There once was a little, waterspout haired girl who grew up with the desire to be onstage. Her mother had to drag her off of the stage because she loved to hear the crowd cheering. She was never “the best” dancer on the team or contestant in the pageant. She was never the girl who won every trophy or crown. She was never one to expect to be given something that she did not earn or work for. All she knew was that she would have fun and try even harder next time.
Dance competitions were her strong suit, but she struggled in pageantry. For 11 consecutive years she competed in an all-natural international pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada, walking away with a few top tens, one 2nd alternate, and one Talent crown. Sure, she won a few local titles at home, but this specific crown and that royal blue robe were all she had ever longed for.
On November 6th 2010, the 15-year-old girl competed for her hometown title and was crowned Miss Cabarrus County’s Outstanding Teen having no idea that was a golden ticket to the state pageant. She put forth 110% and by the grace of God was crowned Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen 2011 seven moths later. She was ecstatic to have placed in the Top 12 at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant, but was even more thrilled to return home to serve the state of North Carolina for the remainder of the year. In Las Vegas, Nevada, she sat in the audience cheering on her big sister, Miss North Carolina, at the top of her lungs. When the countdown to the final night turned from days to seconds and she heard her say, “I am Miss North Carolina, Hailey Best!” on the Miss America stage, she felt an indescribable chill, as if God Himself tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Hey kid, watch. That could be you if you have faith in me.” In that {moment} she set a new goal for herself and her “Miss America Dream” became a reality.
After saying farewell to the extraordinary year as NCOT, she went back to that international pageant twice more, winning talent in 2012 and placing second in 2013. She did not understand what qualities she lacked or what areas she did not fulfill to attain the crown she longed for the most. However, walking through her senior year of high school and trying her best to survive her encounters of devastation due to bullying, all of her guessing was then clarified – She was missing her voice! On February 2nd 2014, the 18-year-old girl was crowned Miss Cabarrus County and began her journey to identify her voice and use her message as a platform to stand among. As an advocate for anti-bullying, the girl knew she had a number of insecurities to work through her inner and outer self, as well as fight to overcome her self-doubt, but she was still not confident in her abilities. She ventured to Miss North Carolina to gain experience and to learn even more about what it meant to be a “Miss” titleholder. To her surprise, she found herself hand in hand as one of the last two contestants standing. In disbelief and with much concern of feeling unprepared for the job at hand, she felt a chill once again and God said, “Do you believe me now? You can do this, but it is not yet your time.”
January 3rd 2015, the 19-year-old’s journey continued as she was named Miss Queen City. There was so much pressure upon her shoulders as she prepared to return to compete for the title of Miss North Carolina. You see, rather than building up a stronger, more confident inner self, she tried to heal her insecurities and self-doubts by conforming to the mold of whom she believed created a perfect Miss North Carolina. She lived, ate, and slept “pageant.” This did help her become more equipped to handle the job, however, it did not help her obtain it. She had the perfect clothes and the perfect talent, but she did not have her “it” factor that the judges saw shine the year prior. She was not herself. She won her swimsuit preliminary, but did not place in the Top 11. When the curtains closed after the 11 were called, her heart sank. Everything she had planned for crumbled into pieces and she could hardly pick herself up. She was so sure that it was her year. She felt it. She shed her tears in the dressing room, gathered her composure, and walked back out onstage to cheer on her sisters that she was so proud of.
She carried on with her life post June attending school and teaching dance, having no concerning thoughts of competing again. Her mindset was focused on getting her depression under control and only walking through doors if God placed them before her. She looked back on all of those years that she never won that crown or royal blue robe and thought about all that she learned. She remembered the friendships that were created and the memories made and asked herself if it was still worth it. Through much thinking, many conversations, and a lot of prayer, on January 30th2016, she was crowned Miss Mecklenburg County. This year, things were different. She embraced her insecurities, became more self-aware, grew the areas of her platform that lacked, was stronger in discussing her story, cared less about perfection, and identified more authenticity upon her road to Miss North Carolina. Her biggest concern was that she would walk off of the stage at the end of the week with no regrets, presenting all that she could possibly bring to the table for the judges to decide if she would fulfill the job to the fullest, but ultimately putting it in God’s hands – Not her own.
So, did she win the crown? Yes! But, there is so much more to it than the sparkly medal she bobby pins to her hair every day. She won the crown when she decided that being “McKenzie” was enough.
To all of the girls who feel unsure if what they have to offer is enough, BELIEVE that it IS! You are enough! There is no stereotype that wins. There is no mold to conform to. The only way to be proud of what you achieve is if you are completing your goals as yourself and not who you think you should be. A crucial key to your success is understanding that there is always a bigger picture. Your timing may not be the right timing, and what you want may not be what you need. You will never go unnoticed – You will always reach someone, whether it is in that moment specifically, or later on down the road with your testimony. Becoming Miss North Carolina did not happen over the coarse of a few months. It happened over the expansion of years and I am proud of how far I have come and use the lessons I have learned as an example to others. I see many overlaps within my story and I couldn’t help but share them with you because throughout this year, I have had so many “light bulb” moments when so many of my old questions have been answered. You don’t have to win on your first try to be successful. You don’t have to win the “big crown” to feel accomplished. You have to know within your heart that you gave it all you have and you did it gracefully, humbly, and authentically.
Keep going. You’ve got this!
XOXO, McKenzie