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Culture and Leadership | DEI | Empathy | Growth Mindset | Inclusion

Hitting a Nerve: How a College Freshman Reminded the World That Change Is Hard

illustration of a group of people. Everyone is in black and white except for one woman in the middle.

Emery Bergmann, like many young adults, has experienced a great deal of change in the last few years – from high school to college to her first job. But unlike a lot of her peers, her experience has gone viral. In 2017 she made a video about the challenge of transitioning to college at Cornell University, and shortly after was asked to write about it for The New York Times.

Bergmann recently graduated and went through another transition, from student to full-time employee. We sat down with her to discuss why she thinks her video resonated with so many people, and her advice for others going through similar life changes.

 

What was your transition to college like?

 College is marketed as a time to pursue your passions and your life goals. I was primed to believe I was moving on to the best years of my life, so I had a lot of expectations about what college would look like. It’s not a bad thing to have expectations, but I didn’t give myself any room to make mistakes or to not know what was going on, and that caused a lot of upset in my first couple years. I expected I would immediately thrive in my environment, but it actually took me almost two years to really get comfortable with the people I was around and the communities I was in.

 This was my first time living on my own; the first time I was consistently cooking for myself and doing my own laundry. All of those things took a lot of mental energy, and I didn’t give myself the space to recover from the huge step that I had just taken. So when I made my video, it was really just me venting about how frustrated I was that I wasn’t good enough or friendly enough to just instantly make friendships. I was constantly comparing myself to other people on social media or to random people I saw on campus who looked like friends, so I just assumed that I was the only person who was feeling this way.

It sounds like the video really hit a nerve with people. Why do you think it resonated so much?

 All the comments were overwhelmingly positive and from people in completely different places in their lives. I had comments like, “I just started retirement and I feel exactly the same way,” and “I just started a new job in a new place and I feel just as alienated as you do.” I was comforted by the fact that this was a universal experience, but also surprised that it wasn’t more heavily discussed. Loneliness is not necessarily a taboo subject, but it’s not one that’s popular. And that’s only furthered by things like social media that prime you to only show the best portions of your life.

 Often when you tell someone, “I’m incredibly lonely,” they will say, “With time you’ll know people.” I understand why that’s the immediate reaction because you want to comfort someone, but at the same time, it’s beyond isolating to not have someone validate it. People who are lonely want to hear from other people that they’ve gone through this too, that this is something that’s common, and that it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the circumstances and the time and whatever issues are going on in your life at the moment. I think that’s why people responded so deeply to it.

 

Tell us about your most recent transition to your first post-college job.

 Your whole life, everyone’s asking you, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” And then you graduate and now you have to figure it out. It’s such an intimidating abyss that you enter into. Once again, the expectations were daunting. I knew that I wanted to go into the film industry, but I didn’t have anyone in my immediate circle who was in the industry, so I did all these informational calls, which I’m sure anyone who’s my age would shudder at the thought of. You talk to someone, you send them an email, and then they completely forget about you. You just feel like a complete nuisance in every sense of the word.

After graduating, I ended up working at a film festival, at a camp, and on short films. And then while I was an extra on someone’s short film, they were like, “I’m a coordinator in New York City and we always need art PAs. I’ll put your resume in our group chat.” Eventually I got contacted by someone and that was a huge first step for me. Since starting my job, I have felt an immense relief. Moving out and sitting in my own apartment, I cannot believe that this is where I am now.

 

What advice would you give to new graduates as they transition into full-time employment?

If you can, I think that taking time to figure out what you want is probably more vital than just working somewhere you have no interest in whatsoever. You’re going to work the rest of your life, so if you want to take some time to explore what you’re genuinely interested in, that’s totally fair. It’s important to give yourself time to make mistakes and figure stuff out without putting the pressure on yourself to be a high achiever immediately out of college.

 

If there was one takeaway you’d share with people going through transitions, what would it be?

Extending yourself kindness in this very vulnerable time is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. During transitions, you’re lacking so many things, like an immediate support system. Going to college, I didn’t have any friends to talk to or physically touch. Getting a hug from a parent or a friend is a human need. The hormones in your body respond to that. Being severed from a support system like that can be incredibly vulnerable and totally alienating, so making sure that you give yourself extra love during this time is really important. Also, if you see someone who’s going through this, give them immense kindness and patience.

 

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