Six years ago, I had no idea of the impact the Miss California and Miss America Organizations would have on the person I am today. In this vlog, I share a few quick facts about myself, the beginning of my involvement with MAO, and more on my platform– Ending Substance Abuse.
At the end of each year, we see a phrase inevitably being adopted by those around us: “new year, new me.” The yearly recaps posted on social media by friends and family nearly always come accompanied by a new set of goals for the coming year. For example, last year I tried to give up chocolate to curb my chocoholic addiction once and for all… but anyone who knows me knows that wasn’t going to happen. 😉 (*types as I finish off the foot of my See’s chocolate Santa)
Admittedly, the last couple weeks I found myself scrolling past these multi-paragraph posts, feeling too busy with my crazy holiday schedule to take a break to read them. Over New Years while on vacation with friends, I had been focusing on my own resolution of being more present with those around me… and less with my face in my phone. So on the long plane ride home I realized I finally had the perfect opportunity to take the time to read those lengthy New Years posts that had been flooding my newsfeed the weeks prior.
After nearly two hours of reading, liking, commenting and adding loved ones’ thoughts to my own 2018 goals, I came to an eye-opening conclusion: Nearly every resolution I saw could somehow be linked to the ideals promoted by the Miss America Organization. I found this incredible because one of the most common questions I hear from pageant naysayers is how Miss America is still relevant today. Yet right on my screen were dozens of friends writing about how they were hoping to accomplish the same goals in 2018 that we as MAO titleholders set out for every year. This got me thinking… if all these resolutions are somehow linked to what we as titleholders strive to embody on a daily basis, then this idea helps validate what we’ve been promoting all along.
So, my friends, I give you the Top 5 News Years resolutions in the U.S. … and how the Miss America Organization helps young women around the country achieve them:
- Eat healthier/exercise more: One of the most well-known categories of the Miss America competition is Lifestyle and Fitness, or swimsuit. What many people are surprised to hear is how empowering this phase is to the contestants. For months, we work out, fuel our bodies with the healthiest foods and push ourselves to reach our fitness goals to walk on stage feeling more confident than ever. Every body is different, and the Miss America Organization embraces this. It’s not about who is the skinniest. It’s not about which contestant looks resembles a Victoria’s Secret model. Rather it’s about celebrating our individual commitments to leading healthy and active lifestyles… and feeling undeniably empowered in the process.
- Read more: As local titleholders, we read A LOT: newspapers, books, news apps, anything we can get our hands on to stay informed about the world around us. We listen. We observe. And we formulate educated opinions to stand up for our beliefs and do our part to make a difference. We do this all not just to prepare for our 10-minute interview with the judges (where we can be asked anything from our knowledge of current events to questions about ourselves to our stances on hot topic world issues). Rather, we do this because as ambassadors for our communities and for this scholarship program, we know it’s our duty to be active citizens with courage of our convictions. We stand on stage with bright lights hitting our face, thousands of eyes on us, and television cameras broadcasting our every move to viewers around the country… and answer questions that could trip up even a seasoned politician. Every year, I can’t help but watch these women on stage and be incredibly impressed by their poise and intelligence in the face of pressure.
- Learn something new: As titleholders, we are constantly learning new things to improve and grow throughout our preparation for Miss California and year as local representatives. However, what we learn is unique to each woman as we propel through our personal journeys of self-improvement. For me, every phase of competition acts as a motivator to work on the areas of my life that I’d want to excel in whether I was competing or not. The organization encourages me to embrace my talents, be more involved in my community, stand up for causes I care about and act as a role model to the younger generation.
- Save money: While this is a New Years resolution I always am working to improve on (your girl is a sucker for a cute pair of shoes), competing in the Miss America Organization alleviates an incredible amount of financial burden. Why? Because the Miss America Organization is the world’s largest scholarship provider for women in the world. I’ve been so fortunate to have earned over $10,000 throughout my years competing to help fund my undergraduate degree at Duke University (Go Blue Devils!) and my upcoming Master’s at Northwestern. Miss America, Cara Mund, has earned $95,000 to help fund her degree at Brown. That’s truly incredible! And the best part is that you can compete on a budget and still be successful. My first year at Miss California’s Outstanding Teen in 2008, I bought my entire competition wardrobe at Forever 21 and on eBay. Last year, I had the help of my committee and some incredible sponsors to help a broke college girl feel like a million bucks on the Miss California stage. These sponsors and volunteers are the backbone of the organization and work tirelessly to help participants grow, learn and feel confident.
- Be nicer/kinder/more patient: Finally, what I appreciate most about the Miss America Organization is the sisterhood we share. The women I have met through this organization are some of the most encouraging, driven and ambitious women I have had the privilege of knowing. Their philanthropic hearts propel them to make a difference in their communities and be role models to everyone they meet. Through our platforms (mine is Alzheimer’s Awareness in memory of my grandma Mary Fran), we pinpoint our passions, devise marketable strategies to promote our causes, and follow through to make a difference. We project positivity and strive to make every person we encounter feel important. And that is always relevant.
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 Amazon.com 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
- 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
- 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
- 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, 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. I’ve always been extremely dependant on my parents, both emotionally and physically. Heck, I didn’t 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.
Learning 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 hadn’t 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 I’m 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.
After gaining the courage to something I never thought I’d 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. I’ve 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.
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.
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.
As 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,
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
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.
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 Facebook.com/MissCAorg.
If you have something you really want addressed, please email me this week at Patricia@MissCalifornia.org and I will include the topic at the beginning before the Q and A.
Some of the topics I will address:
- The current situation of the Miss America BOD, the Miss Americas and the state executive directors with regard to the national organization.
- The current situation of the national competition.
- The current state of the Miss California Organization.
- Our State License with Miss America – what we have to live by as a state.
- The current state of our contestant and volunteer protection policies for the Miss California Organization.
- The road to Miss California and Miss California's OT 2018.
- Doubletree and Fresno
- Age changes
- Orientation 2018
- Ad Page Sales
- CMN fundraising
- Scholarship expectations
- Production news
- State Final Competition
- Judges brief for both Miss and Teen
- Our expectations for Miss California and Miss California's OT.
- Princess Program
- MAOT Prep
- 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!
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!
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.