By Gina Hargitay
These days, young adulthood is a pressure-filled and confusing time. As soon as we have the good sense to understand the world around us, we are expected to assess our strengths and choose a part to play in the global rat race. I received my secondary education in England, where students are asked to narrow down their required subjects for the GCSEs at the age of 15. I was told that my choices should reflect my future career plans. To supplement the core curriculum of math, science, and English, I chose to study music, history, German and art, although, at the time, I had no intention of becoming a historian, a musician or an artist. At 15, I couldn’t choose my subjects with an eye toward my future; I simply chose the subjects I most enjoyed. Two weeks into GCSEs I realized my folly in choosing music and proceeded to plead with my lead tutor to let me switch to geography. I had advocate for myself, to fight for my right to change my course of study, to correct an uninformed mistake that I had made, as though I could know with any sense of finality the right path for myself at 15. I was supposed to be certain about my future.
At 17, we were asked to down our choices even further, this time to four subjects, as we chose the courses to pursue for A-Levels. These four subjects, were told, would determine the universities we could attend and the concentrations we could pursue at those universities. So, at the young age of 17, amid all the confusion and indecision that accompanies adolescence, we were told to make a decision then and there: “What do you want to do with your life?” This question haunted me for weeks before I made my choice. What did I want to do with my life? Here was I, a 17-year-old girl with interests ranging from medicine to engineering to archaeology to architecture to veterinary science to neurosurgery, and I had to make a choice, right then to narrow those options down, to limit myself to one or two choices and to define myself by four subjects. And so I did. And again, I chose what I loved and what I thought would still give me a fairly wide range of courses to choose from at university. When I got there, I chose to major in History and Politics—it was a versatile degree, and it would allow me to keep my options open.
Flash forward to age 21, two years into my undergraduate studies. It dawned on me: I have no idea what I’m doing with this. I have no idea where I’m going in life. By that point, I’d actually gained some life experience. I’d dipped my toe into charity work and public and motivational speaking, working with children and young adults. I’d worked to empower the people around me. Upon reflection, I came to understand that the path I was on was not one that would fulfill me later in life. I finally understood my calling, the thing that made me happy, made me excited and driven, made me actually want to get up and work every day. I wanted to help people. I wanted to see the fruit of my labour in the eyes of the person in front of me, the person that I could help. I wanted to alleviate the pain, frustration, and hopelessness that we all sometimes feel. And it was then that I realized that I wanted to be a psychoanalyst.
But the road to become a psychoanalyst is a very long one, requiring up to 8 years of training. At 15, or 17, or even 18, I wasn’t mature enough to undertake such a lengthy endeavor. I didn’t know myself well enough. And now, here I am at 22, having just received my History and Politics degree, and finally I have begun to understand myself. I’m ready to follow a path that will truly fulfill me. And I am unbelievably happy that I will begin that path at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna in October of this year.
There are so many young people like me, who are pressured into deciding their futures at an age when they don’t even know themselves. So many of my peers freeze at the thought of carving a path for their future when they have not yet developed the tools. And we see the results of this premature prodding everywhere around us. We witness our older siblings and our parents come home every day from jobs they hate; they fell into them before they knew exactly what they wanted. But we have seen an equal rise in youth innovation, of young people who recognize the flaws in the system and have found new avenues through which to express themselves. So I want to encourage the parents of today to remind your children that it’s okay to not know who you are just yet. It’s okay to not know where you’re going. As long as you keep moving forward, seizing and appreciating every opportunity you for growth you encounter, eventually you’ll land on your feet in this ever-changing world.
Gina Hargitay is Miss Jamaica World 2013, Miss World Caribbean 2013, and a Shashamane Sunrise Ambassador.