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How to Cope With Not Winning a Pageant

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes, and how we deal with loss depends on who we are.

Loss could be something you worked crazy hard for. You prepped, you poured everything you had into it, and it just wasn’t enough. It can be especially hard if it’s your last shot because you’re aging out.

I have often discussed my pageantry woes in my articles but probably never mentioned one person who has been there for much of it.

Kari Volen is the owner of Pageant Coaching and Designs. I met her in 2011 when she came to my house as a Mary Kay consultant to help me get my makeup ready for my very last Miss America local.

She did my makeup the day of the pageant, in a very dark dressing room off to the side of the stage. When I stood on stage, I calmly answered my onstage question looking at Volen. My parents were front and center, but I couldn’t look at them. It was my only MAO they had ever attended and I wanted it so badly I was nervous. But Volen was calm.

Kari Volen with NAM titleholder,not winning a pageant
Kari Volen with NAM titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen

I had to do my talent off to the side of the stage so I wouldn’t take out the stage lights with my flag. Because of this, only the judges saw it.

I didn’t win this pageant. I didn’t even place. I was bawling my eyes out off stage while packing up my things, including the only mirror we had, and everyone was saying their typical, “There’s always next year.”

I, probably very rudely, responded with, “I’ll be 24 in a month.”

But not Volen. Instead, she said something to the effect of, “There are other pageants, let me know, we’ll find one.” (Read: How to Use Your Age as an Advantage in Pageantry)

Seven years and six pageants later, she is still a phone call, text or Skype session away to calm my panicky self – even sick and in the hospital – helping with makeup through a photo and selecting my wardrobe. (Read: How Far in Advance Should You Get a Coach?)

So, when she posted a status discussing how to overcome a loss in pageantry, I knew we had to share. She is more than a coach; she is a former contestant, a director and a supporter of all her PC&D girls no matter what we are doing – even as we grow up and become directors and coaches ourselves.

Kari Volen with National All-American Miss titleholder,crown,winner
Kari Volen with National Runway Model Jr. Teen titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen

How to Cope With Not Winning a Pageant

“It’s been on my heart for a while to talk about a not-so-popular topic: not winning,” Volen said. “Notice I didn’t say ‘losing’ because I rarely believe there is such a thing in pageantry. Even if you don’t win, you typically walk away learning something about yourself that you can apply in life or for the next competition. You usually meet new friends, gain more experience and are developing the resilience it takes to be a successful person.”

Yes, just like any other sport, losing creates character. Think of the people you meet who have never lost. They take winning for granted. But when you lose, that victory is all the more sweeter.

Understand how you were scored

In pageantry, unlike other sports, we are judged, like how gymnasts are judged in gymnastics. We see a stuck landing, but they get a 9.95. Doesn’t make sense, right? They are judged, just like we are in pageantry. It’s not like in baseball or football. Cross the plate or the goal line and you’ll get the point. But in pageantry, it’s all subjective. (Read: How to Use Scores and Feedback From Your Last Pageant to Win the Next)

“Imagine if a group of girls was walking down the street and we asked a couple complete strangers to talk to each girl for a minute or so and then pick one,” Volen described. “Would you be heartbroken if you weren’t picked? No, you would likely think ‘Whatever, their loss! They didn’t really get a chance to know me.’ Yet, all the time in pageants, I have girls who walk away devastated because a group of people who met them for a very short period of time didn’t pick them.”

Kari Volen with Crystal Lake titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen
Kari Volen with Crystal Lake titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen

Understand the limits of the pageant

I like to describe the interview competition as Pageant Speed Dating. You have a very limited amount of time to make the judges like you. And Volen, a former contestant herself, knows the feeling. (Read: How to Choose a New Pageant System When You Have Aged Out)

“I get it,” Volen said. “Honestly, I do. Of course, we all want to walk away with that crown and sash, but I must remind you that not being chosen for it doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy, beautiful, talented, smart, and kind. It just means at that moment, with those judges, someone else sparkled a little more or differently, or the judges connected with someone else better. That is why they always say different day, different judges, different girl.”

Accept that this was not your day

My goodness, have we all heard that before. But it’s true. In sports, they drop the highest score and the lowest score and take the average of the remaining scores. In pageants, they often do the same. Yet, even then, sometimes you’re just not the one. (Read: 5 Systems You Should Compete in if You’ve Competed in Miss America)

“I know it is hard not to look at the girl who walked away with that crown and banner and wonder ‘What did she have that I didn’t have?’ and the answer might be nothing,” Volen explained. “You may have been the best ‘orange’ there was but that day the judges had a preference for ‘apples,’ so no matter how hard you tried or as great as you were, you just weren’t going to be their taste that day.”

And sometimes, that’s what that pageant system is looking for that year. That’s why the condolences of “There’s always next year,” are often shared to console. Because things change, trends change, systems change, even you change. Don’t try to fit into one box, because there are other boxes out there.

Kari Volen with titleholders. Photo: Kari Volen
Kari Volen with titleholders. Photo: Kari Volen

Move forward

“It doesn’t mean the ‘apple’ was any better than you, just different and that happened to be what the judges were looking for that day,” Volen said. “It doesn’t mean that at the next pageant with different judges that you might be just what they are looking for. Remember past success or failure doesn’t determine future success. I have seen the same girls compete and one weekend one girl wins and the next time the other girl wins over that same girl who won the previous time.”

If you really want it, keep at it. You never know when the shoe might fit or the right judge will come along and see something spectacular in you. (Read: What is the Average Amount of Times a Girl Competes in a Pageant Before She Wins?)

Keep growing

“My point is, try not to take this all so personally,” Volen advised. “Again, I have been there. I remember times where I competed over and over and over again, sometimes not even placing and wondered, ‘Will this ever happen for me?’ I remember looking at girls with envy who seemed to win every competition that they entered. I remember feeling like I would never win a pageant and that I was destined to be the bridesmaid and not the bride. I contemplated quitting. But I must remind you that winning or not winning a title does not determine your worth.” (Read: Pageant Question About Handling Jealousy)

Kari Volen with Miss California High School American titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen
Kari Volen with Miss California SR. Elementary America titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen

Remember that the loss doesn’t define you

For many girls, myself included, we turn to pageants to fill a void. We want to know if we are good enough. We want to be someone’s first choice. We want to be remembered and recognized. We all have a road that led us to the pageant stage, for me, it was sports injuries.

“I remember for me I used to look for pageants to tell me I was ‘good enough’ or ‘worthy,’ and if you do that you are destined to be disappointed,” she said. “You are good enough with or without a crown on your head and when you truly start to believe that in your heart you will compete with a whole different air about you. One that says, ‘I want this but I will be ok if I don’t win.’ One that says, ‘I am confident and comfortable with who I am,’ and sometimes that can make the difference between you being the winner and a runner-up. Don’t let a group of strangers who meet you briefly determine your worth – only you should determine how you feel about yourself.”

The bottom line is to hold your head up and don’t let your invisible crown slip.

Kari with Miss Teen California International 2016. Photo: Kari Volen
Kari with Miss Teen California International 2016. Photo: Kari Volen

Affirm yourself

“So, stop looking for what you didn’t do,” Volen said. “Stop feeling like your best wasn’t good enough or that this will never happen to you. Start telling yourself that you are confident, kind, beautiful, intelligent, worthy and that although you want this title, even so badly it hurts, that you don’t need this to complete you. I promise you that is true. I may never have been Miss USA or Miss America, but I have a great life and am happy with who I am and wouldn’t change a thing.” (Read: How to Have a Memorable Pageant Experience Even if You Don’t Win the Crown)

Kari Volen with California NAM titleholders. Photo: Kari Volen
Kari Volen with California NAM titleholders. Photo: Kari Volen

“And remember, ‘What is for you will not go by you,’ so walk in that perfect destiny of knowing you are right where you are supposed to be and that your loss may be part of the process of making you an even better winner and giving you the opportunity to learn things that will make you an even stronger competitor and that will allow you to relate to others girls who are experiencing loss,” Volen said.

Pageant Coaching and Designs

Want the chance to work with Volen and her team? Reach out to her via email pageantcoachinganddesigns@gmail.com

They work with all systems and are Pageant Planet’s official California and West Coast coaches.

Kari Volen with titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen.
Kari Volen with titleholder. Photo: Kari Volen.

Going forward

To lose over and over can feel like a curse and yes, even cause you to question if you should keep going. But, look at the Chicago Cubs. They battled every year and they finally won! It took 108 years, but they did it.

So, cry your eyelashes off, wash your face, get some sleep and then get back at it. You never know when your door will open, and you have to walk through it if you want to win. No one ever wins by standing in the hallway and yes, I finally got my crown.

Good luck!

Which dress do you like better?

One thought on “How to Cope With Not Winning a Pageant

  1. I’ve really needed to read something like this. So thank you, so so much!

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