Swoon Author Kristen Orlando: Prove Them Wrong
Have you ever been scared to be good at something? I have. When I fell in love with writing, I was terrified.
My father is an eye surgeon and my mother is a nurse. My uncles are orthodontists, all of our family friends are internists or cardiologists or orthopedic surgeons. Dinner parties were spent swapping stories about medical school or emergencies in the OR. I was brought up in the world of medicine and that linear path was set for me at a young age. Ace high school, get into a good college and then off to medical school. I was to follow in my father’s footsteps and become the next Dr. Orlando. But the deeper I got into high school, the more I fell head-over-heels for words. I’d spend hours in my room, writing everything from poetry and short stories to song lyrics and plays. And the more my teachers picked up on my budding ability, the tighter those knots pulled in my stomach.
If I had any talent for writing, I knew it’d take me far off the neat and tidy path of becoming a doctor. The path for a writer was like trying to whack your way through a dark, Amazonian jungle. I knew following my heart meant disappointing the people I loved the most. And that scared the crap out of me.
Whenever I thought about my future as a doctor, I’d feel sick to my stomach, like I swallowed forty pounds of lead. I somehow ignored the crushing weight of fear my entire senior year and applied to Kenyon College as a Biology major. But as I sat in my first Biology lecture, that weighty knot anchored to my gut broke free and panic clawed up my throat. I remember exactly what the professor and a student were discussing: Photosynthesis. And all of a sudden, it hit me. “You hate this,” my mind whispered. “What the hell are you doing here?” It was in that moment that my mind confirmed what my heart always knew. Medicine wasn’t my passion. Writing was. This was my life, my future, and the thought of it shouldn’t make me physically ill.
Telling my parents I wanted to switch my major from Biology to English wasn’t easy. It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had in my life. My parents didn’t understand what the hell I was going to do with an English degree and thought I was making a very foolish choice. I got off the phone crying and ran across the freshman quad to my best friend’s dorm where I cried on her bed. But as I sobbed into her pillow, she said three words to me that changed my life.
Prove them wrong.
Yes. It was that simple. Prove them wrong. With that, I dried my eyes, picked myself up off her bed and promised myself I would. From that day forward, I worked my butt off, taking every class I could to improve my writing and interning in a creative field that would allow me to pay my bills (I think that was my parents’ biggest concern. How is this girl going to make any money? I think he was afraid I was going to move to NYC, live in squalor and try to write novels).
I followed my heart and I’m so happy I gave up the safe path that was paved for me for the scarier path I wanted for myself. Today, my parents couldn’t be happier or more supportive. I’m so grateful to them for everything they’ve done for me, even for that moment of disapproval and disappointment. It was the push I needed to prove to them and myself that I could make it. I know it was that pivotal moment that helped turn me into the very best writer I could be. I’ll never stop trying to make them proud and I know they’ll never stop being my biggest fans.