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Harvard Authors Spotlight: Emi F. Nietfeld ’15 on Success, Struggle, and ‘Acceptance’

Emi F. Nietfeld ’15 recently released the paperback version of her memoir “Acceptance.”
Emi F. Nietfeld ’15 recently released the paperback version of her memoir “Acceptance.” By Courtesy of Zoe Prinds-Flash and Penguin Random House
By Rachel A. Beard, Crimson Staff Writer

Emi F. Nietfeld ’15 is a former software engineer at Google and a passionate essay writer who recently released the paperback version of her memoir “Acceptance.” In this memoir, Nietfeld takes readers on a profound journey from her early childhood to starting her short stint at Google, exploring everything from the challenges of foster care and homelessness to the hallowed halls of Harvard, and eventually the demanding world of Big Tech. “Acceptance” dives deep into Nietfeld’s experiences with resilience, ambition, and the true cost of success.

For Nietfeld, the road to writing “Acceptance” was both long and full of emotional turmoil. She first got the idea to write a memoir after submitting her college applications, having struggled with condensing her life story into a college essay.

“I remembered feeling gutted by the process of trying to package my life story into this tidy narrative for the applications, and I felt like so many other teenagers must be experiencing the same thing,” Nietfeld said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson.

Nietfeld hoped that readers would be able to relate to her journey and struggles with the college admissions process. The emotional impact of college admissions can be quite high, but the stakes are even higher when applying to elite institutions as a low-income student, like Nietfeld did.

While her idea for the memoir started in high school, Nietfeld’s vision for the book changed over time. Even the meaning of the title changed, though she always knew she wanted to title it “Acceptance.”

“At the beginning, it was almost a defiant, ironic title because I had been in therapy situations where people were telling me, ‘You just need to accept your life,’” Nietfeld said.

Despite its origin as a seemingly ironic comment — “just accept it” — the title morphed into a genuine need for introspection, closure, and acceptance of past traumas and experiences.

“Acceptance did not have to be the same thing as being over everything, and instead it could be a different way to move forward where I acknowledge here’s what happened and it has affected me and changed me as a person, not always in positive ways, but that’s the way life works and that’s okay,” Nietfeld said.

“Acceptance” is a truthful, sometimes challenging exercise in Nietfeld reliving her past traumas. Most of the memories recounted in the book are filled with pain or emotional turmoil. Despite the emotional challenge, Nietfeld was committed to being as truthful as possible throughout her memoir. She fact-checked every aspect of the book — combing through over 10,000 emails from her high school years, countless interviews, and old documents including her medical records. She remembers the experience as painful and embarrassing.

“I made the decision early on that I was going to fact-check everything to the best of my ability, and that I would interview everybody I could and read all of the documents,” Nietfeld said. “And that was agonizing.”

In writing her memoir, Nietfeld's goal was to dive into what it really means to be successful and resilient. She questions the emphasis put on the latter.

“I write a lot about this idea of resilience because it’s so glorified in American culture. Often, resilience is the number one compliment that you can give somebody, and I felt like it was this burden that I had to live up to all the time where even when I was going through so many problems and so much turmoil, I was expected to be strong and be made for the better for it,” Nietfeld said.

But “Acceptance” isn’t just a recollection of past struggles: It’s a testament to Nietfeld’s growth and evolving understanding of success. No longer measuring her worth against resilience and achievements, her definition of success transformed over time. Now, it encompasses having her basic needs met, nurturing relationships she deeply cares about, and passionately pursuing projects without self-compromise.

“Today, for me, success is doing the work that I love and that’s meaningful, and making a difference in the world, and also having a lifestyle that involves love and taking care of my physical health, so I can keep doing what I am doing without burning out,” Nietfeld said.

Beyond her memoir, Nietfeld's insightful essays have also achieved acclaim, including a popular essay about her time at Google published in The New York Times. Nietfeld chooses to write about subjects she is passionate about.

“I write about what drives me crazy, and what I wake up in the night and can’t stop thinking about,” Nietfeld said.

Looking ahead, Nietfeld plans to advocate for others as fervently as ever. She’s currently exploring the themes of how societal inequalities impact mental health in America, and she is particularly interested in understanding the constructs of family and upbringing in diverse socio-economic settings. Moreover, she's keen on shedding light on subjects that often go unnoticed or are misunderstood.

“I pay a lot of attention to what’s in the news, specifically when I have a perspective that I do not see people talking about in the world. So I have an op-ed about economic inequality’s role in the mental health crisis,” Nietfeld said.

With "Acceptance," Nietfeld has not only shared a piece of her soul with the world, but also inspired countless others to find their voice, challenge societal norms, and seek their own personal acceptance.

—Staff writer Rachel A. Beard can be reached at

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