Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: Stay Open to the Unknown, You Might Be Surprised

Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: Stay Open to the Unknown, You Might Be Surprised

Could this be your ‘year of yes?’

Monday, Nov. 9, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC mega-hits Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, talked about her new book,  Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. The interview was held with New York Times best-selling author and journalist, Jake Tapper.

Year of Yes, published by Simon & Schuster, documents a year in which Rhimes, a notorious introvert, decided to say ‘yes’ to people and activities she would normally say ‘no’ to–this included speaking engagements, parties, and other social events, which Rhimes says were out of her comfort zone.

She even went as far as to describe herself as a “wall hugger” at social events, telling NPR, “I’ve always been an introverted person,” and that fame and success were, to her, “daunting.” But for an entire year, whenever she wanted to decline an invitation or new experience, she made the choice to say ‘yes,’ and the results, she says, were phenomenal.

During the panel, Rhimes talked about her childhood growing up in a highly-intellectual home, where her parents encouraged her to read and write and envision her own reality. She also talked about being the only African American girl in her school and being lonely because off this. Her imaginary world Shondaland served as a creative refuge.

Moreover, Rhimes discussed her disdain for the term “diversity” when describing her shows, as she feels that she is only normalizing television by creating roles for actors of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups, not revolutionizing it. She also rejects the notion that she alone is responsible for breaking “the glass ceiling” by being, arguably, the only black woman to definitively own an entire evening of network television. Instead, she stated, breaking the glass ceiling is a collective effort.

During the Q&A session audience members; myself included, were invited to ask questions. To my delight, my question was the first one answered by Rhimes. I asked her if, when she first started writing, she was ever afraid of her own voice–afraid of the depth of her talent and where it might lead her. Her response: “As a writer, write as if you are the only person who will read your work.” In other words, create from honesty, not the need for approval or validation.

Although my question was specific to writing, (as that is my area of interest) Rhimes’s advice to create from a place of truth or, at the very least, adhere to your own standards of excellence, is invaluable. Entrepreneurs tend to differ from the herd; they’re proactive, natural-born leaders, and generally dissatisfied with the status quo. Dissatisfaction motivates entrepreneurs to take action, to not passively accept things as they are, but to create what they want to see in the world.

But what happens when success is more frightening than failure?

Sometimes our talents and gifts, regardless of the field, can overwhelm us because they challenge our perception of ourselves, how others perceive us, or how we think they might perceive us. Rhimes’s ‘year of yes’ principle is about having the willingness to step into and act upon our potential; as leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives and, ultimately, human beings. It’s also about being open to new experiences, ideas, and ways of living and working.

So, this year, or even this week, consider what you’ve said ‘no’ to in your own life–both professionally and personally–and the impact this is having on your career, relationships, and personal goals. Make this your ‘year of yes.’ has all the tools you’ll need to get started.