How I got started
A couple months ago I competed in Miss NY USA, a beauty pageant in the state of New York where the winner becomes the state representative at the Miss USA organization. This pageant system has produced highly influential women including Olivia Culpo and Cheslie kryst. The Miss USA organization is a part of the larger and global Miss Universe Organization that “celebrates women of all cultures and backgrounds and empowers them to realize their goals through experiences that build self-confidence and create opportunities for success.” Each year thousands of women compete all across the country for the state and national title. Not only are they competing for the top spot, many women are competing to, as the organization describes it “affect positive change personally, professionally and philanthropically.”
Since announcing my intention to compete, many friends and family members asked about my reasons for competing.  I never grew up competing in pageants and I was only familiar with them by what I saw on TV. One vivid memory of my childhood was watching the Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions from the floor of my mom’s bedroom. As a young girl, I never aspired to be a title holder, it was something so far from my frame of reference. I was always the athlete and if not that, I was the academic. As a teenager, I enjoyed competing in sports but never had interest in beauty competitions. 
A year ago I struggled with my personal identity as I transitioned from college to work and ended an unhealthy long-term relationship.  Not many people discuss the difficulty of transitioning into the adult world when life to date was going to school where goals are clear and the path to success is outlined. Once I graduated, that familiar routine ended and now it was up to me to determine a new one. While in this transition, my college relationship also came to an end. In this relationship, I did not stand-up for my values, wants and needs. I knew it was unhealthy but stayed anyway. Going through these transitions was a time of reflection where I tried to answer several questions:  Who I am and what are my values? What are my goals? What is my path to success? How will I choose happiness? This was a time of self-discovery and as I focused on myself I made the decision to prepare for and participate in a beauty competition.  In doing so, I leveraged my athletics experience of training and competing. I prepared for a year and the competition was the completion marker of my personal growth journey. In other words, Miss NY USA was my way of showcasing personal growth. How did I grow in that year? 
The Competition
An incredible amount of preparation goes into pageantry. For months prior to the competition, I worked with coaches on my application, presenting myself (which despite the simple nature, is incredibly difficult as there are so many things to think about), my philanthropy platform, interview practice, hair and makeup tutorials, workouts and wardrobe selection. During the three-day competition, there are hours of rehearsal, so I can present my best self on-stage in 1 minute.  
Rehearsals are one of the best opportunities to meet the other contestants and this was one of my favorite parts of the competition. I met so many women from all different backgrounds. To my surprise, I met several contestants with demanding careers and some working in the finance industry like me. We bonded over our ability to balance a demanding work schedule with our hobbies while demystifying society’s expectation that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive.I discovered that many contestants were hesitant to share with their work colleagues that they were competing in a beauty pageant, fearing the negative repercussions it could have on their professional reputations.
Winning for me was competing.
On the first day of the competition the production director made a statement that stuck with me to this day. She mentioned that there are over 150 girls competing this weekend for one title. Because of this, you need more reasons than just winning as to why you are here and what you will get out of it. This resonated with me because  I had no expectations to win or place based on the pageants standards.  Winning for me was competing. This was so far outside of my comfort zone, that making it to the end was my success. I went into  this competition with an open mind with the constant reminder to stay present and enjoy the process. Even though the competition was filled with early mornings and late nights which left me extremely exhausted by the end, I had a great time. Now a few months later, I realized I gained so much from this experience and I am happy I did it. 
My Personal Growth from Miss NY USA
I achieved my goal of self-discovery from this one experience as I was motivated to work on so many aspects of my life at once.
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Bryanna Samuels