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Year of Yes for Shonda Rhimes -BOOK OF THE MONTH

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year of yesBook Review


When you think of the word ‘gladiator’, what do you think of–honestly? Is it the Webster definition of: “ a man (in ancient Rome) who was trained to fight with weapons against other men or wild animals in an arena.” Or, does the term ‘gladiator’ bring to mind Olivia Pope and her posse in “Scandal”–one of three of writer, director, executive producer Shonda Rhimes’ top ABC dramas. After reading Ms. Rhimes autobiography, “A Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun and Be Your Own Person”, I now know that ‘gladiator’ also defines Ms. Rhimes. The woman is a (self described) ‘badass’. No really, the woman is bad. And yet, surprisingly, she is also an introvert who, by nature, avoided public gatherings and socializing.

It was one of Ms. Rhimes’ sisters (Delores) who, after listening to her famous younger sister ramble off a list of impressive invitations during a pre-Thanksgiving cooking session, asked Shonda if she was actually going to accept any of said invitations. Delores then casually reminded Shonda that she ‘never said yes to anything’. This was a ‘light bulb’ realization for Ms. Rhimes which troubled her deeply. She realized that notwithstanding her amazing life, she had chosen not to ‘live’ it to its fullest, and was in fact hiding in a sense, making herself invisible. And so, Rhimes made an agreement with herself that for a year, she would say ‘yes’ to anything that scared her.

In the course of watching Ms. Rhimes both become comfortable with her ‘year of yes’ and break out of a painful shell, we learn about what makes this genius tick. She is genius. She has created, written, produced and directed wildly successful shows which include “Private Practice”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”. And, each of these shows is the brainchild of Ms. Rhimes. Not only is each her brainchild, but the weekly churning out of each intricate, jaw-dropping story line and script comes from the imagination of Ms. Rhimes. So where did such genius come from then? Ms. Rhimes confides that she has always been a ‘writer’ at heart. As a child, when other toddlers were outside on the swing set, Ms. Rhimes was cozy in the pantry of her Mom’s kitchen, playing with cans of mixed vegetables. Specifically, Rhimes would sit for hours in the pantry, with the door closed, and think of elaborate story lines, where the cans of peas and corn were the actors. Instead of scolding her and ‘shooing’ the youngster out of her pantry, Rhimes’ loving Mom deemed such behavior as ‘creative’ and patiently left her youngest to play pretend with the canned vegetables.

Ms. Rhimes is the youngest of six children who, with her Mom and Dad, grew up in a loving home in the suburbs of Chicago. She was a very smart kid, always reading, and always imagining. She was also shy, ‘dorky’ and ‘awkward’. And yet, Ms. Rhimes, who also describes herself as fiercely competitive went on to attend Dartmouth College. Thereafter, she earned a Master of Fine Arts from the prestigious USC School of Cinematic Arts.

In her book, Ms. Rhimes makes it clear that none of her success was ‘luck’. She repeatedly stresses how hard she has and does work. One of her great mantras (which she also shared in the address she gave to Dartmouth graduates in 2014) is—do not be a ‘dreamer’ in life—be a ‘doer’. And, she is brutally honest about the myth that a woman can ‘be’ and ‘have’ it all. As a single mother to three daughters, each of whom she adopted as babies, Rhimes shares that when people ask her ‘how does she do it all’—the true answer is—she doesn’t. If she is ‘killin’ it’ with the ratings for her shows, that means she has missed a recital for her daughter. If she is being a great mom, that means that somewhere, she has failed at being the one woman dynamo of her top rated tv shows and production company ‘Shondaland’.

Rhimes is also very transparent about what a year of ‘yes’ meant to her physical wellbeing. She shares that she is ‘fat’—not ‘pleasantly plump’; chubby, etc… but fat. But, she made a decision to stop ‘hiding’ behind her physical self as well, and to commit to being healthy. That too, she reveals has been a matter of plain old hard, hard work and fierce determination.

“A Year of Yes” will have you laughing OUT LOUD as Rhimes talks about herself in very honest and self-deprecating ways. But overall, Rhimes is inspiring. As you listen to Rhimes share, you hear echoes of your own life’s struggles and frustrations. And so, you feel happy that Rhimes was able to triumph in so many personal and professional ways during her year of yes. Morever, because Rhimes is so honest about what she went through to get to her next level, you leave her book genuinely understanding that there is an amazing and unique year ahead for each of us. That transformative year ahead is simply waiting patiently for each of us to take the first step, on our respective roads– to make that first shift in our respective mindsets…from ‘No’ to a resounding, hope-filled, ‘badass’…. ‘Yes’.

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