Some things have changed recently.  I decided to reach out for help after I realized I’ve slowly been getting very unhealthy, mentally and physically.

I went to go see a therapist here on campus a week ago and I pray that it will help me get through the rest of this year.  She was really nice and I told her everything that I’ve been feeling lately.  She seemed to be very understanding and gave me a few things to try before my next appointment on the 30th.  The thing is, these appointments are so far apart that I struggle in between.

I still panic during the week, more often when it gets close to the weekends.

I still coop myself up in my room unless I’m in class.

I hate socializing because I feel like I just don’t fit.

I love being at home…

I wish I were there right now.

Tonight, I have to force myself to stay here at school because I need service hours for my sorority.  Tonight is a fun event and I’m hoping it’ll take my mind off things for a little bit while I’m there.

But I’m terrified to come back to my dorm.  It’s such a struggle, because sometimes I LOVE being in my room and other times, those white cinder block walls are my worst enemy.

I’m already crying again because I have to face my fears and stay in my dorm for one night over the weekend.. and I will only have to come back to my dorm just to sleep. Why does sleep sound like such a difficult thing to do?

Tomorrow, my mom is driving up to take me out for my birthday.  I can’t even describe how much I can’t wait to see her, even though I was just home five days ago.

I decided I’m going to go home with her again, too, because I can’t handle another night here on the weekend. I decided I need to go home for 24 hours because I’m not stronger than that.

Things have changed around here. I’ve gotten more and more unhappy, the weather changes every day, people change every day.

I’ve lost 15 pounds since I started college in September. That seems a bit backwards, doesn’t it? I’m not happy, I’m not healthy, I can’t eat or sleep. Something is wrong and I promised myself I’d continue to try and get help.

Lots of my peers are drunk or high every weekend, which is why I’d much rather just go home and do something productive. I don’t like being around it and I don’t think others understand that it causes me so much stress. I know it shouldn’t cause me stress, because it really shouldn’t affect me at all.

Somehow, every little thing can cause my mind to create a crisis. I hate it.

I keep thinking to myself that I only have to be here for another 20 days until the semester ends and then I never have to come back. I can finally feel happy and comfortable again. Maybe the demons will disappear.

Get me out of here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Here I am, sitting in my dorm.

I woke up in a strange mood, unsure as to why I felt this way. Am I exhausted? Am I sick? What the hell is wrong with me? I continue to blame the way I feel on my hormones, but that can’t always be the reason, right? I need answers.

Yesterday was my birthday, which was a wonderful day. I felt no anxiety, I was genuinely happy and surrounded by people who care about me. I got to talk to my mom on the phone and Skype with the boy briefly. I finally went to bed around 1:00 a.m, which may be part of the reason why I’m feeling so tired and gloomy today. But I think I’m depressed.

I get to talk to my therapist here on campus again tomorrow. I don’t know what we’ll talk about, but I want more answers.

I need a diagnosis, something to get me on a path with whatever I’ve been dealing with. Whether it be extensive therapy, medication, hospitalization, tests, whatever. I need answers. I need to know what to do. How to be healthy…mentally and physically.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016.

(Two semesters and two different schools later…)

It’s been over a year since I last wrote. I guess you could say I found myself for a while during my sophomore year of college and coming into my junior year. One new relationship, two new schools, two new employment experiences, countless life choices.

I decided to transfer schools last year, and it absolutely was the best decision of my life thus far. I found a career experience opportunity, I graduated with an Associate’s degree, I cared about my health, I competed at Miss Wisconsin, I felt accomplished, I felt at peace, I met a wonderful guy who I have the privilege of sharing my life with to this day.

Things are going great.

I’m back at a (yet another) new school (third one, to be exact), and I am excited to continue my journey and move past all the difficulties I had experienced my freshman year. I am ready to complete my Bachelor’s degree and continue on a new path I set for myself. I decided to make a change for the better. I am ready.

Aaaaaand it seems that the vicious demons have returned. They’ve all come and gone since the last time we met.

Here we are, stuck in the endless cycle.

I definitely didn’t make it as long as I thought I could… we’re at it again in one of the infamous mid-night episodes.

2:07 a.m. rang in and I was up with the classic shaking, nausea, dry mouth, racing mind sort of scenarios. For some reason, waking up and only seeing a few hours go by since I went to bed makes me so worked up.

Most of the time, nights are just survival passages into the next day.

I guess that’s kind of what they really are for most people, too.

For me, it just seems like nights act as some sort of method of time travel. A wonderful form of time travel. Peace and serenity until reality hits like a hand on an alarm clock. For most, getting up after a night of time traveling is very difficult (especially when you time travel from Sunday to Monday morning), but for me, waking up is the best feeling in the entire world, regardless of what day it is.

Why?

Because I successfully traveled through time without being brutally interrupted by a bout of night anxiety. Sometimes, that’s an accomplishment in itself (sad but true).

Night anxiety is the worst (arguably comparable to mid-day anxiety. Actually, anxiety at any time sucks pretty bad… Now I’m being irrelevant.)

Being thrown on a late-night detour on the time travel route through peace and serenity is a very rude awakening. Mostly because night time is a chance to recharge to get through the next day, which is difficult if you wake up with horrible, uncomfortable feelings in your mind and body. After that, you’ve lost part of your internal battery with no chance to gain that charge back until you begin the next time travel journey the next evening.

BUT, say you were put on yet another anxious detour the next night. You lose more of that internal battery until eventually, you can’t recharge anymore. By then, it’s a constant cycle of detours and interrupted time travel and then

you are lost.

That may be a pretty obscure analogy for mid-night anxiety, but for some reason, it gave my detour a little bit of direction for tonight’s time travel journey. Goodnight.

Monday, October 17, 2016.

Hello again. Back at it for another late night. Yesterday was a rough end to the weekend. My wonderful man came to visit and of course, I feel so much peace and pure happiness when he’s around. He knows how I struggle, he knows how to make me feel better, and he is able to comfort me at any time. Naturally, I always want him around for that purpose (and many others.)

Yesterday, I woke up with a sore throat, and we all know how I get when there is just one thing going against my plan. That feeling of being in complete control is constantly tested.

My brain also remembered that it was Sunday, meaning I have another week of classes, stress, and anxiety. Fast forward a few seconds and I’m a shivering anxious mess. How will I survive the next two weeks? I have obligations, so going home is not an option. What if I get sicker? Where is my mom when I need her?

Here we go again, bad thoughts and memories bring back an anxious Jess. Deep breaths…

Tonight, I’m feeling depressed, anxious, in pain, and fearful. I’m afraid of being sick or tired (or both). I’m afraid of being away from home for more than five days. I’m afraid of being stranded here with no way out.

I’m afraid of my head; I’m afraid of myself.

I need to grow up. It’s time for me to stop living a life of fear and start living freely. I thought I was over this. There is no way for me to stop or control everything.

Life. must. go. on..

And the crazy thing is, it always does. Life is full of temporary pain, discomfort, or unhappiness, but it always goes on. There is nothing that ever stops me but my own thoughts.

That’s it, I need to call my mom.

No I don’t, I’m okay.

Sometimes, it helps if I read anxiety forums to see what other people say about their own struggles and how they find solutions. It’s silly, but it almost makes me feel like I’m not alone (or going absolutely crazy).

It’s almost 2:00 a.m.

I’m going to take some melatonin and try to prepare for the day tomorrow. I just have to remember to breathe, think positively, and use my resources when I need them. I have to remember that it’s okay to accept help. I don’t have to do this alone.

I can get through this.

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(Photo by: Leah LaLiberte – @haelmaee)

How To: Pageant Hair

It’s time to get fabulous!

I’ve gotten plenty of requests to write a blog article or even post a video about how I curl my hair for pageants and appearances. I finally found a little down time to go full glam, which is definitely not an everyday process. In fact, the most exhausting part of Miss Wisconsin week was waking up 2-3 hours early just to do hair and makeup…You can usually find me in athletic shorts and flip flops with unwashed hair wrapped up in a ponytail, so this post is a real treat for y’all.

Every girl does their hair a little differently for the stage, but this is just what works for me and my hair type! Feel free to experiment with different products and techniques to get the look you want. Here’s how I do it:

Collect your materials. I’m not a big fan of fancy and expensive hair and makeup products because I’ve found that anything from the drugstore works just fine if you look hard enough. All of these products can be found at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, or any other drugstore:

  • Big Sexy Hair Big Altitude Bodifying Blow Dry Mousse (optional)
  • TRESemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray
  • Psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo
  • Big Sexy Hair Spray & Play Hairspray
  • Wide tooth comb
  • Teasing brush (Goody, Conair, etc.)
  • 3/4 inch Revlon curling iron
  • Remington hot rollers (20 pc.)

 

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Step 1: Prepare the hair

Weeks before your event: ask your stylist to cut in lots of layers, especially face-framing layers. This will allow your curls to swoop back, softly frame your face and emphasize your features.

The day before your event: Shower and wash your hair with any volumizing shampoo and conditioner. TIP: When washing your hair, condition FIRST to protect the ends and then shampoo AFTER to wash it away. I’ve found this backwards technique keeps my hair softer and healthier. After your shower, let your hair air dry like I do, or use a small amount of blow dry mousse before using a hair dryer. Then, put your hair up on top of your head in a loose bun when you sleep. This draws the hair follicles UP, creating more volume.

Step 2: Prep and protect

On the day of your event, use a wide tooth comb to brush out day-old hair. TIP: Start brushing from the ends FIRST to prevent breakage and split ends. Once the ends are untangled, work your way up. Finally, spray a heat tamer spray  from your ears down to protect the ends of your hair from frying and splitting.

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Step 3: Divide and conquer

After your hair is tangle free and protected from the heat, separate your hair about two inches above your ears and tie off the top section with a clip or hair tie.

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Then, grab your dry shampoo and spray the roots. TIP: When working with day-old hair, or if you hair gets greasy easily, dry shampoo is a life saver to give you more texture and volume, making it look cleaner! Let it sit for a minute and then massage your scalp to work it in. Next, grab your teasing brush and tease at the roots.

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Finally, split your hair one more time down the middle so you now have two even sections to work with.

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Step 4: Curl, curl, curl

Notice that I use a curling iron that has a clamp on it, but instead of using the clamp, I use it like a wand. Clamps on curling irons tend to make kinks in the ends of the hair, and wands are usually smaller at the bottom, creating a strange shaped curl. I decided to go for the best of both worlds and just use this method of ignoring the clamp. When curling the left side of my head, hold the curling iron in your right hand and work with your left hand, like so:

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I usually take pretty small sections, maybe an inch or two in size. Taking too much hair onto the curling iron will prevent the hair from heating evenly, causing your curls to fall flat faster! Also, make sure you always curl AWAY from your face to create the most flattering and voluminous look. TIP: Keep the hair laying flat against the barrel of the curling iron so it comes out looking like a ribbon.

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Switch and repeat on the right side of your head until it’s all curled. Hairspray LIGHTLY.

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Step 5: Divide and repeat

Once the bottom layer is done, let down another section of hair from your clip. Now, only the crown of your hair should be tied up.

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Spray the roots with dry shampoo again, let sit, massage it in with your fingers, and tease once again before curling.

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TIP: Tease ALL layers of your hair for the most volume. Lots of girls only tease the top layer of their hair, but if you want it to stay big all day, start teasing from the very first section. Now, repeat the same curling process, curling away from your face in small sections. Once this layer is all done, spray lightly with a medium hold hairspray, and your base is complete.

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Step 6: Roll It Up

Now that you have a solid base of curls using the curling iron/wand technique (came up with that term myself), plug in some hot rollers. (This is totally optional and something I usually only use for pageants. For an easier everyday look, you can continue the technique using a curling iron if you’d like!)

Since I have very long, thick, layered hair, I NEVER have enough rollers to cover my whole head! Instead of buying a second set of rollers, I resorted to using my trusty curling iron on most of my hair and only using a handful of rollers to finish up. This means more volume on top and around my face (perfect for the stage).

Once your rollers are heated up, take out the top section of your hair and divide it into one-inch sections, starting from the back.

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For this part, I spray dry shampoo at the roots AND I also use a little bit of hairspray at the roots as well.

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Then, tease like crazy!

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Next, take small sections and start putting in the rollers. THIS TAKES PRACTICE. TIP: If you plan on doing your hair with rollers for a special event, PRACTICE before the big day! The last thing you want is to be struggling with them when you’re on a time limit. Like we did with the curling iron, curl your rollers away from your face, too!

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Continue taking small sections, spraying, teasing, and rolling them up until it’s all gone. Feel free to take a few pieces from the sides by your ears as well. Now, spritz with a little bit of hairspray and wait! Be sure to wait until they are cool to touch before taking them out (mine usually takes 20-30 mins…perfect time to start your makeup).

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Side note… If you lose your roller pins/clips all the time like I do, giant hair clips usually work just fine and they are 100x more fashionable…(sarcasm). Believe me, I’ve used clothespins, bobby pins, and even held them all in with my hands for a half hour when I lose my roller pins..

Step 7: Roll On Out

Once your rollers are cooled down, carefully unroll them…DO NOT just pull them out, it’ll ruin your curls! It’ll look a little strange, and the curls from before and the new ones from your rollers will look a little different. Don’t worry, we’ll fix them!

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Take a section from the side of your hair and spray roots with hairspray and tease like crazy until it can stand up on its own.

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Continue this step for all top and side sections until your hair looks a little like this:

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Now, let the hairspray dry and gently smooth out the teasing mess with your comb. The top will be smooth and voluminous.

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Then, touch up your curls with the curling iron so the ones from earlier and the new roller curls blend together and look the same. Do not spray all your hair yet..

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Step 8: Brushing for Backflips

BUT WAIT, you’re not done. Sure, it looks just fine now and you could be done here, but we can do better! Take your wide tooth comb and brush out the ends of your hair from your ears down ONLY. Don’t comb out the top! TIP: Brushing out your curls gives you more volume and prevents your curls from looking too structured and crunchy.

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Once your curls are gently brushed, flip your head over, shake it out, and spray all over. I usually scrunch it up a little too, but that step is optional. Now, keep your head flipped over and tease the back of your head.

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AND NOW, flip it back over, smooth it out to the way you like it, touch up any fallen curls, and SPRAY SPRAY SPRAY. TIP: Make sure you’re using a medium hold hairspray for final touches. Using one that’s too flexible won’t hold your volume and and one that is too heavy will weigh down your curls and make them crunchy.

VOILA! Here is the final product!

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Again, this is a pretty extensive process that I usually only use for the stage. For everyday curls, I’ll use the same process, but without rollers. Now you know!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or contact me using the information on the “About Me” tab.

Fun fact: I LOVE doing hair and makeup for special events. If you’d like to have me do your hair or makeup for homecoming, prom, pageant, or any other occasion, contact me! I’d love to send some examples of my previous work and have the chance to be a part of your special day.

Now get out there and be fabulous.

Love always,

Jessica

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Put Your Big Kid Pants On

“I don’t wanna grow up,” says every young adult ever. Adulting is hard and I’m quickly beginning to realize this as I enter my junior year of college. Money is ALWAYS tight, $5 feels like $100, and I’m ready to accept the fact that I will probably be scraping pennies for the rest of my 20’s…Or maybe not, if I make financial responsibility a priority. After speaking with financial experts, I came up with a handful of goals I hope to accomplish as I enter my 20’s. While being an adult is fun and independence feels great, it’s always good to keep an eye on the future, especially when it comes to financial independence. Here is a culmination of my “adult checklist,” including some serious goals and a few fun goals, along with a little bit of my own advice for others to get their big kid pants on!

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1. Start saving
I know what you’re thinking… “Jess, you’re 20 years old and you decided to start saving NOW?!” Yeah yeah, I should’ve taken this more seriously a long time ago. Going into my third year of college, I am kicking my 16 year-old self for spending money from my first job on things I really didn’t need. I could’ve traded all the McDonald’s frappes for my first month of rent for my college apartment. According to Personal Capital, 40% of millennials don’t have current plans for retirement, and 73% don’t know their net worth. These things might not have a significant impact on your life right now, but later on they become really important!
My advice? Set savings goals. Determine the major purchases you plan to make in the future and calculate how much you’ll need to save for them. You don’t have to stop spending money all together, but setting aside 10-20% of each paycheck will add up quickly. Setting a clear path and being specific will make it easier to see the bigger picture.

2. Pay off student loans

Student loans…dun dun dunnn. Those two words haunt me in my sleep. In 2013, nearly 70% of college students graduated with debt, averaging $30,000 in student loans each. This causes me a lot of stress and I know the majority of my peers worry about the debt they will also carry after they graduate. Often enough, student loan debt prevents young adults from buying homes and expanding wealth. The sooner you can live debt-free, the better.

My advice? Apply for scholarships, work hard during the summer, and save up for college as early as possible..like from the day you were born.

3. Buy a car

This goes along with the whole saving thing. Currently, I drive my late grandfather’s 2004 Chevy Colorado with a topper on the back, sharing it with my two sisters. As a college student, having my own car isn’t absolutely necessary while living near campus with a public transportation system, but I know that I will soon want a vehicle to call my own.

4. Apply for my dream job

Ahh the famous question… “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’ve all been asked this question (most often at family get-togethers and graduation parties) but as I finish up my final two years of college, it’s important for me to try and figure this one out. College is a time to explore different options and find your niche, so don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars when contemplating what your dream job may be. Even before graduating college, I plan to apply for numerous jobs in my field of interest, even a few jobs that I may not even be qualified for. You never know what might happen!

My advice? Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough for it. Stay focused, do what you love, and take risks.

5. Live on my own

I feel as though I’m in the minority, but I couldn’t wait to move back in with my parents after my freshman year of college. In fact, I spent my sophomore year commuting from home because I couldn’t stand to be far from my family. However, I know I’m finally ready to branch out and do my own thing and I am so excited to have signed a lease to live in my first apartment while away at school. Well, I will have roommates, but baby steps are still steps forward. Within the next two to three years, I hope to have a place of my own, but of course, that requires me to be completely financially independent. We’ll just say I’m working on this one.

My advice? It’s okay to live with your parents while you are saving up. It’s better to be financially unstable while living with mom and dad than be financially unstable all alone with monthly bills to pay. Live with roommates as long as possible to split costs until you can venture off and support yourself.

6. Network like crazy

As a young adult, it’s crucial to go out and meet people, socially and professionally. Every person you meet has something to offer…take advantage of it! People say it’s a good idea to get involved when you go to college and that’s because it can connect you to countless other opportunities. Networking is one of my favorite things to do (partially because I’m a Communication Studies major and partially because I was a social butterfly in a past life).

My advice? Do anything and everything to build up your resume, from charity work and volunteering to internships and first jobs. Find something you love to do and you will be connected to people who feel the same. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential employers as well! Be a leader, initiate connections, and ALWAYS present yourself professionally.

7. Adopt a pet

I’ve grown up with dogs my entire life so obviously I need some pet therapy when I can get my own place. I’m also the type of person who freaks out when I’m home alone so having a little companion will be a nice addition to my life. I kept a plant alive for over a year in my college dorm room so I have a lot of faith in my care-taking abilities. However, having a real pet of my own is still a big responsibility, so I’m making this one a goal for my later 20’s…

8. Travel

Quite honestly, I’m a bit of a homebody and majority of the time, I’ll choose to stay in with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a good Netflix series over going out all night. During my young adulthood though, I hope to either study abroad or visit a country and immerse myself in the culture. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life and have only traveled outside of the state a handful of times because traveling can get expensive! This is another goal to save up for as much as possible (so be sure to calculate that into your savings goals!) I want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel while I’m young, but the real question is…where to go?

My advice? Spend money on EXPERIENCES rather than material items. Would you rather spend $500 on clothes or $500 on a round trip to a new country? To each their own, but I know it will be so rewarding to save up for a phenomenal life experience and gain a new perspective.

9. Get healthy

Truth is, the “freshman 15” is a real thing. It’s so easy to swing through McDonald’s every day rather than meal prepping with grilled chicken and broccoli, but the payoff of the latter is so much more worth it. I won’t even lie…I eat chicken nuggets and pizza like they’re my only lifeline, but more recently, I’ve been trying to get in touch with what my body needs to be at its best. This includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. Most people think health is centered solely on diet and exercise but it is SO much more than that. During my young adulthood, I want to make my overall health a priority because I only get one body so I might as well treat it right.

My advice? This doesn’t have to be difficult! It can be as easy as drinking more water or switching to whole grains. Take time for yourself to rejuvenate, find a fun way to exercise (yoga, walking), and seek beneficial outlets for your stress, like painting, listening to music, meditation or prayer. Discover what makes your body feel good and develop consistency.

10. Prioritize happiness

When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time worrying about what other people wanted from me and how I could make others happy first. After high school, I made the decision to put my happiness first and aim for what I wanted to accomplish for myself, even if I was the odd one out. The term “put others before yourself” is one that I admire, but one that I also don’t believe in 100%. There is such a stigma around focusing on yourself, some may call it selfishness, but this is essential on the path of discovering who you are and what you want to be. While generosity and compassion is one thing, it’s another thing to love yourself and take care of your needs and wants as well. In my young adulthood, as I figure out who I am, I will continue to put my mind, body, and soul first, along with my personal and professional goals. I am going to take the time to invest in my own happiness and success. Life is too short to be anything but happy, so LOVE YOURSELF!

My advice? Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to discover who you are and what you want out of life. Rise above, leave the peer pressure back in middle school, never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, and do whatever you need to do to be successful.

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There you have it! Just a handful of my goals as I venture through my 20’s and a little bit of my own advice. I encourage you (the lovely reader) to get your big kid pants on and start making a plan to tackle your future! A little birdy told me that if you write down your goals, they will eventually come true. I’m thinking this adult checklist is a good start! Financial independence is so important and it’s often something we put on the back burner until later in life. Your dreams can become reality simply by taking responsibility of your wallet.

For more information on how you can take charge of your financial independence, check out the wealth management tool provided by the amazing team of financial experts at Personal Capital so you can manage your money and plan for the future! Now go out there and make me proud.

Love always,

Jessica

Meet Jade Strick: National American Miss Wisconsin 2015

Time to get back into blogging mode (as I sip tea from my new “blogging day” mug from my wonderful pageant director). Speaking of, there are TONS of pageant organizations out there, from Miss USA, to Miss America, to National American Miss and beyond. Each program is a little different, but they all offer so many life changing opportunities for the women involved.

Back in December of 2015, I was connected to Miss Jade Strick through a mutual acquaintance. I thought it would be a fun idea to collaborate with her on an article about the impact of pageant involvement and how her experiences have shaped her life thus far. This Q & A was conducted through a previous interview she did for a friend, but her answers are spot on! Jade has been involved in the National American Miss program for a few years now and she is currently a NAM titleholder and director for the Miss Amazing program, empowering girls with disabilities. Meet Jade…

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Q: You’re very involved in the pageant industry, could you please explain any pageants or organizations you’ve participated in? Also any titles you’ve won over your pageant career?

A: I have been involved in the National American Miss pageant system. NAM is the largest pageant system in the United States. It is a more “family oriented” system and their staff refers to it as a “confidence pageant” rather than a beauty pageant. The areas of competition are personal introduction, interview, formal wear, and community service.  This is the only system I have competed in so far but I am very familiar with other systems and hope to compete in the Miss USA organization. I currently hold the title of National American Miss Wisconsin 2015 and placed 4th runner up at the national pageant.

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Q: There are many controversies over whether minors should be allowed to participate in pageants. What is your opinion on this?

A: There’s a huge difference between organizations like National American Miss and what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras. National American Miss doesn’t allow younger contestants to wear makeup and it isn’t judged on outer appearance whatsoever. I completely advocate for younger girls participating in pageants like this if it is something they want to try! Beauty pageants, on the other hand, I do not agree with. I would never allow my daughter to participate in anything like what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras.

Q: Are there any ways participating in pageants has positively influenced your life? Anything negative?

A: Pageants have been extremely influential in my life. I first competed in National American Miss when I was 16 years old and it felt like I found my home, my “thing,” if you will. I was never good at sports and I tried and quit countless other activities. When I competed in NAM, I immediately fell in love. I placed in the Top 10 in my first pageant and knew I found my “thing.” When I came back to school in the fall, I felt like a different person. I was always somewhat introverted, not that it’s a bad thing, but the pageant definitely helped bring me out of my shell. I was more eager to speak in front of the class and talk to new people. It also lead me to getting much more involved in volunteer work. I saw the amazing things my fellow competitors were doing and that gave me the confidence to believe that I could make a difference too. I started with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Miss Amazing program a few months later. I would have never had the confidence in myself to be able to direct and lead a statewide organization like Miss Amazing if it weren’t for my experience with National American Miss.

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I think the only negative experience I had with NAM was the final year I competed in the teen division; I was very competitive and put way too much pressure on myself to win. I really didn’t enjoy myself that weekend and ended up messing up my personal introduction and bawling my eyes out when I didn’t win. This really wasn’t a negative experience, it was a lesson.  The lessons I learned that weekend contributed to my amazing week competing at nationals this past year. Of course I would have loved to win, but I did my best, didn’t put pressure on myself, and had fun. It is for that reason that I placed in the Top 5!

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Q: You are very involved in the Miss Amazing program. Could you explain what it is, your role, and how it has influenced the participants’ lives?

A: Miss Amazing is a non-profit organization that gives girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to gain confidence and self esteem in a supportive environment. The founder of Miss Amazing was a National American Miss queen in Nebraska, who designed the pageant to be similar to NAM. I am Wisconsin’s state director, so I am in charge of our program for the whole state. I plan the annual state pageants, which consist of finding a venue, fundraising, promoting the program to get participants and volunteers, and planning all the details that go into the event. I also work with the families of the six queens to get them to the National Miss Amazing pageant and help them get into the community for appearances and volunteer work. Recently, I took on a new role in the planning committee for the national event as well.

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Miss Amazing has hugely influenced participants across the United States. I’ve witnessed it having the same impact on the girls and women who participate as National American Miss did on me.  It is really empowering for the participants to have their time in the spotlight– their time to feel beautiful. I could tell you so many stories. One of my favorite stories is about a girl named Sarah. When I first met Sarah, she was sitting backstage waiting to practice for the talent showcase. My mom pulled me aside from my busy errands and asked me to talk to a really nervous participant. I dropped everything and sat down next to this terrified young lady. I tried to get Sarah to talk to me, but she could barely even look at me. Finally, her mom came back and mentioned that I looked like a character from her favorite TV show, Victorious. That sparked her interest and we finally got some smiles, laughs, and a few words out of her. I asked her if she was ready to go practice, but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, we got her to just stand on the stage. She didn’t practice her talent, she wouldn’t even wave to the small crowd, she just stepped on stage. Her talent was decorating cupcakes and when it came to the final show, I went on the stage with her and helped her do her talent. The next day, I saw her confidence slowly growing and the real Sarah was coming out. Sarah was quirky, funny, and had a contagious smile. The final show came around and Sarah walked across the stage in her red ball gown, flashing that contagious smile and waving to the crowd. My heart was beaming with pride, as she ended up winning her age division and she became the Wisconsin Miss Amazing Teen. I saw the transformation as Sarah grew into a confident young lady and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Q: What is your favorite Miss Amazing memory?

A: If you haven’t noticed, when it comes to Miss Amazing, I could write novels for you.  There are so many memories and stories. One thing that stands out for me was at the end of the second pageant I held. The first one was very small and had only 3 participants and a handful of volunteers. The second one had almost 20 contestants and around 50 volunteers. The show was over and I lead all the girls onstage for a final bow and photos. As I turned, the crowd was on their feet and one of the participants brought me a bouquet of flowers. I immediately started crying because I was so exhausted, but all that hard work paid off in that one moment. That feeling is something I will never forget.

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Q: Has participating in pageants changed your outlook on the world and/or life? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure that they’ve changed my outlook, but they have empowered me to feel that I can make an impact on the world.  They’ve empowered me to be a leader. I am a more confident person because of my experiences with pageants and I am forever grateful for everything I’ve learned.

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Jessica’s reflections…

Thank you for sharing your stories, Jade! Although we do not compete in the same organizations, I definitely connect with many of the experiences Jade has had through her involvement as well. I can honestly say that the Miss America Organization has also allowed me to gain public speaking skills, interviewing skills, scholarship dollars, stage presence, confidence in myself and my abilities, and connections within the community through service opportunities. It is because of these skills learned through preparing for and participating in pageants that I feel empowered to make a change. I encourage all young women to try at least one pageant, whether it be with Miss America, National American Miss, Miss USA, etc. It’s time to end the stigma around pageantry.

Love always,
Jessica

Miss Wisconsin 2016: My Experience

Waking up in my own bed was a strange feeling on Monday. For most people, it’s comforting to get home from a week spent in a hotel and finally sleep in your own bed. Although I am thankful I didn’t have to wake up at 6:30 a.m to head to rehearsals again, I would be back in Oshkosh in a heartbeat if I had the chance to spend one more day with 24 outstanding women for the best experience of my life a.k.a.. Miss Wisconsin week 2016.

Let’s rewind a little bit.

Here’s A Little Background Check

My friends and family know that I started this crazy journey about 2 and a half years ago during my senior year of high school. I heard about a local pageant affiliated with the Miss America Organization being held in my hometown and decided to give it a shot just for fun. Sure enough, I had a phenomenal experience, caught the “pageant bug,” and took on 5 more local pageants after that until I captured the local title of Miss Northern Lights 2016 in mid-January of this year. Since then, I’ve been spending the majority of my time (in between a full-time college schedule and part-time job) developing my platform, making appearances in the community to speak and volunteer, and also prepare for the next step… competing for the state title of Miss Wisconsin.

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Like me, 24 other women from across the state of Wisconsin had also captured local titles and would be joining me to compete at the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant in June. For each and every one of us, our goal was to become Miss Wisconsin 2016 and represent this great state at the Miss America Scholarship Pageant (Yes, THEEEE Miss America. No, not Miss USA or Miss Universe, those are both completely different organizations. We’ll discuss that another time). However, only ONE of the twenty five of us could be Miss Wisconsin. We each prepared in our own ways, working with our directors, local board members and volunteers to improve for each distinct area of the competition: Interview, Onstage Question, Lifestyle & Fitness in Swimwear, Talent, and Evening Gown.

The preparation process became one of the greatest growing experiences for me, as I learned about my personal strengths and weaknesses. As humans, we often do not put ourselves in situations that force us to look at both sides. We tend to avoid areas of our lives where we are weak and continue in areas where we feel comfortable and strong. This opportunity forced me to recognize my weaknesses and address them directly, and that is something I don’t think I can find anywhere else. Preparing for each area of competition was one thing, but the lessons I learned about perseverance, motivation, and self-awareness through that preparation process are skills I’ll carry with me forever.

Time was running down, finishing touches and final mock interviews were held and soon enough, it was time to pack up for Miss Wisconsin week. I took every lesson learned, every word of constructive criticism, and every ounce of confidence in me and I hit the road for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Behind the Crown

So many people think that being a titleholder is such a glamorous lifestyle. At times, it can be. The crown and sash, dresses, makeup, photo sessions, and public appearances can make you feel like a celebrity sometimes. However, that is only a small fraction of what a titleholder does. Me and 24 of my sister queens were NOT competing for prizes, photo shoots, modeling contracts, or fame. We were each competing for the JOB of Miss Wisconsin.

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Miss Wisconsin is NOT a beauty queen. In fact, as soon as she is crowned, she serves as an official spokesperson for her personal platform as well as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and CITGO. She spends an entire year traveling across the state of Wisconsin and beyond to speak about important social issues. She embodies the four points of the crown: Service, Style, Scholarship, and Success. She does not win a fancy apartment or loads of spending money, but instead receives a $10,000 scholarship to go directly toward her college education. She is a fund raiser, advocate, spokesperson, and role model for the state of Wisconsin and the Miss America Organization. Therefore, Miss Wisconsin week is essentially a very extensive job application.

Sorry I got a little excited…

Miss Wisconsin Week

As soon as all 25 contestants arrived in Oshkosh on Sunday, we checked in at the auditorium and the hotel where we would all be staying together for the week.

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Saying goodbye to mom and dad, we went right into orientation and rehearsals on Sunday evening. I was lucky enough to have Miss Fond du Lac, Katrina Mazier, as my roomie for the week. Aside from the competition itself, the time spent with all the girls in our hotel rooms is where my fondest memories of the week will be held. Taking off the gowns, washing off the makeup, and just kicking back and having fun with some of the most incredibly kind and intelligent women I’ve ever met was the best part of the experience.

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The really cool thing about the Miss America Organization is that every girl involved comes with a unique story. Talking to each contestant during the week, I learned what fuels their fire for service and advocacy. Whether she is an advocate for autism awareness or promoting literacy or domestic violence prevention, each woman I met was aiming to make a difference in the lives of others and stand up for something she believes in. When you put 25 of the smartest, most driven, kindhearted, and motivated women in the state of Wisconsin on one stage, it’s a pretty amazing experience. As a matter of fact, everyone is genuinely rooting for each other to be successful, something you’ll never see on Toddler’s & Tiaras, is it?

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MONDAY

Monday was made up of rehearsals, rehearsals, and more rehearsals. We were usually on the go from 8:00 a.m to as late as 11:30 p.m some days. In between morning and afternoon rehearsals on Monday, we had the pleasure of joining the Winnebagoland Shrine Club and some incredible veterans from central Wisconsin for lunch and good conversation. After that, it was back to rehearsals. If you can imagine spending six hours a day dancing and walking in heels, you can get an idea of how nice Band Aids and a hot bathtub felt at the end of the day.

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After rehearsals concluded on Monday afternoon, it was back to the hotel to get ready for Merchant’s Dinner, where we were able to get dressed up to meet our sponsors and judges for a night of dinner, conversation, and entertainment. This was a very cool experience as well, seeing the faces behind the Miss Wisconsin program who make it all possible with their generous donations. Having the opportunity to speak with the judges on a personal and intimate level made the competition seem a lot more comfortable as well.

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TUESDAY

On Tuesday, half of the contestants were preparing for their private interviews. Most people don’t know that this is a huge part (25%) of how a winner is chosen. Before the actual show begins, we all have a 10 minute private interview with the judges, where they can ask us virtually anything. Usually, we converse about our platforms, viewpoints, goals, and accomplishments, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for a wide range of questions. Politics, current events, and social issues are also hot topics discussed in private interview.

I was placed in the second group of contestants, so I went to a two-hour talent rehearsal until my interview on Wednesday morning. After group one was finished with their interviews and group two completed talent rehearsals, we joined together for a picnic with the Oshkosh Kiwanis Club, where we each spoke about our platforms and talents while getting to know community members. After that little break, we were back at rehearsals once again until dinner and relaxation time at the hotel that evening.

WEDNESDAY

DEEP BREATHS… On Wednesday morning, I had my private interview. I was up early to look my best, say a little prayer, and call my director for a quick pep talk. Needless to say, I ruined my makeup with a fountain of nervous tears while I was on the phone (mixed with a little bit of overtiredness). Knowing that all my hard work and hours upon hours of preparation would lead up to this moment was a very scary and emotional realization. But I was ready. I was prepared to show the judges what I had accomplished and all the things I have to offer. I was prepared to show them my passion and drive. You never know exactly what the judges are looking for, so the best idea is to remain true to yourself and be confident in who you are. The best way to win is to win as YOU. I was called downstairs to the holding room until the judges were ready for me. Soon enough, I was introduced to the judges and my 10 minutes to make a lasting impression started right there.

Walking out of my interview, I couldn’t help but burst into tears of relief, gratitude, and pride. I felt that I was able to show the judges who I truly was and that’s the most I could’ve asked for walking out of that room. Whether I ended up being Miss Wisconsin or not, the judges saw ME.

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After interviews were complete, it was back to rehearsals for the afternoon to prepare for the first night of preliminary competitions. I competed in Swimsuit and Onstage Question on that night, which account for 15% and 5% of the total scoring.

Let me tell you, walking on stage in a swimsuit and heels takes a lot of strategy. You have to mix the perfect amount of sexy, classy, and confident. A lot of people disagree with the swimsuit portion of the competition, but in reality, the Miss America Organization began as a bathing suit contest way back in 1921. It’s a part of the program’s history and it continues today as a testament to a woman’s ability to appreciate and take care of her body, regardless of size or shape. Since the job of Miss Wisconsin may include uncomfortable or awkward situations at times, it’s important to remain confident. That’s what this area of competition is truly testing. They always say if you can walk on a stage in just a swimsuit, you can pretty much do anything.

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In regards to Onstage Question, I was asked whether or not I believe Hillary Clinton is a role model for my platform GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve. Regardless of political affiliation, I answered YES, Hillary is in a position of leadership and it’s important for young girls to understand that possibility in themselves. My platform is all about encouraging young girls to make a difference in their communities through service and leadership. We need more female leaders, starting locally in our communities, and if we teach our girls to be confident and proud of their abilities, they can stand up for what they believe in, make a difference in the lives of others, and achieve anything. *mic drop*

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After each night of prelims, there is a preliminary swimsuit winner and talent winner named. My goal was to win a swimsuit prelim, but it wasn’t in the cards for me this year and that’s perfectly okay because I am so happy with how I performed the first night. In fact, our fabulous Miss Madison-Capital City, Sarah, won the preliminary swimsuit award after getting burnt in the leg with a hot garment steamer backstage 10 minutes before the show. Even with her skin peeling off and blistering, she still rocked the stage and looked AMAZING and walked away with a $250 scholarship. You go girl!! *fist bump* Just goes to show you never know what happens behind the scenes. What you see on stage is just a small representation of what actually goes on behind that smile and sassy strut.

THURSDAY

Thursday morning, we woke up for a short rehearsal and then we were free to meet our families for lunch and a backstage tour. After a long week filled with early mornings, late nights, stress, and rehearsals, it was nice to take a break to see all the people who came to support me.

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After lunch, it was back to rehearsals one more time before the second night of preliminaries, where I competed in Talent and Evening Gown. Now, I always say that my talent is my weak point since I have never been professionally trained in any kind of dance. In fact, I only started dancing as a sophomore in high school while many of my sister queens have been dancing since age 3. I knew it was going to be tough, so I put some long hours into that 90 second routine and I am incredibly thankful for all those who took the time to help me create and polish it for the stage. (Shouts to Hayley, Grant, Megan, and Katie). After a very rough talent rehearsal earlier in the week, I was nervous for my talent performance that night. Since talent actually makes up the majority (35%) of a contestant’s total score, I knew I had to nail it in order to bump up into the Top 10 on Finals night. I knew that I had to connect with the audience and captivate the judges by telling a story through movement. I took a deep breath, walked out onto the stage, got into my starting position, and just closed my eyes for a moment and took it all in. I thought to myself,

I was chosen by a local panel of judges who believed in my mission, I practiced and prepared to the best of my ability, I took constructive criticism, and I am ready to perform this talent on the Miss Wisconsin stage. I am good enough, I can do this.

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I hit my turns and finished my final pose strong and looked up in tears as I walked off the stage. I could not have been happier with my dance that night. I may not have had the best routine out of all the talents, but I knew how far I had come and how hard I worked to get there. That was absolutely good enough for me.

After both nights of prelims, we were all able to go into the audience to visit with our families. I cried again (mostly because I was exhausted and relieved by my performance). I left it all on the stage both of those nights and was more confident in myself than ever before.

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FRIDAY

Rise and shine and RELAX! Friday was a breath of fresh air, as we were all headed to a golf outing to benefit Miss Wisconsin scholarships. We were given a lot of freedom, which I could describe as a pilot episode of “Miss Wisconsin Contestants Gone Wild” if you can imagine all of us behind the wheel of golf carts. It felt so nice to get outside, relax, and spend time with one another off the stage.

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Friday was an interesting day because, now that preliminary competitions were over, everyone was (im)patiently waiting to find out the following night who would have the honor of being chosen as a Top 10 semifinalist and continue on in the competition. Friday was a mix of relief and feeling on edge, and those two emotions together can be really exhausting.

After the golf outing, the majority of us fell asleep on the 10 minute ride back to the hotel before having some free time to meet with our directors. As soon as I met with Katie for dinner, I immediately started crying. In fact, I cried almost every day that week. It’s so strange because I always felt so grateful and blessed to be where I was, competing for Miss Wisconsin, but it was also a very stressful week because of the fact that we were all working so hard for that position. With the combination of very little sleep, stress, and an irregular eating schedule, my body was just exhausted to tears. After a good cry every now and then, I put on my big girl pants and focused myself once again. I was taking on the most amazing opportunity of my life and I wanted to soak in every moment.

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Following my vent session, we were all ready to get dressed up again for the Teen pageant that evening. Seeing those young girls perform and watching the crowning of the new Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen made me so excited for the following evening when we would find out who our own Miss Wisconsin would be. Come 11:30pm, we were back at the hotel for bed time, but I could not sleep. The next day would be the final day of an amazing, exhausting, liberating, humbling week competing for the job of my dreams. I didn’t want it to end.

SATURDAY

Today was the day.

My 24 fellow contestants and I were off to the Oshkosh Farmer’s Market for a morning engaging with community members, signing autographs, and taking photos. This is easily one of my favorite parts of being a titleholder because there is no better feeling than seeing a little girl’s eyes light up at the sight of your crown. It’s moments like these that make me realize why I do this. Even though I was running on a few hours of sleep and plenty of physical and emotional stress, I realized that there are people who look up to me and my mission. There will always be a little girl in the corner of my eye admiring my presence, and for that, I am so blessed to serve as a role model in this position.

After the Farmer’s Market, we were off to Festival Foods to have lunch and help bag groceries while promoting the final night of the pageant that evening. By this day, I think the majority of us were all zombies from the lack of sleep and long days, but it was all SO worth it.

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Following our short stop at Festival, we were able to go back to the hotel to rest, recover, and prep for the final night of competition. I took this time to reflect on how incredible this journey had been. Just two and a half years ago, I entered my first pageant not knowing what the Miss America Organization was all about. Now that I had spent the week with numerous directors, volunteers, contestants, supporters, and sponsors, I knew exactly what my involvement meant.

Regardless of the results of the competition, Miss Wisconsin week is made up of just a few of the 365 days that I have the privilege of being Miss Northern Lights. This competition is not an accurate representation of what it truly means to be a titleholder. I was standing there on that stage because I pushed myself to be the best version of Jess. I chose to surround myself with people who were going to lift me up and believe in my abilities. I had a platform that I wished to spread throughout my community and the state of Wisconsin, and with a crown or not, I knew that my mission would still continue after the week’s events concluded.

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Fast forward to the announcement of the Top 10 semifinalists that evening… I stood there  on stage, praying that my performances throughout the week would carry me into the Top 10, a goal I set for myself going into my preparations for Miss Wisconsin. I hoped the judges saw a potential Miss Wisconsin in me, believing in my mission and my abilities to carry the organization further with a state title. As the names continued getting called, I was more and more nervous. I wanted to be able to perform one more time that night for my friends and family. Before the final name was called, I looked over and felt so much pride for my sister queens who were moving forward in the Top 10. The Miss America Organization is beautiful and unique because everyone is genuinely cheering for one another and there is always so much love, positivity, and encouragement between contestants. I was especially excited for my Miss Wis roomie, Katrina, for making Top 10. I wanted to run up and hug her so badly as soon as she looked back at me with such excitement and relief when her name was called as a semifinalist (P.S.. if you’re reading this, Miss Fondy, I love you tons and I am so proud of all you’ve accomplished and overcome).

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After the final name was called and the words “Miss Northern Lights” were left unspoken, I did feel upset. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little disappointed. However, I had to remember that this was not the end of the world. I was still receiving a scholarship just for being there, my family and friends were still there cheering me on, and there were 10 outstanding women who needed my support as they advanced in the competition. I could not have been happier with my performances in all areas of competition that week and I left it all on the stage. I will never forget going back to the dressing room to get into my comfy clothes with the rest of the non-finalists and crowding around the backstage monitor, cheering on our sister queens. Katrina, Miss Fond du Lac, Top 10 semifinalist, and my lovely Miss Wis roomie, came out from her dressing room, ready to perform her talent and I gave her a huge hug and we cried together. This was one of the best moments. I was so incredibly proud of her for being only 18 years old, surviving a very hard time in her life, spreading her message of suicide prevention and awareness, and I was so happy the judges saw the beauty that I also saw in her.

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Fast forward to later that night… a new Miss Wisconsin was crowned (Courtney Pelot, you are fabulous and I am so excited for you!!!!), we all embraced backstage, and I felt so blessed and humbled to have been a part of this experience. Two and a half years of working toward a dream of walking on the Miss Wisconsin stage and I just did it. I reached a goal this past week. I didn’t make Top 10, I am not Miss Wisconsin, and some people might look at those results and give up after not reaching a specific goal like that. However, I am proud of myself and how far I’ve come since the very beginning and I will keep spreading my mission as Miss Northern Lights because that is God’s plan for me right now. This week, I gained scholarship dollars, life experiences, confidence, a greater sense of self, and 24 amazing sisters. Priceless.

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Thank You

During my two and a half years of involvement and preparation, there are so many people I’d like to acknowledge for their efforts toward my journey.

First and foremost, thank you to my family and friends for allowing me to do this. Thank you for watching me go off on my own and always understanding when I had to cancel plans for Miss Wisconsin prep or last minute Miss Northern Lights appearances. Thank you for letting me run wild toward my dreams. I love you all, you know who you are.

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Mitch, thank you for jumping head-first into this pageant boyfriend role. When I met you, I was preparing to compete for Miss Northern Lights and you have never ceased to believe in me and my abilities from that point. Thank you for understanding when I would have to finish paperwork or read up on news articles while you sat patiently next to me, or when I would have to cancel date nights for mock interviews, appearances, and talent rehearsals. Thank you for always treating me like a queen, with or without a crown on my head.

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On the flip side, thank you to those who didn’t think I could do it. For those who doubted me or didn’t think what I was doing was worth it. Thank you for fueling my fire.

Katie, I am so blessed to call you my director. From day one, you put so much time and effort into my readiness for the job of Miss Wisconsin and I am eternally grateful for your advice, hugs, constructive criticism, and words of motivation and empowerment. I look up to you in so many ways and I will be lucky to be half the woman you are when my time as a contestant is over. I am so honored to be your very first Miss Northern Lights. Thank you for teaching me to be confident in my accomplishments and for never giving up on me.

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Megan and Brenda, thank you for all your help along the way. Megan, thank you for traveling hours to help me choreograph and perfect my talent piece. Your advice allowed me to improve as a dancer, communicator, and titleholder. Thank you for sacrificing your time and energy toward my journey! Brenda, thank you for reaching out and getting me involved in this organization during my senior year of high school. Since then, I have loved getting to know you and growing in my faith, my platform, and as a young woman. Thank you for building me up from the very beginning and helping me understand my true worth as a woman of the Lord.

To the host moms who spent the entire week with all the contestants both backstage and in the hotel, thank you for taking care of all of us by donating your time, hugs, helpful hands and kind words. Having you all around made the environment so relaxed, and without you, we all would’ve been starving, dehydrated, stressed, and left with unzipped gowns.

To Jeremy and the rest of the security team, thank you for keeping our best interest in mind and for keeping us all safe and in order. No creepers got to us this week, thanks to you and the crew. You rock.

To the Miss Wisconsin Board of Directors and stage crew, thank you for offering this opportunity to the women of Wisconsin. I appreciate, more than anything, your time and commitment to this organization to make this program a success. I look forward to working with all of you in the future!

To my sponsors: Nona Lione for my alterations, Dave and Trish at Fast Signs for my autograph cards, Big O’s of Portage, Sean Malone, Gary O’Hearn of the Optimist Club, Knights of Columbus, and Amy Sullivan, THANK YOU for your generous donations on the road to Miss Wisconsin. I was able to purchase state wardrobe, pay for gas to get to appearances, and gather everything I need for a successful week at Miss Wisconsin and beyond as Miss Northern Lights. Money is hard to come by these days and I appreciate that you were able to donate to my efforts. THANK YOU!

Finally, to my sister queens, thank you for being YOU. Each of you is unique, passionate, driven, smart, and deserving of this opportunity to serve and represent your communities. It was a pleasure and honor to be surrounded by each of you this past week. Nobody can understand the value of these relationships until they take the step to get involved and I am so happy you all chose to enter your local pageants, because if you didn’t choose to get involved, you wouldn’t have been able to change at least one person’s life with your stories. I am so blessed to call all of you my sisters and I can’t wait to see you all again and continue to watch you change the world with your efforts and missions. I love every single one of you.

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Get Involved

I can honestly say that this organization has changed my life for the better. Like I’ve said before and will continue to say for the rest of my life, there are so many programs to get involved in, but none of them are like the Miss America Organization. Service opportunities, scholarships, sisterhood, and personal growth are all things that I was looking for as a young girl. I found all of that through this program and I encourage every woman between the ages of 17 and 24 to reach out to me personally or visit one of the websites below. Do it, just do one local pageant like I chose to do almost three years ago. I guarantee you won’t regret it because you have nothing to lose, only so much to gain.

To compete to become a local titleholder within the state of Wisconsin:

facebook.com/MissWisconsin

http://www.misswisconsin.com

If you live, work, or go to school in a different state in the U.S:

facebook.com/MissAmerica

http://www.missamerica.org

The state pageant lasts one week, my reign as Miss Northern Lights 2016 lasts one year, but the skills gained through this experience and my involvement in this organization lasts a lifetime. For that, I am forever grateful and so proud to be serving as your very first Miss Northern Lights.

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Love always,

Jessica

Miss Northern Lights 2016

Thank You, Mom and Dad

Long time, no see, am I right?! In the midst of final exams, the college transfer process, and preparations for Miss Wisconsin in less than one month, my free time has been nearly nonexistent. However, I always preach that it’s crucial to find time for yourself, which is why I’m taking a few moments to do what I enjoy…relaxing, reflecting, and writing! During these busy times and transition periods, I often lose sight of the road that got me here…or the people who drove me, for that matter.

As I enter my twenties, I am now (legally) an adult, even if I don’t want to accept that sometimes. I can’t go back in time to a point of no responsibilities and I can’t jump forward to the day when I finally have my life together, but I am thankful for the guidance I continue to receive to make this journey through young adulthood manageable.

To my parents, it’s so cliché to say “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” but in complete honesty, I would not be here today without the both of you (seriously, science doesn’t work that way). It would take me up until the end of my days to thank you for every little thing you’ve done for me over the past 20 years, so I’m attempting to compile as much as possible in this letter to you.

Mom, thank you for guiding me through the rough middle school years as I discovered what kind of woman I wished to become.

Dad, thank you for instilling in me at a young age that my education is one of the only things that nobody can ever take away from me.

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Mom, thank you for answering my late-night phone calls during my freshman year of college when I felt anxious, overwhelmed, or lost. Hearing your voice is all I needed.

Dad, thank you for being a shining example of what it means to have a servant’s heart. Your duties as an educator, father, brother, son, coach, and mentor taught me that selflessness is a virtuous quality to possess.

Mom, thank you for chaperoning field trips, making endless bologna and cheese sack lunches, taking me to gymnastics and cheerleading practices, and driving hours to pageants. Your unconditional support of everything I do means the world.

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Dad, thank you for teaching me how to be an adult when my first W-2 form came in the mail. I’m nowhere near financial independence, but I’m a few steps closer thanks to my knowledge of a check register and overdraft charges…

Mom, thank you for getting to know all of my friends and making sure I’m choosing them wisely. You’ve taught me to surround myself with responsible, respectable people who lift me up as much as you do.

Dad, thank you for accepting each of my boyfriends throughout the years, even though I’m sure you didn’t really like all of them. Thank you for proving that chivalry is not dead and that a lady should always be respected. Because of you, I know that I should never settle for anything less than what I am worth.

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Mom, thank you for being a warrior. With five children, you’ve never given up on any of us and you’ve proven that motherhood is one of the toughest, but most rewarding gifts you can ever give to a child. I look forward to the day when I can give the same to my own kids.

Dad, thank you for exposing your relationship with Christ; for believing that a little faith and humility can carry you through anything.

Mom, thank you for being strict with my curfew, because I’m sure it saved me from traveling down the wrong path in high school. On the flip side, thank you for loosening the leash sometimes so I could see firsthand why I should’ve been home at eleven…

Dad, thank you for teaching me to fight for what I believe in. In a world of many injustices, you’ve taught me that it’s okay to stray from the pack in order to stand up for what is right. You exemplify what makes a great leader: hard work, compassion, and determination.

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Mom, thank you for sharing your warm heart with the world; for teaching me to accept every human for who they are and that generosity and kindness speak louder than words.

To the both of you, thank you for never handing me anything. Thank you for teaching me the value of a dollar and that I need to work for everything I want in life.

Thank you both for encouraging me to set high goals and providing me with a supportive environment to achieve them. As I enter adulthood and begin to make decisions that will impact my future, I know that I will always have both of you right behind me. I understand that I must learn from experience and fail a few times, but the lessons you’ve taught me from the very beginning have allowed me to grow into the woman I am today, the woman I am still becoming.

Some day, I’ll be lucky to be half the people you are. I owe you one.

Love,

Jessica

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