My Winning Tiara

Over the years I’ve had many careers. I’ve owned a wedding gown store, co-hosted a radio show, and been a TV personality and producer. However my very first career was as a professional wedding photographer.

I truly loved being a photographer, but I loved being a part of people’s special wedding day even more.

I no longer photograph weddings professionally. However, I still have a keen interest in photography.

In fact, I follow much photography Instagram accounts. From amateur photographers to professionals, I love looking at images captured in the moment or from faraway places that I’ve never travelled to.

Just like myself, a friend of mine has a similar interest and follows some of the same accounts I do. The only difference, this particular friend is an avid traveller and has taken hundreds of beautiful photos. He really is very talented.

Having returned from another adventurous trip, he shared some of his latest photos. Blown away by the images I asked him why he hadn’t started his own Instagram account of shots.

“It’s hard to start when there are already so many other sites dedicated to travel photography with thousands of followers”, he explained. “What if I don’t get any followers or worse what if people don’t like my shots?”

“Yet how will you ever know if you don’t try?” I asked.

“Your photos are amazing!” I gushed.

He just shrugged and quickly changed the subject.

I knew this feeling well. The sharp sting of self-doubt.

When I was ten years old I took guitar lessons at the Royal Conservatory of music. I can’t remember a chord to this day, but regardless, I did enjoy the classes.

A month before my course ended our teacher told us about a music festival taking place for all the conservatory schools in the Niagara area. Notices were sent home and we were encouraged to sign up to represent the school.

Along with the music competitions, there were a few other fun activities you could sign up for. They had a baking challenge, a singing contest and a beauty pageant. It seemed like they had something for everyone.

My mother loved the idea of a beauty pageant. Without even asking me, she immediately enrolled me to walk the runway, along with two guitar competitions.

The thought of competing against other students definitely scared me.  I’d only been taking guitar lessons for a year and didn’t think I was ready for such an important festival. Yet those feelings were nothing compared to how terrified I was to participate in the beauty pageant.

My grandparents were visiting from England at the time and they could sense my panic. I had always been very close with both of them, so it was no surprise when they took me under their wings, to help me prepare.

My Nana, a seamstress, took it upon herself to design and sew a new dress for me to sashay down the runway. My grandfather set up a guitar practice schedule and helped me write a short speech to address the crowd and judges at the pageant.

Finally the dreaded day was here.

I was feeling pretty good about the guitar competitions. I had followed my grandfather’s schedule to a “T”. I actually enjoyed the hours of practicing and didn’t mind my fingers callousing like a seasoned musician.

I had also memorized the speech my grandfather helped me compose for the beauty contest. I wrote about being the eldest in my family, my love for skipping and hopscotch and playing the guitar for my two cats Pippen and Pepper. It was charming and really cute.

That morning my mother curled my hair with hot rollers and let me put on some lip gloss. I then got dressed in the white lace sundress with tiny pink tulips my Nana had made. I still wasn’t looking forward to the beauty contest, but I felt I was really pretty and ready for it.

Once at the festival convention centre my grandfather walked me to a conference room where all the beauty contestants were to meet. The volume in the room was deafening. Pretty girls were excitedly chatting and running around the room, while a tall blonde woman was yelling trying to get everyone’s attention.

After checking me at the front table, my grandfather kissed me goodbye and said to have fun. As he went to leave I grabbed his hand. Nerves had instantly kicked in and I begged him not to make me do it.

“You’ll be fine Heidi”, my grandfather reassured. “Just believe in yourself”. He then affectionately kissed the top of my head and disappeared through the door.

My stomach was swirling with what could only be described as hundreds of butterflies. Still unsure of myself, I hurried over to where the blonde woman was directing everyone to gather. Once I sat down I replayed my grandfather’s words in my head and a sense of calm washed over me.

“Welcome girls,” the woman bellowed. “I’m going to call out your names and I would like you to line up in alphabetic order to walk to the stage.”

“Once there, the MC will call your name. Please walk up to the microphone say your full name, what city you are from and the instrument you play. Then you will walk the runway returning to the line until everyone has had a turn”

Calm quickly turned to panic. I had prepared a speech to say. I had practiced it for weeks. Should I still say it, I thought?

Doubt consumed me and questions flooded my head. If I do say the speech will the blonde woman get mad at me for saying it? Will the other girls laugh at me? Will the judges think I’m being silly for doing my own talk?

Stomach butterflies were no longer my concern as a sick, nauseous feeling overtook me. I even thought about running. If I dashed now I could easily make it to the exit door on the other side of the stage before anyone noticed I was gone.

“Ladies and gentleman…Welcome!” the MC announced.

Too late, I thought. I had no other choice, but to do this.

As the pageant began I listened intently to the girls ahead of me recite only their full name, the city they lived in and the instrument they played. Not one girl said anything more. Especially not a prepared speech!

“Heidi”, The M.C. called out.

“O.M.G. I don’t want to do this”, I mumbled to myself.

Walking up to the microphone my legs started to shake. Fear was fully in the driver seat now.

Then with a shake in my voice I said, “My name is Heidi Ceci (maiden name). I live in St. Catharines and I play the guitar.”

Nothing more…and nothing less.

I had decided to just get it over with and take the easy road, yet for some reason I felt awful. Returning to my place at the back of the stage, I felt like I let myself down. Worse than that I sensed I had also let my grandparents down who had helped me prepare.

I felt disappointed and defeated.

Then to make matters worse the girl directly behind walked up to the microphone and actually said a speech. Her name was Jennifer and she delighted everyone with her description of her new bike, her love for chocolate ice cream and her favourite songs she liked to play on the piano.

I just starred at her in complete disbelief.

As she walked back to stand beside me I couldn’t help but notice that no one snickered about her. Our blonde leader didn’t tell her off and no one seemed to be judging her for doing something different.

In fact, they applauded louder for her than any other girl. The applause also continued when she stood downstage with the winning tiara on her head.

Thoughts of despair filled my head. Why had I let fear paralyze me like that? Why had I doubted myself? Worse than that, why had I let uncertainty rob me from showing that auditorium who I truly was?

I realized there was no guarantee I would have won the beauty competition that day, but I didn’t even try.

The way I see it, we have the choice to sit on the sidelines of our life. Letting fear and doubt rule our decisions. Taking the easy road and never really trying.

Yet, if we push past our fears, take chances and show the world our authentic selves we can only ever succeed.

I may not have won the beauty contest that day, but in life I feel like I’m winning the war against fear and self-doubt and wearing my own tiara every single day.

Written By: Heidi Allen – Positive People Army Founder

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