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“You never say yes to anything.”
Who would think that statement would apply to Shonda Rhimes? She’s ABC’s queen of television owning everyone's Thursday nights with her three hit shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Still, those six life-altering words were used to describe Rhimes by the person who knows her best: her older sister Delores.
The conversation happened during Thanksgiving about 18 months ago when Rhimes was telling Delores about all of the amazing invitations Rhimes was getting. Delores basically replied, Who cares? You’re just going to say ‘no,’ anyway.
The words stung Rhimes because they were true. Her debilitating social anxiety and her unhappiness with her weight caused her to say ‘no’ to many amazing opportunities outside of her comfort zone—which was basically any place where the characters were real people and she wasn’t writing the script.
Though, in many ways, her life was beyond her wildest dreams--with her successful TV shows and her 3 daughters--it was also making her miserable.
Enter the Year of Yes. Her first book (out now from Simon & Schuster) details how her entire life changed when she committed to saying “yes” to everything for one year.
That may sound really easy to do when you’re a mega-millionaire and the things you’re saying ‘yes’ to are sharing a box at the Kennedy Center Honors with President Obama and the First Lady, posing for magazine covers and getting a book deal to write about it all. Who wouldn’t say yes to that?
Rhimes will be the first to tell you that money, power and accolades do not equal self-love and acceptance. Her reason behind saying ‘no’ to things that scared her is what makes her funny, witty, sometimes heartbreaking memoir incredibly human and relatable, irrespective of your stature in life. She simply didn’t know she was worthy of yes.
She separates herself from her achievements and learns to show love and compassion to herself simply for who she is as a person. Before, her "yes year", she was just successful. Now, she is flourishing.
In her memoir, Rhimes lives up to her promise to show the world “How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.”
Top 5 lessons from Rhimes’ Year of Yes
1) Say ‘Yes’ to Using Your Voice
Rhimes confesses to hiding her voice in her Grey’s Anatomy character Cristina Yang, allowing Yang to say all the things she wasn’t brave enough to say in the real world. But when Rhimes accepted that the real world could benefit from hearing her actual voice — that she could stand up and speak out on important issues and actually affect change — she swallowed her fears, wiped off her sweaty palms and began to speak.
Being Rhimes-level successful isn’t a prerequisite for using your voice. The single qualifier is that you’re a person on earth. You inherently matter and so does your experience. Whether it’s on a stage or through your Twitter feed, you have the power to impact your corner of the world for the better by swallowing your fear, standing up for what’s right and speaking out in love. You never know how your voice can change a person’s life.
2) Say ‘Yes’ to Your Weight
Rhimes was not happy with her weight but her behaviors and eating habits were not reflecting that. She was saying ‘yes’ to overeating for comfort, but had not accepted or embraced what comes with being overweight. She often felt shame over her weight and judged herself harshly.
That had to change. Rhimes decided that she wanted to be healthier, so she started working out regularly and eating nutritious foods. She lost over 120 pounds and has the energy she needs to work and to play with her kids, but most important, she feels great about herself and finally believes she is beautiful.
You do not have to lose weight to feel beautiful; Rhimes’ message is that once you accept yourself fully, then you will feel beautiful and will make better choices for yourself and your health that reflect how beautiful and worthwhile you know you are. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight or stay the same, say ‘yes’ to loving your body and commit to giving it the best you can, because you deserve it.
3) Say ‘Yes’ to Saying ‘No’
Before her Year of Yes, Rhimes avoided conflict as much as possible in her personal life. She wanted to be liked so much that she avoided having difficult conversations, became a doormat for others and suffered silence. For all of the wonderful opportunities she said ‘no’ to with ease, it was only recently that she found the courage to say ‘no’ to toxic people in her life.
Difficult conversations are sometimes necessary for personal growth and for the health of your relationships and the people who love you will want to grow along with you. Learn to say ‘no’ to things and people that are sucking the life out of you. When you understand that you deserve good things, saying ‘no’ to the bad things becomes so much easier.
4) Say ‘Yes’ to Real Friendships
Rhimes makes up characters for a living, but she was also making up personality traits for her friends, too. She couldn’t see that two of her longtime friends were toxic people because she projected ideas and personalities onto them that made her feel way more comfortable with them than she should have been. The more comfortable and confident Rhimes became with herself, however, the less comfortable those two friends felt around her. Rhimes could finally see them clearly and ended those relationships.
Believe people when they show you who they really are. It is not only fair to them, it’s also fair to you. When you become an honest, healthy person, you can cultivate honest, healthy relationships with others.
5) Say ‘Yes’ to Love
One unpopular opinion Rhimes voiced through Cristina Yang on Greys was her desire to never get married. In Year of Yes, Rhimes recounts her decision to break off an engagement with a great man who loved her because she had finally accepted that marriage was not something she ever wanted. Knowing that the great man wanted what she couldn’t give him, she said ‘yes’ to love by telling him—and herself—the truth.
Saying ‘yes’ to love means being honest with yourself and others and accepting honesty in return. When you understand that you inherently deserve to be loved, you can stop rebuffing compliments when they come your way (instead of self-deprecating jokes or comments, Rhimes has trained herself to just say, “Thank you!” and smile when complimented).
You can say ‘yes’ to help when it is offered to you because you no longer judge yourself for not being a superhero who can do everything at once; and you can fully embrace all that you are and all that you are not. When you open yourself up to love, the universe responds in kind, and you’ll be “standing in the sun” in no time.
Rhimes is living proof.