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by Phoebe Sajor

Let’s all just be honest with ourselves and admit that this year was rough. Leading up to the end of my senior year at UCLA, I had no idea that my future was going to be dramatically altered by an airborne virus. I mean..."it is what it is” and all, but wow it’s been pretty rough. Experience Lab at Penn has made it a little better, though. Here’s the backstory.

Before Experience Lab at Penn, I was at that point of my life where I think a lot of soon-to-be graduates are: who the heck am I, what the heck do I want to be, and have the last 4 years and $100,000 been a waste? My industry of choice, entertainment, had shrunk significantly in terms of job availability because of the pandemic and I was left with a list of internship experiences for jobs that were not hiring. And even with that experience, I was constantly frozen by my uncertainty and imposter syndrome, feeling like no one would ever hire me or that my effort and talents could never measure up against other candidates.

That uncertainty was something I had struggled with my entire life, but most especially during my time in college. University has a way of forcing you to compare yourself to others. You look at class rankings, see your grades on a curve, and notice how your peers who took the same classes as you got the job you wanted or got hired way before you’ve even started applying. No matter how much work I put in, experience I had, or talent I showed, I somehow found myself feeling far behind those around me and unsure of whether or not I had the skills necessary to get a job. Going to school at a large, competitive university may teach you passion and hardwork, but it also forced me to separate myself from the support of others I so badly needed in my job search. The impersonal experience of big universities made me just one little fish in a big pond of students with no clear guidance for which direction I should swim when I left the pond and jumped into the sea.

And then suddenly *ding*... I received an email.

Experience Lab. I applied because I had time between classes and had always been interested in marketing. It was an opportunity to try something different and to see if I had what it takes to be a career professional, whatever that meant. I also knew I needed something to fall back on — a career path that could actually give me a stable income and benefits and wasn’t so elusive to get into.

Funny enough, my time at Experience Lab at Penn has actually pushed me back to entertainment. Not because I hated my time at the program and the type of work that I was doing at my Field Experience, but actually the opposite. Experience Lab at Penn has taught me my self worth… that I was talented, hardworking, and that if I kept at it, someone would see my potential.

That feeling of being seen for all that we could become is something invaluable and rare to fresh graduates. And especially to me, who has doubted myself my entire adult life. I always felt that no matter the amount of work that I did, I wouldn’t be recognized for my ability. The first time I ever felt seen was during Meetup at Experience Lab, where we did client sprints to create digital marketing strategies for real small businesses. I was wracked with nerves and uncertainty, as I always am, during the entire project. My group and I worked tirelessly, rising as early as 6:30AM and working way into the night to get things just right. Even as my amazing group members put out fantastic work, I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough or not doing good quality work.

At the presentation to our client, he told us we were amazing and that he felt like we really understood and saw his vision. To me, specifically, he told me that he loved my deliverables document and the leadership I provided to the team. And I felt for the first time that I could actually do this -- I could be the person who clients loved and who made a real difference in the way businesses operated. I could be that elusive career professional.

This feeling of being seen persisted through my entire time at Experience Lab at Penn. From Meetup, to Field Experiences, to our final project, the team at Experience Lab at Penn has always shown each of the fellows our potential. We’ve been reminded time and time again that the work we are doing now will help us in whatever work we want to do in the future. And Experience Lab at Penn gave me the skills and confidence I needed to push past my self doubt and start working towards my dreams. The constant support and feedback that the instructors, coaches, and team give to each fellow is invaluable and rare. My time at Experience Lab at Penn has led to freelance jobs, full-time offers, and a community of friends and allies who always hold me up when I need it. I applied at Experience Lab at Penn because I thought that my dreams weren’t achievable and that I needed a back-up, and while Experience Lab has given me all the skills and work experience needed to be a really freaking good digital marketer, it also gave me the tools and bravery to pursue entertainment as a real future.

My instructor, Hayley, once asked me “Who do you want to be?”. She wouldn’t take any “I don’t know” as an answer. She really wanted to know what I wanted to do with my future and how she could help me achieve that. It wasn’t just about giving me digital marketing skills or getting me some work with a company that could pay me. It was about my dreams, my passions, and what the future could be for me. Hayley, and the entire Experience Lab at Penn staff, knew that I had the capability to be whatever I wanted to be. And they wanted to help me.

Without this program, I wouldn’t know what I know now. That I am talented, smart, worthy, hardworking, and that any employer would be lucky to have me. I have a whole team behind me, cheering me on and supporting me anyway I can, and that makes my pursuit of my dreams less scary and more exciting. Experience Lab at Penn wouldn’t let uncertainty freeze me, and so now I am running towards what I want and I won’t let anybody stop me.

Phoebe Sajor - Experience Lab Fellow, Fall 2020