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by Maddie Faircloth

I’ve always struggled with the concept of uncertainty. If there was one thing in my life that was certain, it’s that I was not. It’s not that I don’t want certainty, I really do. It’s that I don’t know how to be certain. 

My parents have both worked in the corporate world their entire lives. My dad spent over 30 years at IBM alone. They are the image of job security. As the world was rocked by an unseen, unpredictable enemy, I craved stability and routine. My uncertain disposition needed something solid to grasp. I came across Experience Lab at Penn by chance, or maybe fate. Despite immediately dismissing it as an option, the thought kept creeping back into my mind: what if this was a sign? One word stood out to me. Storytelling. I’ve spent my whole life trying to tell great stories. I thought the only stories worth telling were in the entertainment industry, but maybe I was wrong. 

I decided to apply, still uncertain of whether I would actually accept. I continued to look for jobs across various industries. Looking for anything of interest, I sent out unspecific applications and rarely heard back. As the deadline for acceptance grew closer, I reached out to my parents for guidance. Their response was characteristically supportive, but firm. I had a choice – pursue this path with my whole heart or reject it. There was no middle ground. 

I made my decision. I would pursue the new path that had appeared before me. 

The next couple of months were filled with self-paced learning. My background is not in marketing, and, aside from one summer, neither was my education. Taking courses, completing certifications, and finishing my classwork gave me confidence I didn’t have before. I didn’t quite feel ready to take on the marketing world, but at least now I wouldn’t be in over my head. 

After months of self-paced learning, the whole cohort gathered into a very crowded Zoom room for an eight-day “Meetup”. I started our meetup with one of my signature anxiety stomach aches. I was insecure about my lack of experience. I felt out of place. Still, I pushed through.

The first big hurdle for me was our team project. I was placed into a small group, and we were assigned a real life “client”.  I felt like Meetup had barely begun and I was being thrown into a group and asked to create a new strategy for a startup. The stomachache got worse. I wasn’t sure any advice I had to give would even be useful. But, again, I pushed through. You’ve got to love that “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude. I would have been a complete mess if we hadn’t been given a guide to follow. It was filled with detailed steps that would help us produce a data-driven strategy. Personally, I loved the research phase. There’s something certain about research. While even data is open to interpretation, numbers can be very comforting. 

Once it came time for the strategy, I had to do something, yet again, that would make me uncomfortable. I had to make a decision. I had to be certain. The company was depending on my team for guidance, and the last thing I wanted to do was lead them astray. So we put our heads together, we took our data, and we came up with a handful of suggestions for increasing the company’s Instagram engagement.

It wasn’t easy for me to give a presentation to the company CEO and assert that I knew best on the subject. I wanted to slip back into that place of uncertainty. I wanted to give them the option to not accept my suggestions. But I didn’t – I recognized that, no matter what I said, he would take what he wanted and leave the rest. Something about that thought comforted me. 

Moving from the group project to my Field Experience, my newfound comfort with making decisions followed me. I built a strategy, by myself, for my Field Experience company’s marketing efforts. I gave a presentation to my boss and explained how I had arrived at my solution. He took what he wanted and left the rest. I moved forward with the greenlit suggestions, and shed no tears for the ideas pushed aside. 

The interesting thing about certainty is that it is fluid. I can be certain of a decision then doubt it the very next day. I doubted my ability to perform during my presentation, throughout my Field Experience, and even now as I apply for jobs. But I am becoming increasingly comfortable, maybe even confident, in my ability to be certain. I am certain I will find the right position. I am certain that one day I will need to move on from that position. I am certain that uncertainty will creep back in, but I am more than capable of working through it. 

Maddie Faircloth, Experience Lab Fellow, Fall 2020