In my phone I have a list of women who inspire me. The criteria for getting on that list is simple. If someone came to me and asked if I would like to spend a day as that person, I would say YES before they even finished asking the question.
A few women on the list:
Meryl Streep. (Because she’s a dope actress with practically zero drama off-screen and I want to see how many scripts get shoved in her face on a daily basis.)
Joanna Gaines. (Am I the only one obsessed with Fixer Upper on HGTV?)
Michael B. Jordan’s girlfriend, whoever she might be. (Did y’all see Creed? Okay then.)
And of course, Shonda Rhimes. When I heard she was coming out with her first book, Year of Yes, I jumped to get my hands on a copy.
You see, I admire Shonda for a number of reasons, but the thing I loved most is that she seemed to be happy nurturing her successful shows from behind the scenes, putting out hits for ABC, working hard and loving on her three kids. She didn’t need the splash and glitz and glamour one might expect from working in Hollywood.
I craved that kind of life for myself too—I wanted to be wildly successful, but not so famous and well-known that I couldn’t run to Target without causing a scene. To me, Shonda had the perfect life. She was able to have her cake and eat it too.
But when reading her book, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t just her humble nature that kept her behind the scenes: it was fear.
Fear. The same thing I struggle with, the same thing you struggle with.
She played small on purpose, to make sure she wouldn’t have to be seen. Because being “invisible” was comfortable. It was safe. It was how she protected herself.
But she soon realized, after an off-hand remark from her sister, that she was miserable. Yes! Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Private Practice! The woman who owns a night of television, putting her up there with the NFL and maybe Lorne Michaels.
But she admits, “Whatever that spark is that makes each one of us alive and unique….mine had gone. The flickering flame responsible for lighting me up from the inside, making me glow, keeping me warm … my candle had been blown out. I was shut down. I was tired. I was afraid. Small. Quiet.”
I used to want to be Shonda Rhimes but now I know better: I want to be like me. Because Shonda Rhimes didn’t even want to be Shonda Rhimes. She spent a whole year changing and molding herself into a happy woman because the woman I idolized was miserable. Reading her book was a reminder that nobody, I mean nobody, has it all figured out.
To be fair, the real lesson is that there is joy is figuring it all out. There is joy in flexing new emotional muscles and learning to love the parts of yourself that no one else claps for.
Now, I know a few people who picked up the book and promptly put it down because they just couldn’t commit to Shonda’s stream of consciousness writing style. And I admit, it takes a minute to find the groove. But if you do, there’s a stream of worthy wisdom nuggets waiting for you. Here are a few of my favorites:
On her emotional eating
Food does work. Food feels so good when you put it on top of all the stuff you don’t want to deal with or know how to deal with. It even works on stuff you don’t even recognize as worthy of dealing with. Food is magic.
On the high stakes of owning a night of television
Making television for me is…blissful. I can make stuff up the way other people can sing—I have simply always been able to hit all the notes…So I wasn’t worried about writing the shows or making the shows. I was worried about rising expectations. I was worried about the stakes….
I had to do everything right. I had to keep it all afloat. I had to run to the top of the mountain. I could not rest, I could not fall, I could not stumble, I could not quit. Failing to reach the summit was not an option.
On committing to owning her badassery
Mentally, I’m trying to be as cocky and immodest and brazen as I can. I’m trying to take up as much space as I need to take up. To not make myself smaller in order to make someone else feel better. I’m allowing myself to shamelessly and comfortably be the loudest voice in the room.
And perhaps, my favorite quote from all 300 pages—on the power behind difficult conversations
Because no matter how hard a conversation is, I know that on the other side of that difficult conversation lies peace. Knowledge. An answer is delivered. Character is revealed. Truces are formed. Misunderstandings are resolved.
Freedom lies across the field of the difficult conversation. And the more difficult the conversation, the greater the freedom.