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Dear 2015…

Dear 2015,

#BYEFELICIA

Yours tru…

Kidding. You didn’t think I’d write you off that easily, did you? I have to say, despite the ups and downs, I think we did okay–you & me.

While we didn’t avoid heartbreak or disappointment, we grew. We flourished. I learned. I fought. I cried more than I would have liked to, but well.. Life.

With that, I say thank you–this year started off pretty crazy with one (or five) too many  consecutive days and nights in bed, but I got it together. we got it together. Not fully of course, but enough to start to put the pieces back together again. The glue was only temporary and not as sturdy as I’d wished it was, but the beauty of falling down and being broken is rising up and building yourself again–better, stronger and wiser.

This year, you taught me to let love loose and run free in all that I did. I hope everyone learns to do that–to live independent of their fears and dream a little bigger, smile a little wider and open their minds to things and people that are unknown until the word “hello” is spoken. (that one’s for you, Adele)

From cramming for my GREs, to moving back home and preparing for Miss New Jersey, to getting accepted into Syracuse and everything in between, there wasn’t a day I took for granted. While there were moments I was at my lowest, the sun never stopped shining and the fire in my soul never stopped burning. The bigger picture was always the motivation, and still continues to be.

Thank you for bringing new friends into my life and taking away some others. I firmly believe everyone and everything serves a purpose in my life–whether it be a lesson or a blessing. People disappeared, energy was [at times] wasted, but the spirits and lives that surround me have proven that sometimes you need to weed out bad apples and allow people to walk away in order to facilitate a positive circle. I learned to appreciate all of it and take the good with the bad.

Speaking of the good with the bad, holy shit there was a lot of that this year. If I knew then what I know now, I would go back to February and hold him a little tighter. I would go back to June and tell myself that things have a way of working themselves out, even if some of my dreams didn’t come true. I’d probably take a few text messages back, too. But hey, everything happens for a reason, right?

I’m grateful. Riley Curry brought laughter, the Curry family gave a new definition of #RelationshipGoals, Chrissy Teigen tweeted unapologetically, and emojis got DeAndre Jordan back to the Clippers. A loss was redefined as a victory the second I landed in Hoopeston, IL and gained friends I can now call my sisters. Movements were established, lives were lost, and awareness was raised for issues that are unfortunately still present in today’s society. 2015 was about raising our voices and striving to be heard–I hope people start to listen

I don’t want to dwell on my problems. I don’t want to be a girl who needs fixing. We all have issues, we all deal with shit. I want to be great, and I want to be viewed as such–as someone whose ambition and drive is overwhelmingly inspiring. I want to give people hope, spread love, make writing cool[er] and make every single person I meet feel welcomed and alive.

I’m not perfect, but no one is. I can’t right my wrongs, but I can commit to making better choices. Everyone can. Sometimes all you have to do is try (before it’s too late). 

I pray that people’s ‘I love you’ texts get answered and that holding back is a thing of the past. Because I believe that speaking your truth, shining your heart and making your existence matter is a thing of the future. No more living in fears, in shadows and in doubt. Let the sun shine through your smile and your heart with every person you meet and every conversation you have. Leaving people better than you found them–that was always the prerogative.

So, what’s next?

The ‘new year, new me’ flex is alive and well on social media, but I wonder if those pictures and tweets are posted/written with vengeance and tenacity, or simply fear of being left behind. I’m sure you know, but 2016 will be the judge of that.

I’m thankful–for the family who never stops cheering me on, the friends who hold my hand and keep me up, the job that pays my bills, and for God who allows me to wake up everyday. Life is short, but you’ve taught me to appreciate every moment.

Goodbyes are never easy, but it’s time to leave you, some people and some memories behind. Growth comes from breaking out of certain shells and following the journey less traveled. For too long, I have marveled in the past. But it’s time. Right now, in this moment, to bid adieu to you. You were good to me, but all good things must come to an end.

Be sure to tell 2016 to be treat me right, and I’ll promise to do the same.

Always,
Anna

One Man Can Change the World.

After throwing all of my belongings into bags and suitcases Friday evening, I slowly slumped onto the hardwood floor in the bedroom of my apartment, looked in the mirror and started to get teary eyed (I don’t cry, but water was forming around my eyeballs.

My thought: I don’t look good. I’m not going to fit into my clothes. This isn’t going to be good.

Instead of keeping these thoughts to myself, I sniffled a little, grabbed my phone and texted my go-tos—Mom and Cierra (Devon doesn’t know how to answer her phone anymore). I communicated those exact sentiments, to which the responses were realistic but very much tailored to my mindset.

“Negative thoughts out. Everything is going to be fine.”

I shrugged that off, put the phone down and told myself to GET IT TOGETHER.

In that moment, the song switched to ‘One Man Can Change the World.”

Aghh, Big Sean. Saving souls.

“I hope you learn to make it on your own
And if you love yourself just know you’ll never be alone
I hope that you get everything you want and that you chose
I hope that it’s the realest thing that you ever know”

My girl Brenna Jo spoke so highly of me in her last blog, but in moments of weakness, where I fall victim to my own insecurities and the ridicule of others, I start to doubt the very thing I preached about just a few weeks ago. I refuse to give into the critics, but how do you fight the floating thoughts that linger?

“Oh god, if my gown is tight, people will probably compare it to Miss New Jersey week.”
“I shouldn’t be going”
“I’ll probably be the biggest girl there.”
“Making Top 15 isn’t even an option because my swimsuit won’t be the best.”

I don’t take many things to heart, because being unapologetic about who I am has and always will take precedent. If you aren’t real, than what’s the point you know? However, what I have learned is that the reality of someone’s being versus the  perception you have of them, or what you think they are, aren’t one in the same. Here I am talking about the one thing that holds no real correspondence in the grand scheme of my life (or yours, to be honest), but it’s important to address it. I read on Twitter that a study showed that men prefer “skinny” women over “curvy” women. Guess what? Neither of those words describes a person’s drive, ambition, goals, personality, heart, mind or soul. I don’t care if you are deemed “attractive.” If you don’t have a heart/mind that is humble, colorful, understanding and open, you ain’t it. #sorrynotsorry

I have been doing a lot of reading and reflecting this summer, and what I’ve learned is that caring less about the negativity and more about your personal growth is and also will be the most important thing in this life. The people who love you, support you and appreciate your presence will be there. Hell, they’ll even book half a plane, fly 800 miles and drive two and a half hours to stay in the middle of nowhere to watch you compete in a pageant when you are no longer relevant in pageant world. That’s what matters.

Like Myra always says, you can’t win them all—but if you learn to derive the necessary, purposeful and meaningful lessons from your experiences, you can never really lose. Amirite?

You can’t grow and flourish as a person and contribute to society if you stay stagnant in your thoughts and actions. I am not the same person I was two months ago, and I sincerely believe that I am better because of everything I’ve gone through—both this summer and in my 24 years of livin’. With that, I am still living, still breathing and still working to be and do better. I thank God for the hopes, goals, career, friendships and family that keep me on my toes and always striving for more.

I am SO excited to be representing the people, community and state that have molded me into the woman I am today. I have been to Hoopeston, Illinois twice as a spectator and admire each and every girl who competed. I CAN’T BELIEVE I GET TO BE ONE OF THEM THIS YEAR!

My mindset, after a few clouded thoughts hindered my almost-always optimistic noggin, is that this is an honor, a privilege and something I essentially worked to get to. I am certain that this experience will bring me memories, laughter, love and 40-something amazing young women who I get to call my Sweetheart sisters.

This is it for me. It’s hitting home, and the heart, pretty hard. I sat up yesterday skimming through five years of photos thinking “this is it.” I know the whole ‘once you’re in, you’re never really out,’ but I’ll never be a contestant again after next week. I’ll never get to cuddle with 12 girls in one bed while slowly nibbling on one cookie before a swimsuit prelim and talking about life. I’ll never have to do two-a-days for three weeks straight to strut in a swimsuit for 30 seconds ever. again. I’ll probably never get to wear a sparkly crown as a ‘princess’ and visit the Children’s Hospital again. So with that, I plan on taking advantage of every single aspect of this experience—because when push comes to shove, I’m not going to be talking about how I looked a little chubby in my swimsuit while I hold and talk to my future kids and grandkids. I’m going to talk about the amazing, talented, exuberant young women I met, who taught me about tenacity, goal-setting, perseverance and selflessness—the women who, in my 20s, pushed me far beyond my wildest expectations simply by being who they are day in and day out. The women who became doctors, teachers, journalists, senators, legislators, mothers, businesswomen, etc., all while serving as catalysts for change to make this world a better place to live in. After all, One [Wo]Man Can Change the World.

I ask for your kind words, prayers, smiles and hugs as I enter this ‘final phase of competition.’ I hope to make you all proud of the sassy, opinionated gal that you decided to put on a plane and send to the cornfields of Illinois. My heart is already full and I am grateful to end this chapter on such a sweet note.

Hoopeston, hope you’re ready for the
“Fresh Sweetheart of New Jersey.” 

ME

A Work in Progress

Jumping into July. That’s the title of my ever-so-daunting to-do list, filled with errands, meetings, tasks, reminders and a grocery list, because walking across the street for pizza is no longer suitable for my bank account or my waistline. This whole adult life—not too sure how I feel about it. Sure, I’ve always had a job and bills to pay, but you tack on a rent, utilities and heightened responsibility and suddenly you wish you were still living at home with mom, greeting you with a good morning and a short stack.

I’m going through some pretty life-altering changes and transitions that sometimes send me to my bed at 7pm with no hope of moving until I have it figured out. I am a thinker, a lover, a dreamer. I have always looked one step ahead and up until a month ago, I thought my plan was pretty awesome. At that point, I’m sure God laughed and said ‘wait til you see what I have in store for you.’

Shift change. I knew at some point, the vision I had for my life was going to shift and take a different path. We can’t have it all figured out all the time. For five years, I set out to break barriers and set an example for women everywhere. I thought to myself—“How cool would it be for me to be the girl that made history? To be the first Hispanic Miss NJ and open a dialogue about diversity in this organization and in this state & country—maybe even the world.” I wouldn’t deem myself totally crazy, but that’s a hell of a lot of responsibility for one person, and I fought like hell to be that person. I want[ed] every single woman out there to know that you are never too young or too old to dream big, even if circumstances force you to shift that dream a bit. I read a few days ago that there are 7% less women in sports journalism this year in comparison to last year. There’s my shift. As a woman getting ready to embark on a new journey, I have found a new statistic to combat and another avenue to not only make my dreams come true, but provide relatability to young girls who were told they couldn’t be or do something.

And with that, I am slowly coming to the realization that competing (in a pageant, at least) is no longer a part of my future. I’ve identified with the consistent schedule of

  • Compete in a local
  • Win a local
  • Complete a year of service—driving up and down the state too many times to count
  • Prepare for miss new jersey
  • Drive myself crazy
  • Miss NJ week

(and a whole lot of living in between all of that)

With the exception of #5, I never have to abide by that rigorous schedule again. I think I’m okay with most of it, but what makes this all the more frightening is feeling like I’m no longer going to be important or relevant. How silly, right? I think of all the moments I’ve colored with children at the hospital, spoke with their families, seen kids too shy to speak because “I’m a princess” or people who have stopped and screamed “HEY MISS (insert title here)!” The little kids who run up and smile, the teenagers who want to take selfies and learn about your life, the adults who share their memories of the Miss America pageant—that’s what I’ll miss the most. I can live with never wearing a crown or sash again, but I pray every single night that I am able to be as influential, inspirational and motivational without it.

What’s love got to do with it? In the midst of all my reflecting, someone said to me “you know, something really amazing is going to happen to you this year. I hope you find love.” To this I laughed hysterically, because I have little to no luck in that department. Then I said to myself, “How thoughtful and kind for someone to wish that for me.” I have found some form of success in every aspect of my life, even in my failures and defeats. Boys—good lord. I found hope once, not too sure where it went. You share conversations and insight with people, and all of a sudden you’re staring at your phone waiting for a sign that something is there. I’ve been told I’m intimidating. I mean—who would want to date a driven college graduate with a background in sports, dance and communications who just so happens to be a beauty queen (I’m mediocre at best). Day in and day out I work to give the best version of myself. What I really want is someone who will tell me stupid jokes, talk about books, news and poetry with me, who maybe wouldn’t mind eating pizza in bed while watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Sportscenter. There’s so much more to that, but I believe that a bond between a man (not boy) and a women (not girl) is established when you smile at the sound of their name, find their insight and outlook to be intriguing, but more so when you understand that it isn’t one-for-another but one-for-both –aligning passion with drive and vision and letting nothing but love and support guide that.

Use your words for good. I started a small writing project a few weeks. Fidel Garcia once told me a story behind what it means to ‘pay it forward’ and I sincerely fell in love with the idea of acting in a kind manner, in an effort to repay the universe and those around you for your blessings. I am a firm believer in ‘throwing it to the wind’ and letting what needs/must happen to simply happen. As most of you know, my post-Miss NJ blog made its way to and through the pageant community in a way I never thought possible. Before all of that, however, there was the actual writing. I can’t say it was easy, and that I didn’t stay up staring at an empty screen in my Notes app. Life just sort of happens and you’re forced to deal with it—head on—whether you’re ready for it or not. In these moments, particularly in my own experiences, I had to put my trust in someone to essentially read my feelings and correct the grammatical errors—judgement free. That blog was not a short read, and my friend read it on his phone and sent back screenshots of every single page with every. single. thing I missed—word for word. Once my blog was fine-tuned, published, and getting unreal feedback, I thought to myself, “How do I pay it forward for all the people who sent me messages of encouragement and love in my encounter with defeat (we’ll deem it that for lack of a better word).” In that moment, I found myself writing again—an affirmation of sorts, providing reassurance of life and its pursuits. I won’t go into detail, but that night I sent an e-mail to my ‘proofreader’ that not only instilled words of hope into his existence, but provided me with the understanding that if you use your words for good, you can never truly go array. There’s something so satisfactory about knowing that your thoughts and positivity resonate with people. Being quoted on Twitter is also pretty awesome in my book.

Amidst the affirmations, I was putting myself in a vulnerable position, as my feelings (I have those for boys sometimes) began to take the wheel. This ‘proofreader’ has been my school girl crush for the last couple years. It’s cheesy to think you can continuously have those silly, not-so-logical feelings towards someone, but they happen and you deal.  However, sometimes we fall for people who have no intention of catching us, and instead watch us fall into confusion or ambiguity as they walk into happiness. Like real life Miss New Jersey, he never picked me—no matter how many times I tried. And he very well may never choose me. I was never going to be the first round pick of his girlfriend-draft. (Take the friendship, dull the rest).

Find your home. You’re gonna like/ love things and people more than they love you. Feelings aren’t always mutual, and reciprocity comes far and thin nowadays. We live under societal implications that give women authority to think that “swerving” a guy is cool, and men the power to think that having a laundry list of women to pick from on any given day or night is even cooler. To that, I call foul. BUT… At no point should you ever stop loving those things. They serve/d a purpose, and at some point, when things come full circle, you’ll know who and what to give your love to because it will be welcomed, accepted and returned. The home we all long for isn’t just the white house with a picket fence, but the one that is surrounded by red walls and a constant beating to remind us that we are still alive and very much loved.

Life. My advice to you, now and always, is to choose YOU first. The day someone else chooses me, I’ll be sure it’s a choice they never regret. People won’t text you back, Facetime calls will go unanswered, you won’t always land your dream job, and you may even get rejected from your dream school. Understand that you will never truly arrive at a place of knowing it all, but YOU are an expert of your own story and your own life. Own that, own yourself, and you learn to pick up pieces along the way to create the bigger picture. Each piece of the puzzle, no matter how rough the edges may be, will be exactly what you need when you need it and very rarely when you want it. You don’t have to remind someone that you’re worthy of their time. Focus your energy on who and what matters.

“Our hearts are so big. It’s our biggest strength and our biggest weakness.”

I am a work in progress. As a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a mentor, and in love, my career, my dreams and my goals—I am trying. That’s all I can do, right?!

But I am working. Every day. To be better and to do better.

A work in progress, working to progress.

xo.

Greatness isn’t Always Defined by Winning the Race

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I came across this quote after competing for Miss New Jersey for a 4th time, and walking away with nothing—or so I thought was nothing at the time. My best friend won, so the sadness and disappointment of my own shortcomings dissipated because she needed me and this was something we dreamed of/planned for years. YEARS. I turned into a proofreader, a transcriber (she spoke while driving and I just typed away), a permanent presence in the passenger’s seat, a security guard (I had to stiff-arm a couple people), a cheerleader, but a friend and a partner-in-crime nonetheless. I was vicariously living my dream through my best friend, but she also allowed me to live it with her, too. Fast-forward to September 2014 when I’m sitting in Boardwalk Hall with tears in my eyes as I am watching my favorite person in the entire world dance as my voice filled the space–yes, that really happened. Miss America preparation was a small part of Cierra’s year as Miss NJ in retrospect, but it played such a huge part in my life. As only the second woman of color to be crowned, Cierra’s win inspired me for a number of reasons. She was doing everything she planned on doing if she had ever won, and doing it pretty damn well.

The fire was lit. I ran into my favorite titleholders, met amazing women and I felt inspired and motivated. All I kept thinking was “I can do this.”

And I did. Kind of.

“One of these two ladies will be the next Miss New Jersey…” There I am, standing in front of one of my closest pageant friends… and we’re holding hands. The last two standing.

last two standing_2

We’re both staring at each other wondering what the hell is going on (that may or may not have come out of one of our mouths, but I will neither confirm nor deny that). Every year, I have premonitions on who will win and I am always right. Always. Katharyn Nicolle, Lindsey Petrosh, Cara McCollum, Cierra—I guessed them all. This year, my vision was simply a girl waving at the end of the runway in a black dress. Well, there I am— in my black Kaitlin Monte inspired Shawn Yearick evening gown, and there is Lindsey, also in her black Shawn Yearick gown. I have dreamed of this moment since I watched Kirsten Haglund win Miss America and good lord what a feeling it is. My stomach sank to the floor and all I felt was an ease come over me. No pressure, no nerves, no sadness. I think I’ll deem it complacency—like someone from above lightly graced my shoulder and said “it’s going to be okay.” All I thought was “well, I did it– I got far as I am destined to be.” I looked back at my BFF Devon, I smiled, and I said (in my head) “it’s not going to me.” Things got a little crazy but when the smoke cleared, I looked up, and watched Lindsey waving at the end of the runway in her black evening gown.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t sad after the fact. I got so many hugs and ‘I love yous’ in that moment that nothing else really mattered to me other than my mom being proud of me. I went upstairs, changed out of my gown and into my cocktail dress, grabbed two slices of pizza, ate them (both), put on a brave face and said, out loud, everything that not only I, but every other girl who also didn’t win, needed to hear.

“I have made Top ten, I haven’t. I have won prelims, I haven’t, I have made Top 5 and I haven’t. Tonight, I went from not even hearing my name last year to being 1st runner up. I want you all to know that if you believe in this dream, you fight for it until you can’t fight anymore. Your hard work and dedication, it matters. But above all else, I have never in my life felt so loved and supported by a group of girls and for that I want to say thank you.”

The morning after. Aside from Devon and I having a sob fest at 8am in my room, I sat at breakfast the next day, still totally okay. I looked at my mom, asked her if I sounded okay during my OSQ, and she responded “Oh my gosh, of course! Probably the best I’ve ever heard you speak.” My response, in the wimpiest voice, “Then why didn’t they pick me?” Tears came rolling down all over my Uncle Bill’s pancakes, as my brave face and tough heart could no longer hold its own. However, something really amazing happened in that moment—a woman walked by my table, apologized for catching me at a bad time, and said how proud she was of me and that I have served as an inspiration to both of her daughters.

That is my purpose. Since I was a young girl, I have always wanted to set a positive example, even if that meant being a nerd or not hanging out with my friends as much, because I enjoyed doing well in school, volunteering, singing, etc. I grew up in an environment that had already set me up to fail, as Hispanics were falling to the daunting statistics surrounding teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates. I saw more of what I didn’t want to be then what I actually wanted to be. From that point forward, I made it a point to BE the person others could emulate and look up to. All it takes is one person, is what I always told myself.

Eight years ago… The extent of my beauty regimen was making sure I wore mascara to school, decked out in my khakis, pullover sweater and messy bun. I was the girl with a snack basket at the bottom of her locker, filled with candy and honey buns, who ran to homeroom in slippers every morning just as the bell was ringing (I was a real gem). I entered my senior year of high school with a huge void in my heart, as I wandered the halls that I once heard ‘WHERE’S BIG A AT?!’ in. You lose a friend at a young age and your entire perspective on life changes. My friend, Josh, was killed by a drunk driver. You can try to paint that however you want in an attempt to find purpose and meaning, but I remember when it all happened. The first thing I did was put a ribbon on the fence where he parked his bike. He used to somehow lodge it in between this metal fence and my car, as if my car served as some sort of shield. After that, I walked into my high school, I sat down in front of his locker on the floor in the middle of the hallway and I cried. The girl that never cries was suddenly balling her eyes out in an empty high school hallway. I had to sit there and wrap my head around the fact that I was supposed to be with him, but I missed his call.

The light in my path. I entered my first local MAO pageant in February 2009. You take this opinionated tomboy who spent more time on a baseball field and a basketball court than on her hair and makeup, put her on a stage in a swimsuit and suddenly things change. I met Ashleigh Udalovas (who would later become Miss New Jersey) during this pageant. She took me under her wing and guided me through the chaos and into the meaning of what exactly Miss America is/was. I wanted to be her. I wanted to use my talent and my voice to be a force in my community, with the hopes that bringing attention to social issues as an ambitious Hispanic woman would not only break the mold of what is perceived to be a “Pageant Girl,” but bring relatability and relevance to girls (and boys) who maybe haven’t found someone older to identify with.

Here and now. I had the opportunity to speak at Millville Senior High School before their prom a few weeks before Miss New Jersey, and in doing so, got to share a little bit about myself, as well as Josh’s story. I was a little nervous, because to this day, I still get emotional talking about it. I stood up in front of the first class and literally poured my heart out on the floor. I sincerely believe that transparency and honesty is the best tool in public speaking, especially when you are trying to get your point across. I started to get a little teary eyed and felt embarrassed, only to look down at 20-something staring faces with tears in their eyes. My message was resonating with 17-year-olds. They were actually relating, understanding, but most importantly, they were listening. In that moment, I couldn’t have felt any more accomplished. The mood was lightened with a Q&A period, and then the students had a break before their next block. I took the time to check my phone for any messages/texts and looked up to find chairs pulled up all around the desk I was sitting at with questions coming at me left and right. Students were sitting around me asking about my college courses, internships, Carmelo Anthony, basketball, pageants, singing and football. I could not have felt more blessed in that moment, because I live to share my experiences with the hopes that it inspires people—I mean that. I even received tweets and messages from these students before & during Miss New Jersey week.

School tour_Millville HS 1

THE GOOD STUFF.

Miss New Jersey Week started off with a fun trip to the hospital. I wish I was kidding. Monday afternoon as I was picking up last minute things and running a few errands, my neck was itching. I shook it off thinking, ‘ehh it’s a bug bite.’ Boy, was I wrong. I finally looked in a mirror to find hives all over my neck, and some on my face. CUE THE PANIC. Something always happens before Miss NJ week. It’s just a thing. One year, half of my eyebrow was accidently waxed off. One year, I was sick and could barely talk (super awesome for a singer). One year, I fell and almost twisted my ankle. Stuff happens, right? I laughed, called my mom, got a salad and went to the mall to finish my shopping. Thinking that my stress is getting the best of me, I try to relax for the sake of my face (IT IS STILL A PAGEANT, PEOPLE). I have entirely too many tan lines, so I go to the gym for a quick tan (sorry Fiona, don’t hate me). I arrive back at home to find my ENTIRE face in hives, and my throat is starting to swell up. So, off to the ER we go! Three hours and three medications later, I am home with 4 hours to label and pack all of my things, sleep and gear up for my last trip to The Forum. Sidenote: God Bless my sweet, sweet angel of a mother who didn’t sleep for a single minute because she was up worried, sewing and steaming my clothes.

momma

Sequence of events: Breakfast with my shore family. Move-in. Rehearsal. Dinner. Rehearsal. Breakfast. Rehearsal. Lunch. Rehearsal. Dinner. Parade. Rehearsal. Sleep.

Interview time. I threw the whole ‘this is my last year’ pressure out the window a long time ago because what the hell is that going to do for me now, you know? I walked into that room and made a promise that I would be myself unapologetically. I had an allergic reaction the night prior so I was a little drowsy from my meds, but I somehow fought through it to form coherent sentences (yay me!).  I walked out, looked at Cierra and wasn’t really sure what to think, but it was over and there was nothing I could do about it. Looking back at it now, with less stress, I can honestly say I did okay. I left it all in that room, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

Questions I was asked: What is the difference between a Philly fan and a New York fan?; Do you think the drinking age should be lowered?; If I could give you any advice as a former Miss NJ, what do you think it would be and why?; do you think there is such a thing as a perfect body?; what makes you different from the other girls—why should we pick you?; How do you prove you’re not just another pretty face?; If you could speak to the GM of the Yankees or the Phillies, what would your 30-second pitch be for the HERO Campaign?; What do you say to students when speaking about drunk driving?

Rehearsal. Dinner. SHOWTIME.

My talent song wasn’t supposed to happen. Because of talent reservation mishaps, I had to change my song last minute, but the first time I heard ‘What Kind of Fool Am I,’ I knew that everything happened for a reason. I, like many 20-something year old girls, have never really been in love. You strive to be this successful, accomplished woman with a good head on her shoulders and a pretty face- but sometimes ya just wanna be loved! Hasn’t happened for me quite yet, but the song held special meaning, so I walked out in my Christmas-Barbie inspired two-piece red gown and sang my heart out. I, then, won a talent preliminary award and lost my marbles. I was so happy. Singing has always been a part of my life, and to be recognized for that was important to me. I shared the night with [the future] Miss New Jersey, who won swimsuit that night and proceeded to talk about pizza on-stage.

crazy faces

Friday night was the real nerve-kicker—Swimsuit and Evening Gown. For years, I have been bullied by those stupid Voy boards (and to my face, actually) about my body and my weight. I said this in my interview, too. I have battled outside demons, online demons who have said I needed to push myself away from the dinner table, and the doubt and fear inside my head telling me I couldn’t do it—an ex-boyfriend once told me I would never be Miss New Jersey because I was fat and not white (he’s an ex for a reason). Challenges and adversity presented itself in the summer of 2013 as I was graduating college, trying to find a job and also battling minor depression that was caused by a number of things in my life. I finally took charge and control a few months ago and FINALLY feel like myself again. I used the Miss New Jersey stage to show that Anna, the REAL Anna, was back. I stepped out on that stage in my Irene West swimsuit with zero cares, because I knew I had worked extremely hard to achieve a feasible, realistic and maintainable body image. Thousands of kettle bell swings, endless squats, too many resistance sprints and deadlifts later, I confidently strutted my 145-pound self proudly. I stopped worrying about the number on the scale and started worrying about what mattered-my health (and my fit bod! Haha).

Swimsuit 1

Why won’t you just love me? I think competing for Miss New Jersey (or any local/state title) is kind of like trying to get the guy you love to love you back. You do everything in your power to be the most beautiful human being with an intellect like no other, a hot body, a heart of gold, great with kids and the ability to hold a conversation long enough to contribute something worth listening to—and for some reason he still doesn’t love you back. He’s just there—and if you’re what he likes, he’ll choose you. If you aren’t his cup of tea, he moves on to the next lucky lady. That, my friends, is life. It is all a matter of preference. The only difference? You don’t chase boys, you chase dreams. If you’re bringing everything I mentioned to the table, you wait for the one who will run with you.

The rest is history. Would I have loved to be the first Hispanic Miss New Jersey? Absolutely. Would I have loved to utilize the Miss New Jersey name to reach students and essentially everyone across the state in spreading optimism, positivity and my platform message? Certainly. My friend Jaren reminded me of something so very important at lunch a few days ago that put everything into perspective. Amidst my story telling, he said to me, “But you’re always going to be Anna– the driven, passionate Anna that makes things happen. You don’t need a crown or a title for that.” Cierra said the same thing to me Saturday night and everything came full circle.

Greatness isn’t always defined by winning the race. I have certainly been on a rollercoaster of emotions, but I finally came to a realization—I am already Miss New Jersey in the eyes of those who look up to me. Over the last five years, I have spoken to/with thousands of students across the state, spent countless hours at the Children’s Specialized Hospital of New Jersey—meeting and connecting with the most amazing families and children, worked with nationally recognized organizations, as well as state officials, met truly remarkable women that I get to call my friends, but above all else, I have grown into a woman that I am proud to be. I defied stereotypes and became a first-generation college graduate, obtaining a degree and establishing a career in an industry people thought was “too competitive & male-dominated” for me to succeed in. I have performed the National Anthem live on national television at the World’s Most Famous Arena—twice. I completed five internships in New York City. I fearlessly speak and sing in front of thousands with a confidence I developed over time. I technically sang on the Miss America stage. I have learned that there are people out there who can still hold meaningful conversation about music, art, poetry, sports, politics and pizza. Most importantly, I have learned that women of substance, those who radiate knowledge, servitude, selflessness, kindness, optimism, positivity and quirkiness, are not only valued, but an asset to our society and world. This journey, the years of service– they are not about anybody but you and the people you are impacting. #byehaters

Lessons Learned. I disregarded the assumptions and negative thoughts/opinions of so many people and took it upon myself to be exactly who I am and nothing less. I believe it’s important to rise above any setbacks and face challenges head-on, because it gives you the chance to grow and flourish as a human being. I have said this from Day 1—I want to lead a life that leaves people feeling motivated, inspired, empowered and important. It is my hope that I have left every single person I have encountered better—as each person I met has, in turn, affected me in the best way possible. I learned that every person, every situation and every experience has something to offer, so long as you keep an open mind, open ears and an open heart.

THANKS. To everyone who believed in me— my sincerest thank you. It most definitely takes a village to deal with a girl who is meek hearted, laughs too loud, speaks outright and says “YAS,” “I love you” and “are you kidding” too much. In all of that, you have reassured me that being Anna is always enough. Every single message, hug, smile and conversation helped me find the light in my darkest days. I have what feels like a MILLION thank yous and I want to save them all for my farewell (July 18th– be there), but I want to take a moment to thank a gal pal who became one of my closest friends, as she won’t be at the pageant in a few weeks.

Dev– There was never a moment when you weren’t texting me, Facetiming me, holding my hand, or pinching my butt throughout this journey. Whenever a single notion of doubt even crossed my mind, you were there to swat it away. I very sincerely don’t think I would have been standing on that stage next to Lindsey if it weren’t for your friendship. I mean that. You pushed me in the gym, out of harms way and into a space of sight and faith. I think I tell you I love you a thousand times a day, but here’s a thousand and one. I love you.

Devon

Thanks for crying with me, hugging me and saying how proud you are of me. You don’t know the impact that you have had on my life, and the lives of so many other people, simply by being the Pistol that you are. So glad I have someone to be weird with #wheresthesaranwrap #groupieheadnod

Y’all, my heart is so full of love and appreciation. I am never ‘losing’ because this organization has provided me with scholarships to pursue higher education, amazing sisters and friends, memories that will last me a lifetime, the confidence to use my voice to be a staple in my community, and the skills and tools to succeed in life long after the crowns have tarnished. Above all else, I have gained an identity, a clearer grasp on my purpose and the greatest best friend a girl could ever ask for.

CICI

Everything happens for a reason. Whats meant for you will never pass you by.

See you in Hoopeston 😉

eg 2

Kindness Reigns

For the last several weeks, the phrase “you seem so happy” has been spoken to me. That compliment means more to me than any other, because I believe happiness is the best makeup. I try each and every day to exude a level of energy and positivity, with the hopes that it will become contagious and infect those I encounter.

It wasn’t always like this, though. I wasn’t always running around, wind in my hair, humming Fifth Harmony and Rihanna with a giant smile on my face. I went through some things, some manageable, some not-so-manageable. I’ve learned to ‘make it work,’ in any case.

I read a feature story about a week ago on espnW that touched my heart for a number of reasons. Madison Holleran, a jersey girl, scholar and track runner at UPenn, committed suicide after a dark and lonely battle with anxiety and depression. Her parents shared the beautiful memories of their daughter, friends told stories of parties and dinners and in my head all I could think was “what went wrong?”

The feature was centered around the idea that we have the ability to paint a picture of what we want people to think via social media. Instagram posts and tweets can sometimes mask the daunting struggles we face on a daily basis, as we fill people’s timelines with smiley selfies, pictures with friends & family, and food and art. Madison sounded like a girl full of life and spirit and promise, and so I decided to look at her Instagram to see what it was that her parents were exactly talking about.

I sat in silence, tears in my eyes for a few minutes as I scrolled through her photos. “What a beautiful soul,” I again thought to myself, reading through the comments of her posts.

Whenever I read of loss or death of young men and women, my mind immediately races to the day Josh was killed. The day, the week, the funeral… every single detail plays in my head like a horror film you can’t turn away from. Not for the sake of wanting to watch it, but because you have no other choice but to face what’s in front of you. You wish you could save them. You wish you could tell them to leave a few minutes later, or to stay home, or not to jump or give up because thousands and thousands of people would feel the pain of their absence.

Life is fragile. Technology has taken over full force, providing advantages and disadvantages to all. We communicate a little less and rely on someone’s tweets or Instagram posts to reassure us that our friends, or even ourselves, are living and breathing and okay. Someone tweets a little less and we worry, but never address it. Weeks go by without a picture, but we assume they are just busy. Then there’s the people who post every single day—their outings, their birthday shoutouts, quotes, opinions.

What makes either of those circumstances a justifiable means by which we can say someone is ‘ok?’

I value phone calls. I value “I miss yous.’ I value people going out of their way to speak or see me, because I’m allowed to want to feel loved and important and wanted. We are all allowed to feel that way. But what happens to the people who don’t think that way—the ones who face darkness on a daily basis with no escape other than self-harm or making that darkness permanent?

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”

We have the power to influence the world around us—with words and with actions. I don’t think I realized the validity of that until I was standing in front of a classroom of 20 students with tears in their eyes as I shared stories and details about my platform message. When you have the ability to relate or connect with someone, you do it. Find the words, find the message, find the dots, connect them and you instill hope and motivation and faith into a soul that may have been broken or maybe just needed to be lifted.

I won’t go into full detail, but battling through the challenges and adversity in my own life gave me an entirely new perspective on life, and reading about Madison Holleran heightened that perspective.

Life is too short to hold grudges. There is sometimes this incessant ambiguity of what tomorrow holds for us, praying the sunshine graces our faces and lights the smile we have within. We may fear risk, and I think there’s always a fear of the unknown, because we never truly know what’s coming our way.

Whatever you do, do it with the mindset that you are adding value to your life and hopefully enriching the lives of others. Who you surround yourself with, how you handle situations, what words you use and how you at upon them… it all matters. You don’t want to live your life with regrets. Closed mouths don’t get fed and sometimes the fear of speaking up keeps us trapped in our own silence and we become mute and emotionless as we battle to break free. My advice to you, to everyone, is always to speak up and speak out—because silence is a slow killer and I’d rather live in the honesty of my words than crumble under my silence.

And hey, you matter. Everyone matters, to someone. I know that’s sometimes a difficult pill to swallow when we are neglected or torn or getting mixed signals from a girl/guy we like or you get into a fight with your mom, but we all have mothers and fathers and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who love us unconditionally, despite the flaws [that we ALL have]. Negativity is out of style and optimism is totally in, so let’s get with the trend and make positivity an everyday thing.

You can’t teach passion, you can’t teach drive, you can’t teach tenacity. That’s all within you—so be strong enough to know that those attributes and a really awesome attitude will take you far beyond your wildest dreams. You have to believe. Clear eyes, a heart full of love, open ears—be welcoming to the good, bad, pretty, ugly, great, unfortunate things.

“Bad things don’t happen to good people—bad things make good people”

Someone’s inability to see your worth really isn’t your problem—especially if you’re working and hustling and grinding. You could have and be willing to offer everything you have and sometimes it still isn’t enough—but by no means does that diminish your worth. It just means that you were meant for something better, something else, someone better or someone else—in love, in your career, in food (forgetting that Chik-fil-a is closed on Sundays is the worst).

We are guided by our inner fire, our faith and the universe to provide us with who, what and where we are meant to be. Trust in that and don’t halfass a single thing you do.

It all starts with you.

until next time,

Anna

Anna_Fidi-3731

There’s hope in every tomorrow… Don’t Settle.

This blog has been a work in progress for a few weeks now, as I’ve been taking mental notes about what the subject would be and what angle I would take. The experiences and occurrences of my [personal] life often set the precedent for it, so here we go!

Countdowns, in my opinion, give us something to look forward to and allow for heightened excitement and productivity.

My countdown?

Eight weeks. 56 days.

Miss New Jersey 2015.

In two months, I will be on a brightly lit stage competing for the job and opportunity of a lifetime.

While most only see the pretty faces, stunning gowns, teeny bikinis, fit bodies and entertainment, the work and stories behind those pretty faces and in those pretty minds is what matters most. The courage to stand up in front of hundreds and potentially thousands is SCARY (trust me, I know), but a unique chance to prepare you for other facets of life. I have obtained communication skills, an appreciation for drive and passion and the ability to serve as an advocate for women’s empowerment. Above all, I have acquired the skills and appreciation to live my life in a way that is conducive to who I am and where I’m going. It’s taught me tenacity and that settling should never be an option.

There’s a world outside of the four walls you are confined to, the mindset you’ve adapted and the heart that may be hiding behind a heavily guarded fence.

Living means loving. I am someone who hangs onto every word that is spoken or written to me. There’s validity and value in speaking words with and of sincerity. If you love for the sake of mere convenience, you are cheating yourself of what the meaning of love actually is. There’s a love for life that has to be present, not only for people, but for occurrences, work, experiences, cultures and the idea that each day holds a new light and new message.

“If we empty our hearts every night, they won’t get too heavy or cluttered. Our hearts will stay light and open with lots of room for good new things to come.”

Believing is understanding that your purpose, your value, your contribution to this world and this society is more than you could ever anticipate or expect. Everyday encounters shouldn’t go unnoticed or undermined. I have attempted to take the reins on my life, but most times I simply have to let go and let God. If the hard work, dedication, passion and drive are present, the rest is in the universe’s hands. The road less traveled is a dusty one, but you have the ability to clear the way and make your own path as you move along.

Tomorrow? It starts today. It starts with you, with telling yourself that the dreams and goals and needs and wants you list in your head and on paper are obtainable, achievable and reachable.

One of my favorite books/social media campaigns is Humans of New York. This post I loved more than others, so I want to share.

“I wish I’d partied a little less. People always say ‘be true to yourself,’ but that’s misleading because there are two selves. There’s your short term self and there’s your long term self. And if you’re true to your short term self, your long term self slowly decays.”

Interpret that how you will.

You deserve the best in life. Tell yourself that every single day that you are living and breathing, because you grow through the happiness, the pain, the anger, the sadness, the laughter, the mistakes, the regret and the lessons. And when you grow, you take the necessary steps to be exactly who you are meant to be in that particular time and space. Trust the process and remember to enjoy the ride.

The people that pass up on you? Screw ‘em. The ones who doubt you? Prove them wrong.

Remember who makes you laugh and who makes you happy. Those are the ones that you work to keep around.

There’s hope in every tomorrow. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want and what you deserve.

Until next time.

Forward February Thinking

today I decided I was going to be better.

I find myself in a Groundhog Day type scenario the second the sun (or sound of the wind chill) awakens me each morning. by habit, I check my phone for any text messages that I didn’t answer abruptly at 3am, as well as important emails. I read theSkimm and scroll Twitter for the latest news and then the lock button is clicked.

“I’m going to get my life together today.”

that’s the daily sentiment. as a young, ambitious person who’s accustomed to working 12-14 hour days and sleeping for a sixth of the day, having the time and schedule to sleep in until 11am is just bittersweet and frustrating all in one for this 23 going on 24-year-old.

I chose my field of study because I was passionate about it. people will say “why sports” and at this point, my response is “I love it.” and I do. during my internship interview with the New York Mets, David Newman told me that if you choose a career you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

I want to work. I like to work. I need to work.

life is changing.
admist this [what I hope to be] short stint of unemployment, I’ve come to realize that I’m skating on the line of adulthood. bills are rolling in, friends are graduating and moving and I have some serious decisions to make about what’s next for me. While I was preparing for an interview a few weeks ago, I wrote “today I’m going to be better” in my notebook. that was the only thing on the college-ruled sheet, centered directly on the first line.

I fear being ordinary. it isn’t shame-based, but more so the thought of always striving and wanting more for myself and those around me. I’m not sure if it’s societal implications of what it means to be “basic,” but I don’t want to be that either.

I want to be great. shouldn’t we all? in life, in love, in happiness, in family, in friendships, in relationships, in my career, in my talents… greatness is what I hope to achieve. the second you sell yourself short or settle for what you think could or can work “for now,” you’re cheating yourself. treat a temporary situation as just that–temporary. consider temporary as a stepping stone for permanence & what you REALLY want.

and so, I spend my days working out, applying to jobs I dream of working and just waiting. waiting for the universe or someone or something or God to answer my prayers. I pray every night– for my best friend, for my family, for a boy and lastly myself and my dreams. Slowly but surely the universe is responding. I attribute that to Mercury being in retrograde, but you take advantage of these things while the planets are in your favor.

Cierra and I had this long conversation the other day about our tendencies, sadness, wants/needs and fears. (the idea that in a few short months I could be states away from my best friend is just creepy, but I won’t go there right now.) In this convo that went from talking about Disney’s Tarzan to paragraph-long words of wisdom, I was both enlightened and comforted not only by her words, but by my own. And then we talked about tacos.

taking it day by day.
within those paragraph-long texts, we both found little pieces of hope and of ourselves. in my opinion, we are all puzzles, but we don’t own all of the pieces. our jigsaw is solved daily as the people we meet, the experiences we encounter and the love that grows within us continuously adds a tiny piece to the big puzzle. if we had everything figured out, life would be hella boring. as Hannah Brencher put it, “I am mapless and I thank God for that.” There’s so much spontaneity and excitement and wonder for what each day holds. and that’s such a treasureable trait of life that should never be taken for granted.

“The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful. And being generous. Everything else is crap…”
amen. there’s so much validity to this statement. there are certainly a lot of other things that are sexy and aren’t crap, but intelligence, thoughtfulness and generosity are beautiful characteristics to uphold and maintain in every facet of life. it insinuates a sense of confidence and allures all the right people and respect.

never give up hope.
hope is present in the strangest, most random and even the most obvious of places. don’t give up on people or yourself. if you speak truthfully and honestly about your wishes, they will be sent out into the universe and it will be heard.

move forward.
take the necessary steps everyday and march towards your goals. be open-minded, wear a smile, stay informed and don’t lose sight of what’s ahead. you never know what blessings could come your way, so be alert and pay attention.

let today be the day you choose to be better.

xo.