For most of her life, the creator of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder said “no” to just about every invitation that came her way. While Shonda Rhimes populated her shows with powerful, smart female characters that faced their fears head on and rarely backed down from a challenge or a verbal sparring match, she recoiled from any situation where she might be called upon to speak extemporaneously, be interviewed or worst of all, be the center of attention. Rhimes was an introvert “to the bone,” she writes, content to churn out scripts and stay home with her three children.
Except she wasn’t really content, a realization that hit her Thanksgiving Day, 2013, when her sister remarked, “You never say ‘yes’ to anything.” Those “six startling words,” landed “like a grenade,” writes Rhimes. Reflecting on the unhappiness in her life, Rhimes recognized that she was “shut down…afraid. Small. Quiet.”
While her characters were living outsized lives, Rhimes felt her life was “so drained of color and excitement that I could barely see it,” she writes. Reflecting on why she felt that way, her sister’s words took hold. “Maybe it was time to start saying yes,” Rhimes concluded.
For the quiet one, it was a daunting undertaking. Once she locked herself in by inking a book deal, there was no turning back. The Year of Yes was on. After agreeing to deliver a commencement speech, the prolific writer couldn’t write a word of it. She soldiered through public appearance she dreaded, magazine and TV events, and the kind of outings that made her “brain freeze.”
She also learned to say “yes” to herself. She claimed time for play dates with her children. She said “yes” to accepting compliments gracefully. Equally important, she gave herself permission to say “no” to family members asking for money and work calls after 7PM.
Rhimes doesn’t gloss over the process; her newfound courage didn’t happen overnight. She shares the thinking that enabled her transformation, how she realized that in order to face her fears, she had to understand the root of those fears. Her account of her makeover from fearful to almost fearless is candid, clever, inspiring and funny and filled with juicy anecdotes.
She didn’t dream of being a TV writer, she explains. She wanted to be “Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.” Instead, she went to film school where she discovered a new way of telling stories that suited her and brought her joy. “A way that flipped this switch in my brain and changed the way I saw the world,” she writes.
Year later, she had dinner with Toni Morrison. “All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy.”
And “that never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself,” she writes.