What Will You Say Yes To?

Book Review For The Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in The Sun & be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

I loved this book. It’s a survival guide for ambitious women. It’s also a masterclass on how to overcome limiting beliefs. Shonda makes sharp observations about everything from working motherhood and nurturing creativity, to career growth and feminism’s next act, intersectionality. She applies the Shonda-Rhimes-story-telling-magic to her own life. Even though she highlights (and challenges) many of the social norms that limit women’s progress, it’s a fast, engaging read.

Learning to Say Yes

“’You Never Say Yes to Anything.” The truth of her sister’s casual comment unsettled her. In response, Shonda decided to say ‘yes’ to what scared her… for an entire year! The book takes us, from her struggle to honor this commitment, to the resulting personal renaissance. Although Shonda was already a successful executive producer, she was afraid of public speaking and new social situations. A self-confessed introvert, she often felt like an outsider, despite her many accomplishments.

Reconciling Motherhood, Work & Identity

We are taught who we are is how we think. Until we career, marry or have kids. Then we define ourselves by those roles. Which tend to box us in. Shonda described how unprepared she was, before adopting 3 kids, for the profound impact motherhood had on her work. The stories she shares are so relatable! From her battles against guilt, to dealing with judgement from others, and how all of it affects mental energy and self-confidence. She loves her work. Although she laments unrealistic expectations for working moms, she’s not daunted by them. She wrote, “I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices…  In their world, mothers run companies. …The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, … that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole.”

Managing Creativity

Shonda admits, although she always knew she wanted motherhood, she had no idea how raising tiny humans would affect her focus, creativity and demanding workload. She affectionately refers to her writing process as “laying track” for the “trains” that are her television series. In the book, she likened getting into the state of writing ‘flow’ to running a 5-mile race, “…Writing is laying track. Writing is the high. Now imagine…  that high, that track to be laid, is behind a door. And that door is five miles away. …That’s why I have to keep doing it. …When you sit down to write every day, it becomes easier and easier to tap into that creative space inside your mind.”

Needing Help

She dedicated a chapter to how life “under the motherhood” has reshaped her willingness to accept help. That working moms need a network of support – whether from family, friends, paid caregivers or a combination of all three.  She explained, “I’ve read a lot of books written by and about working women and I’m struck by the fact that no one ever seems to want to talk about having help at home. Which I think is not so helpful to the women who don’t have help at home.” Well said! She counters this trend by giving a loving ode in the book to her nanny, detailing how her strengths and myriad of talents, improved quality of life for Shonda and her three children.

Leaving No Mom Behind

Through a series of hilarious stories, from early days with her first baby to navigating parent teacher organizations, she calls on Moms everywhere to “leave no Mom behind!” To resist judgement and support each other’s choices, even when they differ from our own. That one woman’s brand of motherhood – to stay at home or to work, to craft or not to craft, to bake or not to bake – likely has a lot to do with her pre-kid identity. One Mom’s nirvana does not work for all Moms. By recognizing, we’re all fighting the same internal fears and external pressures, we can help each other.

The (Self-Defeating) Humble Habit of Women

Shonda was being honored, among other women in the entertainment industry, at a prestigious event. She wisely observed, “As the Editor-in-Chief, pointed to each woman and named her powerful achievements, without fail, every single woman named did one of 3 things: 1. Shook her head and looked away, 2. Ducked her head, an embarrassed look on her face, 3. Laughed, a mortified, embarrassed stunned, ‘I can’t believe I’m even sitting at this table…’ laugh.” This is part of the dilemma we face to gain equality. If Shonda Rhimes and other women at the top of their careers, can’t comfortably acknowledge their accomplishments, it does not bode well for the rest of us. In the book Shonda added, “…not a single woman in the room could handle being told, you’re awesome. I couldn’t handle being told I’m awesome. What in the hell is wrong with us?” As the book progresses, you observe her increasing comfort and recognition of her awesomeness. As her self-acceptance grew she became aware changing this, one woman at a time, will change it for all of us.

Representation Matters, Intersectionality & The Shondaland Legacy

At another event, she was recognized for her leadership diversifying primetime television. How through the fictional worlds of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Private Practice — she brought people of color, women, blended families and the LGBTQ communities into America’s living rooms. And our collective consciousness. If you see it on primetime television…it’s no longer fringe. She has helped socialize all of us who face ‘otherness,’ whether based on how we look, love, believe or engage with the world. The following is from her acceptance speech, “…The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because perhaps then they will learn from them. Perhaps then they will not isolate them. Marginalize them. Erase them. Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them.” Brilliant! When every type of otherness is treated with equal respect, we’ll all be free. Which is the promise of intersectionality, feminism’s next step.

Observing Versus Judging

I was particularly awed by the loving kindness, she learned to show herself, by the end of the year-long-yes-journey. Although she considers herself super-competitive, evidenced by her approach to professional and personal goals, she encourages accepting differences for exactly what they are – another interesting piece of the mosaic that is our larger community.

Shonda’s book inspires us to question the ‘why’s’ behind the rules we create for ourselves. The boundaries we’ve set… intentionally or accidentally. How shouting an intentional ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ from a place of clarity, can lead us to our healthiest and happiest selves.

If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor, The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person is amazing!

Shonda Rhimes is the critically acclaimed and award-winning creator and executive producer of the hit television series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and the executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder. Rhimes also runs her production company, Shondaland, from Los Angeles, where she lives with her three daughters. She is the author of Year of Yes and The Year of Yes Journal.

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