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)

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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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I Found My Faith During College

College /ˈkälij/ (noun): a place where young adults go to seek higher education, spend life savings on tuition and cheap alcohol, gain weight, procrastinate, cry, and question their morals

Okay, okay… college is so much more than that.

In reality, starting college is the perfect time to try new things, meet new people, grow up a little, create your future, and ultimately re-invent yourself. On this journey, every college student will encounter a new situation that will test their strength and their morals. With mom and dad all the way back home, unable to intervene on your decisions, there are times when the little devil and angel will be arguing with your conscience…

Should I start this final paper that’s due tomorrow morning or go party with my friends?

Angel: “You’re in college for one reason… to further your education and get a degree. Stay in and work on your paper, your GPA and successful future self will thank you later!”

Devil: “Paper shhmaper. You know you’d have more fun with your friends than sitting on your computer all night. You’ll miss out on all the fun!”

The struggle is real! There is an incredible amount of pressure placed upon millions of college students…pressure from our parents, professors, the job market, and American society. It’s no wonder we are all hungry for a little bit of freedom and stress relief! With the freedom of college comes the chance to make decisions and grow and learn from those choices on your own. There are times of stress, temptation, and questions about the future. During these trying times, I found my faith.

Let’s sit down for story time…

Your homegirl grew up as the oldest of five children to two of the best parents in the world, who also grew up in crazy-huge fams (mom the youngest of six children and dad in the middle of eight). I guess you could say big families are kind of our thing. Every family has a different way of doing things; there are different values, rules, morals, lessons, religions, economic and social backgrounds. Growing up, I can remember a few lessons my parents taught me over the years, like “treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated” or “use your manners” or “don’t do drugs” or “don’t swim out too far without your floaties.” I remember always having an early curfew, always having to ask permission to go ANYWHERE (actually…this never changed), and I remember going to church and sitting through hours of Sunday school, which I thought was a big waste of time at the age of eight.

Throughout high school, I continued to attend religious education classes held through my church until I was confirmed at age 17. As I grew older, I learned a lot about religion and faith. However, I never fully understood what it meant to be a true woman of faith.

Why did I endure all those years of religion classes? When will these lessons truly apply to my own life? Can God really hear me?

These questions were answered as soon as I stepped foot into my freshman year dorm room.

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During my preparations for my first year of college, I never felt more nervous and unprepared. For the previous eighteen years of my life, my parents and peers were my main sources of guidance in all areas of my life. From tough decisions to curfews, I always turned to my family or my friends for answers. However, when I waved goodbye to my parents form my dorm room window, I was on my own. It was time to make my own decisions and somehow find a way to get all the answers.

Sure, mom and dad were just a phone call away, but college is a time to learn independence. I was adamant about this. As the oldest sibling in my family, I wanted to prove that I could be a leader and that I could make it on my own. This is when I realized that the little lessons from my earlier years and the lessons I learned about my faith would offer me the greatest guidance.

I openly admit that my freshman year of college was incredibly stressful for many reasons. I understand that thousands of college freshmen experience similar feelings of stress and anxiety, but for some reason, I still felt so alone. Luckily, I had an amazing roommate (hey Leah) and some incredible friends that I am so blessed to have in my life to this day. These people gave me the little pieces of strength that I needed to get through the rough days and enhance the good days. I kept asking myself where in the world I would be able to find the strength I needed to continue to endure this changing time in my life.

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One day, I reached a breaking point. I was homesick, severely anxious, in a tough long distance relationship, busy with a full-time college schedule, tempted by outside sources, and completely undecided on a path for the future with so many pressures to choose that path immediately. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate, and I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.

By the grace of God, I found this quote:

“When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during a test.”

This quote struck me and continues to stay with me to this day. At this moment, I turned to my faith. I finally began to ask God for guidance. I asked Him to help me to know what to do with my life. I asked Him to calm my nerves and give me reassurance. I asked Him to give me the strength to endure these obstacles as I grow to be a young adult. At this point, I began to understand what years of religious education prepared me for. Even though I felt alone at times, I never was and never will be. My upbringing prepared me for the hard times; the stress, the temptation, the moral tests of adulthood.

The interesting thing about faith is that it works in mysterious ways. Strengthening my relationship with God allowed me to stay motivated to make changes in my life. I tried to eat healthier, appreciate the easy days, stay hopeful through the tough days, pray daily, and stay open-minded about where my young adult life would lead me. I learned that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself to be independent. The fact of the matter is that my parents and friends will always be there for me and it’s okay to call them every once in a while (they really start to miss you too). I learned that God answers the call as well, but sometimes He doesn’t answer right away. The teacher is always quiet during a test…

Today, as I prepare to begin my junior year of college in the fall, I look back on where I started. Many of my questions have been answered and God did answer my call after a few tries. After my freshman year of college, I made the decision to transfer schools, take the time I needed to choose a path for my future, get healthy (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically), get involved in my faith community, serve others through volunteer opportunities, and continue to strengthen my relationship with God. I became a woman of faith.

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Adulting isn’t easy and we all handle it differently. There will be temptation, stress, anxiety, tests, and questions. You may think that the answers lie ahead, but sometimes, you can find the answers in your heart and up above.

To anyone struggling with understanding their faith or dealing with a trying time:

Patience is key. As humans living in the 21st century, we want immediate answers. However, good things come to those who wait. God is working on you.

Take a deep breath. We often underestimate the power of meditation. Deep breathing works miracles and it allows us to gather our thoughts and be more productive. Take time to relax.

Reach out when you need help. You are NEVER alone. The Lord walks with you wherever you go. Family, friends, religious leaders, and community members are always there for you. Use this to your advantage and thank them.

Take time for yourself. This goes along with that deep breath. During a hard time, we lose sight of ourselves and what our goals are. It’s important to take a moment to remember what you enjoy, reflect on the things you love, and appreciate the positives.

Listen to your heart. Especially during college, there will be times of temptation and pressure, not only from peers but from the rest of the world. Remember what drives you and recognize the steps to get there.

God is always listening. This one speaks for itself. He listens, He answers, He saves.

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“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” -Walt Disney

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I’m having a hard time getting these goosebumps away, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.

It has been a very eventful week and I can’t even begin to explain the emotions that have been running through me within the past six days. A mix between shock, gratitude, joy, and overwhelming excitement would sum up my feelings fairly accurately, but unfortunately there isn’t a word for all of those combined.

Let’s back up a little bit. What’s going on?

Alright, I’ll start from the very beginning of this crazy journey..

Around this time about two years ago, I heard about a local scholarship pageant happening in my hometown. I’ve seen a little bit about pageantry before as I grew up watching the annual Miss America pageant (and a few glamorous episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras), and I always wondered what it would take to be one of those strong women standing on that stage.

Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to get involved in a program that would allow me to speak about issues I’m passionate about, earn scholarship dollars, engage in community service, represent my area, and ultimately make a change in my life and the lives of others. What do I have to lose?

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As a senior in high school, I was mainly focused on the scholarship aspect in order to pay for my quickly-approaching college expenses, but I would soon find out that this organization offered so much more than just scholarships. I decided to participate in the pageant with absolutely no experience, no platform, no clue what to wear, how to walk, or what a private interview consisted of. Thankfully, I was able to reach out to some friends and classmates who were involved in pageants and I went into the event feeling excited and prepared.

The first pageant was a learning experience, as are all of the pageants I’ve done since then. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I walked through the doors, I was greeted by a few of the other contestants who continue to remain great friends of mine to this day. I was able to get to know the girls, hear their stories, and gain a sense of sisterhood. We were all there for the same reasons– to earn scholarships, serve our communities, and make a difference. Many people see pageants as a catty contest revolved around appearance, but that couldn’t be more false. When you put a group of young women together who have similar ambitions and views on success, it’s a truly remarkable phenomenon.

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Once my first pageant was over, I realized the impact that the Miss America Organization was having on my life. I started to set goals; I had the drive and motivation to do something with my life; I felt that I had a purpose. For the previous sixteen years of my life before getting involved in the MAO, I participated in various activities simply because I enjoyed them. When this organization came into the picture, I began participating because I started to notice immense growth within myself. I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement.

Preparations were under way for my future competitions, but in the mean time, a few of my pageant sisters and I decided to attend the Miss Wisconsin pageant to see the local titleholders compete for the state title and the chance to compete at Miss America. After that experience, watching those women perform and showcase their passions at the state level, my love for the organization grew and I wanted more than anything to be able to have that same opportunity.

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I went home and focused nearly all of my time on developing my platform, improving my talent, working on my interview skills, and embodying the true spirit of the Miss America Organization. I wanted this.

The next year came around and I was eligible for four more pageants in 2015. I took what I saw at Miss Wisconsin and I felt so much more prepared to take the stage once again. However, in 2015, I did not place in any of the local pageants I participated in. I had great experiences, met even more wonderful women, and was proud of what I was doing, but I still felt disappointed in myself and wondered where I was going wrong. Over-analyzing is my middle name, so I beat myself up in every way possible, thinking of all the hard work I put in and not being able to show it to my very best ability.

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Over time, I began to understand that it’s okay to feel upset. It’s okay to be a little disappointed, but every stumble serves as a chance to pick yourself up and continue to improve. I took these experiences as lessons and used them toward bettering myself for the next year. There was no way I was going to simply give up. I had a dream.

In the summer of 2015, my pageant sisters and I attended the Miss Wisconsin pageant again to see the newest class of local titleholders compete. This time, I actually watched and learned. This time, I noticed what the Miss America Organization was really about. It’s not about fitting into the perfect “pageant girl” mold or wearing a sparkly crown. It’s not about instant gratification. It’s not just about a chance to stand on a bigger stage for recognition. It’s about setting goals, perseverance, service to others, hard work, and advocacy. It’s about the journey. THESE were the qualities that I needed to focus on.

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Before heading into another year of pageants, I spent some time reflecting on my past experiences within the Miss America Organization and I realized I hadn’t really been focusing on the bigger picture. Winning a title through this organization means serving as an ambassador and an advocate for change. Being a titleholder comes with responsibility, selflessness, and a heart for service. I humbled myself and started working toward my goal to serve as a local titleholder because I wanted to positively represent my community, my platform, and the Miss America Organization with every ounce of passion in me.

This year, I was made aware of a brand new pageant in my area, the Miss Northern Lights scholarship program. I was already registered for three other pageants later on in the year, but I decided to give this one a shot. I thought of this opportunity as a chance to start fresh and to see how I’ve improved over the past two years. For the first time, I felt very calm during the whole day and I spent a lot of the time getting to know the other contestants, running through my talent performance, and snacking (surprise, surprise). I said a quick prayer while I was alone in my dressing room, asking God to allow me to relax and show the judges who I truly am. I thanked Him for the day and for my journey that led me to this point. In the past, I got so worked up before walking into my private interview with the judges, trying my hardest to focus on saying the right things and being professional. This time around, I just took a deep breath, put away my notes, and told myself to have fun.

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I walked out of my interview feeling relieved and ready for the rest of the afternoon. We had one more rehearsal before the show began, I said one more prayer, and before we knew it, it was time to hit the stage. The actual show feels like one big whirlwind and each phase of competition flies by quicker than the last. Each time I was on stage, I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment. It was the first time where I felt no nerves and I knew that at the end of the day, I couldn’t have been happier with how I improved and performed that day. I left it all on the stage.

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Soon enough, it was time for crowning. I looked around at all the ladies beside me, feeling blessed to have spent this experience with so many amazing and influential people, being able to gain many new sisters that day. Any of those girls could absolutely fulfill the duties of Miss Northern Lights.

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In a matter of seconds, I snapped back into reality as I was flooded with emotions. The tears fell and I soon realized what I had done. By the grace of God, I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals.

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As I cried on my entire hour-long drive home that night, I stopped to pray once again to thank God for giving me this opportunity for a year of service to my community and to Him. I thank him for the challenges He put me through in the previous years, because they taught me valuable life lessons that I will take with me forever. I continue to thank Him for allowing me to spread my mission on a greater scale and soon onto the Miss Wisconsin stage. I pray that I am able to stay focused during this year in order to accomplish as much as possible with this opportunity. I have faith that this experience will challenge me and allow me to continue to grow and I wake up every morning looking forward to what is ahead.

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Now, as I sit here with a crown and sash next to me, I feel so grateful to represent the Miss Northern Lights, Miss Wisconsin, and Miss America Organizations as a local titleholder. I look back to where I started and realize that a dream is only a dream until you take the steps to make it a reality. Through perseverance, determination, patience, hard work, a strong support system, a positive mindset, and faith in yourself and in God’s plan, ANYTHING is possible.

Love always,

Your 2016 Miss Northern Lights, Jessica Hammer

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New Year, New Outlook

We’ve heard it all before…

“New year, new me! This year will be better than the rest!”

I’ve never had a New Year’s resolution, and to be completely honest, I think I’d cave by January 2nd. The typical “eat healthier” or “save money” or “exercise more often” goals tend to tick away quicker than the Times Square countdown and I knew that if I ever decided to create my own resolution, I’d be determined to make it a permanent part of my life.

This past year has been full of opportunities and significant life changes and I knew that I wanted to start the new year with a fresh mindset and clear direction of what I hope to accomplish in 2016. Instead of having superficial goals that I know I can’t commit to, I decided to make a list of small actions that I can tackle day by day that will encourage positivity, mindfulness, and overall happiness in my everyday life. I’m a firm believer that the simple things are the ones that truly matter, so here’s to a simply enjoyable new year.

Jessica’s Handy Dandy Pocket List of 2016 Resolutions

  1. Openly express gratitude
  2. Give compliments
  3. Find a good book
  4. Sing loud and proud
  5. Be courageous
  6. Stand up for what you believe is right
  7. Pay it forward
  8. When there is music, always dance
  9. Take time to relax
  10. Remain tolerant
  11. Get to know someone you used to judge
  12. Accept that there is no such thing as perfection
  13. Take care of your mind and body
  14. Believe in the power of prayer
  15. Visit a coffee shop and sit with a stranger
  16. Put down the cell phone
  17. Learn and understand all sides of politics
  18. Ask for help
  19. Make use of your talents and assets
  20. Practice honesty
  21. Keep promises
  22. Explore your hometown
  23. Serve graciously in any way possible
  24. Thank your parents
  25. Apologize for wrongdoing and learn from it
  26. Love yourself first

I plan to add more resolutions to this list as the year goes on and see how the many areas of my life take shape. It’s strange how day-to-day life never seems to change, but once we look back at the end of the year, we realize how much those little moments changed us over time. When each year comes to an end, I like to be a sap and reflect on the things I’ve learned, the people who have been there with me through it, and the areas of my life I will continue to work on. A flip of the calendar just feels like the right time to make a difference, but in reality, we wake up every morning with that same opportunity.

Take advantage of life’s simple chances for growth and happiness. Have a blessed 2016, beautiful people.

Love always,

Jessica

NEW YEAR

And The Liebster Award Goes To…

Hello friends!

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Courtesy of: Leah Mae Photography

‘Tis the season to be ridiculously busy, am I right?! I’ve finally found some time to sit down, slip into some fuzzy socks, and relax a little bit. First, I’ll give a little update on life…

Many of you have seen my blog post “To Today’s 14 Year-Old Girls” and some of you may also know that it kinda went viral… (say what?!) Well, not as viral as the Gangnam Style madness of 2012, but pretty close (okay not that big). I’d like to thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for reading, supporting, and spreading that article around the world and even into the hands of the editors at MTV… (another SAY WHAT?!) Crazy, right? Check it out on the MTV website by clicking this link! I still can’t believe it. Because of YOU, I’ve been able to reach about 800,000 people and spread my personal experiences in hopes of touching at least one life. I am so grateful.

It has been a blessed holiday season with family and friends so far and I’ve been able to focus a lot of my time reflecting on the ups and downs of this past year. Lots of changes have occurred in my personal and professional life since last Christmas and there are still many more to come in 2016, but I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I come in contact with. I could be a sap for another 483659 pages, but I’ll leave it at that. THANK YOU for the amazing opportunities rooted right here on this blog.

I am more motivated than ever to continue writing as often as possible in between my full-time college schedule, dance practices, pageant preparations, three jobs, and a social life (wait..I don’t have one of those). I have lots of ideas of what I’d like to write about for future posts, but I am more than willing to take suggestions. You can find my contact info in the “About Me/ Contact Me” tab so feel free to shoot me an idea or two if you’d like!

Enough about me, let’s get onto the reason for this post!

I was recently nominated for the Liebster Blogging Award by a fellow blogger and pageant sista, Serena. The award is meant to help bloggers discover other bloggers and show a little blogging appreciation (say blog one more time, Jess). Here’s how it goes:

rules

Thank you for nominating me, Serena! Give her a little love at The Royal Introvert.

My Nominations

I would choose 11, but I’ll leave you with my top three favorites right now!

  1. The Wright Way, Miss Washington Teen USA
  2. Life Of Renee Blog, personal friend and new blogger
  3. Tianna Vanderhei, fellow MAO pageant sister

11 Questions From The Blog That Nominated Me

  1. What is your New Years resolution? I’m usually on top of things when it comes to procrastinating, but I find that my phone becomes an easy distraction when I’m trying to check things off my to-do list. So this year, I’m going to put down my phone a lot more often!
  2. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? I’m currently sitting in a snow storm today, so Hawaii sounds nice right about now.
  3. What is your favorite memory of 2015? This is a tough one… but all of my best memories always happen with my college friends. Am I allowed to include all of those memories? Probably not, but we all break the rules once or twice.
  4. What is your favorite book? I’ve recently picked up John Green’s first novel, Looking For Alaska, and I can’t put it down.
  5. Why? It’s SO raw and a little controversial, maybe that’s why I love it. From the author of Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars, you know this one’s a good one.
  6. Sum up your personality in one word. Contagious
  7. What is your favorite song? Right now, I’m digging “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor and John Legend. I’m obsessed.
  8. What is your favorite blog to follow? All three listed above, I can’t pick a fave!
  9. Why did you begin blogging? A girl’s gotta vent somewhere right?
  10. What was your favorite Christmas gift? My grandma gave me a Love Your Melon beanie and I can’t get over how adorable it is. Even better, it’s a company run by college students aiming to put a hat on every child battling cancer in the United States. Does it get much cooler?
  11. Did it snow where you live? I’m from Wisconsin.. ‘nuf said.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. I have a small plant named Isaac.
  2. I can name all 50 states in alphabetical order in 20 seconds.
  3. You can find me smelling all of the candles in Bath & Body Works for hours.
  4. I sleep with a stuffed monkey every night.
  5. Shopping with other people stresses me out.
  6. Ellen DeGeneres is one of my favorite humans ever.
  7. I’m in my second year of college and I have no idea what I want to do with my life (actually not worried at all).
  8. Potatoes are my favorite food.
  9. If I were an animal, I’d want to be a corgi.
  10. I bite my nails..all the time.
  11. I eat when I’m bored and I’m proud of it.

11 Questions For My Nominees

  1. What is the best compliment you have ever received?
  2. What makes up your perfect pizza?
  3. If you could’ve witnessed any event in history, what would you like to have seen?
  4. What cheers you up?
  5. Who is your role model?
  6. Do you have any strange talents? If so, what are they?
  7. What is your biggest fear?
  8. What is your favorite topic to blog about?
  9. Who is your favorite cartoon character?
  10. What is your dream vacation?
  11. Have you ever met anyone famous?

award

There you have it, folks! Just a little fun post to get back in the swing of things as the holidays wind down. Once again, thank you Serena for this nomination and thank you ALL for encouraging me to do what I enjoy. Hit that follow button in the corner to get updates whenever I post new content and be sure to follow my Instagram (@jessicasusan96) for updates as well! I’ve got some fun ideas coming your way in 2016…

Love always,

Jessica