Life as a “Fresh” Amazonian

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

I was assigned an eager interview buddy when I arrived for my super day interview at Amazon’s Headquarters in Seattle over a year ago. At the time, I was about to enter my last semester at UC Berkeley, ready to graduate, and nearing the end of the tiring recruiting process all students trek through when planning to enter the workforce after their senior year. My buddy had been working at Amazon for two years, straight out of college, and was eager to share her experience. Prior to arriving at the headquarters, I hadn’t heard much about Amazon’s work culture. I assumed that like most tech companies these days, the quality of life was well taken care of, cushy, and nurturing. It was the middle of finals week back at school so my mind was wandering in and out of the conversation with my talkative buddy, but I snapped back into reality when she asked anxiously if I had heard anything about Amazon’s work culture. Before I could respond, she had already launched into a seemingly prepared speech about how encouraging and open the workplace is and how it’s nothing like described in The New York Times. I hadn’t actually read the exposé, but she had already planted the seed of curiosity in my head.

After returning from my interview, I immediately went online to find The New York Times article my buddy had brought up. The first bolded quote was “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” As a female new grad, looking to enter an industry that has not always been welcoming to women, I was immediately apprehensive of knowingly joining a culture that was publicly and proudly boasting “The Amazon Way.” From Jeff Bezo’s letter to his shareholders in 1997: “You can work long, hard or smart, but at you can’t choose two out of three.” I had to think long and hard about the quality of life I wanted to have for myself just out of college and if this culture was worth the potential emotional agony that seemed to come with the job.

A few days after my final interview, I received news from the recruiter that I had gotten the job. Though I should have been excited, I was apprehensive about the opportunity. After reading the NY Times article, I scoured the internet for other opinions on Amazon’s culture. Some applauded Jeff Bezos for the productive, inspiring work environment he had created to extract the best from his employees. Others criticized the toxic experiment Bezos had created to push white-collar workers to the brink of breaking. However, out of the other job offers I had received, the position at Amazon was the most interesting and would set me up for the career I had always planned for.

Though I knew the job would be demanding, I was intrigued by the 14 Leadership Principles the company and Amazonians stood by faithfully:

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent and Simplify
  • Are Right, A Lot
  • Learn and Be Curious
  • Hire and Develop the Best
  • Insist on the Highest Standards
  • Think Big
  • Bias for Action
  • Frugality
  • Earn Trust
  • Dive Deep
  • Have Backbone: Disagree and Commit
  • Deliver Results

The principles that I most aligned with were: Ownership, Learn and Be Curious, Think Big, Bias for Action, Earn Trust, and Dive Deep. They were the principles that I realized I innately stood for and were my “superpowers” as my boss now calls them. I knew it would be hard to balance all the things important to me, along with a demanding career, but I was eager to try anyways.

On my first day of work, I was whisked through the office and introduced to everyone as “the new grad.” Almost everyone I met commented on how “fresh” and impressionable I was since I was working at Amazon straight out of college. They all said how lucky I was that I was getting the hardest part of my career over with right when I was starting out. It would only get better from here, they said.

Fast forward, six months later and I am loving my job. There have been many long nights and challenging days, but I’m being pushed beyond what I thought I could accomplish and enjoying the learning process. There is something new I can learn from everyone in my office and they are all open to teaching. The work is fast paced, but every project I’ve taken on has urged me to learn something new and develop my skillset. Not a single day has been the same.

The work culture is definitely demanding, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that though deadlines were tight, everyone around me was willing to do their share to make it happen. I have never felt I’ve been given an unreasonable task and left without the tools to actually execute. Everyone around me wants me to succeed and I can feel the team mentality that we’re all working towards the same goal.   

However, as I approach my six month mark, I’ll admit the one area of life I’ve been lacking has been actively trying to find a work-life balance. I find myself skipping events with friends and constantly being on my phone to send emails with the reasoning that I’m still new at work and need to prove myself to my peers. I’m slowly starting to realize that though it’s important to cultivate good working relationships with those in the office, it’s just as important to create and maintain personal relationships with those who have stood by me since I was young.  

I turned to my mentors I had made in college through the non-profit, Women in Network. I had been part of the organization since its inception and is one of my main activities outside of work. The mentors in the organization had all been working for a few years out of college, and I figured they would have the best advice on what to do in this situation. After discussing with them, I had made a list of things that were important to me when starting my adult life:

  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Health
  • Challenging and fulfilling career
  • Time to invest in my personal interests

Making this short list has helped me to start reprioritizing my decisions and investing time in myself. I’ve started reading books in my free time and listening to podcasts while I sit through traffic to and from work. I try to see friends a couple times a week and prioritize my time with family. I’m working towards making tweaks in my daily routine to move towards a better work-life balance, without forfeiting time with friends and family or success at work. Small things to start to hopefully ease into big change later! Though it’s still early in my adult life, I feel optimistic about the impact I’ll make on my work and friends, without sacrificing one or the other.

365 Days Ago

PastedGraphic-2365 days ago, I was a completely different person from who I am now. I was just entering college, a transition that was really tough for me. Berkeley is a drastic change from the quiet suburbs of Orange County that I grew up in. Ive always been extremely dependant on my parents, both emotionally and physically. Heck, I didnt even know how to do my own laundry coming into college. During this turbulent time, my uncle passed away 2 days into the semester, I was fresh off a horrible break up, and everything around me seemed so foreign.

PastedGraphic-3Learning to adjust to this new environment proved to be harder than I originally thought. The family and friends I once knew to be my entire world were off living their own separate lives. I now had to foster new relationships away from the place I called home for the past 18 years. In high school, I was so focused on academic success and college prep that I forgot to enjoy being a teenager. I had taken over 17 AP exams by the end of my high school career and had a weighted GPA over a 4.5. However, I had not gone to a single high school dance or senior class event. I felt like I barely knew my graduating class. Towards the end, I even stopped dancing, my one creative outlet from all the stress. My two major goals coming into UC Berkeley were to: make stronger bonds with people I really connected with, and to follow my heart – wherever that may lead me.

With this in mind, I was able to make a close friend in my dorm building named Leilah. Even though we hadnt known each other for a very long time, she consoled me when my uncle passed and stuck with me through everything. To this day, Leilah and I remain extremely close and I know that we will be will be sisters for life.

I was able to open up to Leilah about something that I had held in for a very long time – that Im a survivor of sexual assault. After a triggering event in the middle of freshman year, I could not stop thinking about what had happened to me and had recurring nightmares of me reliving the experience. I had held this huge secret for years and the weight became too much to bear on my own. Leilah helped me come to terms with it and encouraged me to finally tell my family about it. After opening up, I felt like a bird confined to a cage that had finally been set free. My entire family responded with love and support. Even though they were all 400 miles away in Southern California, I felt closer than ever to them.

PastedGraphic-4After gaining the courage to something I never thought Id be able to do, I felt unstoppable. Towards the end of freshman year, I attended my first professional dance audition and made the cut! I also decided to participate in the Miss America Organization on a whim because I wanted to continue doing things that made me uncomfortable. To my surprise, I won the first competition I participated in and was crowned Miss County of San Francisco. The past 365 days have been an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. Ive grown more than I ever thought I could. I cannot wait to see where life takes me and to see how being apart of the Miss America Organization is going to shape me in the coming 365 days.

Seeing Through Other’s Eyes

A fellow classmate was describing to me his life back at home in a small village on the island of Tonga. He described his village as a place where, “everyone knows everybody.” This tight knit community has no neighbors; everyone is considered family. Everyday, they go out to catch fresh fish to eat for their next meal. Family gatherings are a staple in his community and a celebration is not complete without cultural dances, music, lots of food and of course, lots of fish.

image1 (1)These are the types of stories I get to hear everyday as a student at BYU-Hawaii, majoring in Business Management, emphasizing in Hospitality and Tourism. I chose this university in the middle of the Pacific Ocean because of their unique Hospitality and Tourism program, which offers great first-hand experience in a place that relies heavily on the industry.

Coming here, I knew that the campus had a diverse pool of students because of its Pacific centered location. However, I did not realize that BYU-Hawaii is one of the most diverse college campuses in the nation, with over 70 countries represented.  I’ve met and made friends with people like Kiwi and Toshi from Japan, Lu from Fiji, Kaylee from Utah, Lima from Samoa, Liv from Washington, Roche from Qatar, and many more. Each day I’m privileged to interact with people from many different cultures.  

No matter how different we may be, we can always find something in common that we share, or learn something new about each other. Through my experiences, I have gained an even greater sense of gratitude and pride in my home state of California. 

image2As individuals share their stories with me, I also share my own. “My name is Nikki Holbrook. I am from Sacramento, California. I have lived there my whole life.” It’s always entertaining to see people’s reactions when I tell them about California. The looks of awe I receive when I explain the cultural and geographical diversity of our state. Explaining how, yes, we do have beaches, but we also have beautiful snow-capped mountain ranges, deserts, world-renowned architecture, and everything else that we may grow!  (#WeGrowBeauty)

I so thankful to be a part of the Miss California Organization and to possibly have the opportunity to represent one of the most diverse states in the nation. Growing up in California, and having these experiences at BYU-Hawaii, have expanded my appreciation for all people and makes me proud to call California home.


                  Thank you for letting me share,

                               Nikki Holbrook

                       Miss Barbary Coast 2018



**Keep up with my year on my various social media accounts!**

Facebook/Youtube: Miss Barbary Coast, Instagram: @missbarbarycoast, and Twitter: @missbarbarycst

Four Points Feature with Miss Golden Gate 2018

Meet Miss Golden Gate 2018– Chelsea Vuong as she begins her journey to Miss California 2018!

Here she will introduce the four points of the Miss America crown, share her experience at Harvard University and how it shaped her platform, and the events that helped her become the person she is today.

Miss California Executive Director to Facebook Live Jan 4, 2018 7pm PST

Join us (1)Have questions about what has been happening?  Just have questions about the Miss California Organization?  Want to learn more about State Finals in June?

I will be hosting a Q and A session on Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 7pm on

If you have something you really want addressed, please email me this week at and I will include the topic at the beginning before the Q and A.

Some of the topics I will address:

  1. The current situation of the Miss America BOD, the Miss Americas and the state executive directors with regard to the national organization.
  2. The current situation of the national competition.
  3. The current  state of the Miss California Organization.
  4. Our State License with Miss America – what we have to live by as a state.
  5. The current state of our contestant and volunteer protection policies for the Miss California Organization.
  6. The road to Miss California and Miss California's OT 2018.
    1. Doubletree and Fresno
    2. Age changes
    3. Orientation 2018
    4. Ad Page Sales
    5. CMN fundraising
    6. Scholarship expectations
    7. Production news
    8. State Final Competition
      1. Judges brief for both Miss and Teen
      2. Our expectations for Miss California and Miss California's OT.
    9. Princess Program
    10. MAOT Prep
    11. MAO Prep

I will add to this list as you send me topics that you want me to address.  Can't wait to chat with everyone on Thursday!

Happy New Year!

Patricia Murray

CEO/Executive Director

A Message from Miss California Leadership

We are heartbroken to learn of the disparaging comments made by members of the Miss America Organization Board of Directors. The comments were made and the spirit in which they were made do not represent the views of the thousands of Miss California volunteers, contestants, and titleholders. Now that key members of the Miss America Board have resigned, we hope the integrity of the Miss America Organization is restored so that this iconic program can continue its longstanding tradition of empowering and educating women.

As always, the Miss California Organization remains dedicated to maintaining the mission of our state program which is to promote education and achievement opportunities for women in the State of California while fostering participation in community service.

The Miss California Board of Directors

Empowered Women Empower Women

MacKenzieMy “Aha!” moment for my platform was while I was in college working a seasonal job in agriculture. My mother gave me Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates. I was skeptical but began reading. I have never finished a book so quickly, or ever felt so passionately motivated about something. Sandberg described the struggles that women face as they begin their careers. She explained her own experiences and those of her close friends, but she also incorporated copious amounts of research to ground her assertions. The tone was neither confrontational, nor was it placing blame on any particular group of people; instead, it was factual and practical. Her approach resonated with me so deeply that I knew instantly that this was an issue I could stand behind.

CrystalHaving experienced instances of the discrimination Sheryl mentions, I chose to implement a platform that focuses on bringing about awareness of the obstacles women often face in the workplace, while at the same time offering practical tools to navigate the workforce as a woman. Women have made huge strides in equality during the last five decades, but there is still plenty of work to be done.  I am thankful to the Miss America Organization for bringing other women into my life who are natural leaders. They use their position to create positive change. They lead by example with a servant’s heart but are not afraid to speak up when they feel it is necessary. One of these extraordinary women is Crystal Lee, Miss California 2013. Having competed in the Miss America Organization throughout her teens and early twenties, Crystal has now started her career in the tech industry. Being a strong woman in a male-dominated field, I wanted to get Crystal’s take on her experiences as an Asian-American woman in the workplace.


MF: As a woman in a very male-dominated field, how has your gender played a role in your experience trying to launch your career?


CL: As with all things in life, there can be advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found that a fair amount of resilience and healthy ignorance has helped me launch my career.


My first boss at Google loved that I was Miss California. I will always be thankful to him for hiring me and supporting me right after “retiring” from pageants. Many of the women on that team helped me transition to the working world and to this day they are still my friends.


Where I’ve found it to be more of a challenge as a woman in tech is in building relationships within teams and individuals who are less accustomed to a young, female presence. Now I am often in business meetings with potential insurance and financial partners who probably notice that I don’t often fit the typical profile of an enterprise software founder.


MF: Can you give one example of gender discrimination you have personally experienced?


CL: I once had someone tell me, “Wow, you're a lot smarter and more impressive than I thought you would be. You're not like most pageant girls.” I wanted to turn to this person and say, “wow you're less attractive that I thought you would be.”


MF: Do you feel that your background in pageantry has positively impacted how you approach your career and push to overcome the obstacles that arise in your path?


CL: Without a doubt – YES. I've gained perseverance, resilience, public speaking skills, confidence, and so much more.


MF: Considering that a huge part of the employment gap between men and women is due to the fact that women, whether intentionally or subconsciously, hold themselves back from seizing opportunities in workplace, what is one piece of advice you’ve learned through your own experience that you would give to young women preparing to begin their careers?


CL: Be bold. Ask for things you feel unqualified for; whether it's about pay, project assignments, benefits, anything. Get used to asking. The worst they can say is no – and that’s something that anyone who has previously accomplished great things knows well.


Also, being obedient is overrated. Put yourself in positions that are challenging and hard. Don't be afraid to fail early and fail often. Your 20s are for those formative experiences and if you've never failed, you're not pushing yourself enough.


MacKenzie1There are some challenging assumptions about women’s behavior: women are expected to be quieter, gentler, and more compassionate. We are expected to behave a certain way and when we do not, feathers are often ruffled. This has contributed to the lack of diversity and damaging stereotypes which Crystal mentioned above. Obviously, one of the ways to have a profound impact on the conversation regarding equality in the workplace is by producing more women like those found in the Miss America Organization, but the work cannot end there. Women (and men) need to actively support women who lead with strength, intelligence, and charisma. Just as Crystal said, be bold and unafraid of failure, because there is power in numbers and you as an empowered woman (or man) will empower other women. That is a powerful chain reaction.

Tour San Francisco with Sarah Dahdouh

Have you ever wondered why someone would leave their heart in San Francisco? Now you can find out! Join Sarah Dahdouh, Miss San Francisco, as she explores her top 3 favorite places in the city!

Valerie Alcaraz- 10 Years Later

It took me 10 years to win the honor of competing on the Miss Calfiornia stage for the first time. In my vlog, I answer a question that I am asked every single year: Why do you continue competing despite the same outcome? I recount my first moment with the Miss America Organization and what has kept me optimistic and passionate all these years. This is a very emotional vlog because I explore the woman I've become throughout this journey. From ages 13-23 I've invested my heart and soul into the Miss America Organization and my platform the Girl Scouts of America. To show how much I've grown, I bring out an old photo of myself and Bree Morse (Miss California 2015) in our first year competing and the tiara I won that year in 2007 as first runner up in the outstanding teen program. There's even a cameo from my dog Gizmo! I'm so honored to have this opportunity and I think this video conveys it perfectly.

From Pumpfakes to Pageants- Miss High Desert and the Year Ahead

575569_3755875746167_1306864853_n (1) Hello! My name is Katherine Reaves and I am Miss High Desert 2018. I’m not really social media savvy. I can make a computer work, but I’m still trying to figure out how to shift down on my Instagram page so that I can put my “Miss High Desert 2018” title in my bio. So, when I was faced with the idea of making a blog, I was slightly apprehensive…what do I write? I don’t usually write freely, and anything I have written in the past four years had to be at least nine paragraphs with five reputable sources, none of which could be Wikipedia, and all of which were discussing artifacts and art that have been buried under the earth or in some church for centuries. However, I am going to try and relax, just blog, and leave out the five sources.

When I decided to enter my first pageant two years ago, it was in an effort to sing on as many stages as possible. Also, I was in love with the idea of waltzing around a stage in a sparkly gown, as adoring fans applauded. However, once I was in the midst of the competition, my competitive streak kicked in, finely tuned like a Stradivarius violin due to nineteen years of highly aggressive basketball. So, when I lost, I was extremely distressed. I then continued to enter pageants, but as I continued pageantry my wants changed. Pageants became less focused on the want to win just to win and more focused on the hope to change as many lives as possible while I was in pageantry, even if the lives I touched stopped at those who would be helped by the money I raised for my local pageant.

22279972_10214529468536159_8676987714900691196_nPageantry also inspired me to start my own nonprofit. Sing for the Heart is a program I have put together that will fund grants to give to the local high schools in my area so that they can have their own EKG programs as a part of the student athletes physical. The money will come from benefit concerts where concert goers will be exposed to my own thrilling form of comedic dialogue in between some of my favorite songs. I hope to use this year to not only gain support for my platform and nonprofit, but to also raise money for CMN and for the thousands of women who participate in these pageants to fulfill their educational dreams. 

This year, as Miss High Desert, I am thrilled to embark on a journey that I can’t even begin to imagine. I am a planner by nature, and unabashedly OCD, so the thought of not knowing what’s coming is slightly unsettling. However, with the help of my Desert Beauties team and the rest of the MAO family, I can honestly say that I am ready for the unexpected and content with not knowing. I’m trying to live in each moment… “I never  look back, darlings, it distracts from the now!” (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Edna Mode, The Incredibles, Walt Disney Pictures