April 24, 2018
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Being Miss Maine USA: The journey, the bikini and finding purpose

By Rani Williamson, Special to the BDN

I’ve been back in the real world for two weeks now. Looking back, the Miss USA pageant seems like a dream and has left me forever changed.

I spent close to three weeks living at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas with 50 other girls all chasing a common goal. I may not have won the crown, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. It has made me into a stronger, more confident, goal-oriented woman. To sum the past year up in one lesson I have learned: It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.

During our Miss USA media tour in New York City a few weeks before leaving for Las Vegas, President of the Miss Universe Organization Paula Shugart gave all of the contestants some valuable advice. She said that if we made the experience solely about winning then there would be 50 disappointed women, as only one wins.

After digesting this statement, I thought, she’s right. If this experience isn’t about winning, then what is it truly about? From that moment on, I decided to treat the contest like I would any other life experience — as an opportunity to grow. After all, at the end of the day, this is what it all comes down to, right? We want to expand our minds, hearts and souls in a way that fulfills us, that makes us feel like we are grasping what we can out of what life throws our way.

I could tell you about the specifics, such as what it was like to walk in a line of 51 beautiful women through a crowded casino, how it felt to walk in my bikini on national television or how far my heart jumped when my name was called in the top 16, but I want to use this space instead to tell you what I learned about life. Here are three out of many things I learned during my Miss USA journey:

  1. Be yourself. When you stay true to your core, it shines through and people see you as a person they can genuinely relate to. At the end of the day, as much as you may criticize parts of yourself, it feels the best to just be you.
  1. Treat your body like a temple. As I made a conscious effort to eat clean and exercise in preparation for Miss USA, I started to feel radical changes not just in my physical health but in my emotional and mental health. Feeling healthy from the inside out gave me a new-found sense of self-nurturing. Part of becoming a woman is figuring out how to nurture your body and mind. I learned to treat myself with the utmost respect, which in turn made others respect me.
  1. Every experience has a purpose. We’ve all heard the saying “everything happens for a reason.” This is probably the most accurate and helpful outlook to have, and I believe that even moments that may be painful or seem impossible serve a purpose in our lives. Take advantage of a difficult experience by using it as an opportunity to grow and learn. There is always something to be gained; you just have to find it.

I hope these words speak even to those of you who could really care less about pageants. With any major life event, where our courage is tested and we are challenged in a new way, there are an abundance of gifts. I learned that for me, the most rewarding gift is making another person feel good about themselves.

One of the most enjoyable experiences I had at Miss USA was working with Best Buddies and making a life-long friendship with a high school girl named Amber. Being able to put a smile on her face was an indescribable feeling. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to explore the woman I have become and the life I am building. Being Miss Maine USA has given me this gift, and that is something I will carry with me forever.

Rani Williamson of Portland graduated with a communication degree from the University of Southern Maine and currently works as an account manager at a marketing and social e-commerce agency in Manhattan called Dotbox. She is Miss Maine USA 2012.

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