What is your default answer when an opportunity or invitation comes your way? Do you automatically say yes without determining whether that is the ’true in your gut’ answer? Or does some survivalist instinct lead you to say no because that is safer, comfier, less demanding?
Most of us have never stopped to figure out our usual MO.
Clearly Shonda Rhimes is not most of us. For the uninitiated she is one of the most powerful woman in Hollywood, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder. She owns Thursdays.
Is there anyone left who still believes that outward success automatically means inner happiness? Good. Because when, over Thanksgiving meal preparations in 2013, Shonda’s eldest sister Delorse mutters that “You never say yes to anything” Shonda’s life changes forever.
Those six words, or “the grenade” as Rhimes describes them, sit dormant for several weeks. They worm their way into her. She acknowledges their truth. She commits to saying Yes to everything (out of her comfort zone, crazy, out of character, goofy, everything!) for one year.
The first yes is when she’s invited to give the commencement address at her alma mater Dartmouth College. For a shy, introverted, “Type A, obsessive, workaholic control freak” to speak to the ten thousand who would gather would have been unthinkable before she made the commitment.
In “Year of Yes-How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person” Shonda demonstrates laugh out loud humour, outrageous honesty, and enviable courage as she tells us her story. And she is a storyteller extraordinaire. In nearly 300 pages she walks us through what yes has meant to her life. And how her life no longer looks or feels like it did when she was choosing the safe path of saying no.
No aspect of her life is untouched by this resolve. Getting over stage fright and delivering speeches or appearing on Jimmy Kimmel or acting on The Mindy Project is admirable. Saying yes when her daughters ask, ’wanna play?’ raises the stakes. Losing one hundred twenty-seven pounds is heroic. Learning to accept a compliment with a thank you stops the disclaimers, the aw shucks, toe digging in the carpet approach to downplaying our brilliance. She continues to say yes to people, to who she is, to difficult conversations, to ridding herself of toxic people.
The book and the experiment of ’yes’ are remarkable in their scope. They leave no aspect of life unexamined, unchanged. It inspires me to be better, to do better, to check my own behaviour to see if I’m living as authentically and honestly as I can. Negative self-talk and self-deprecating humour are hurting me and holding me back. There are truths here I need to assimilate. I admire Shonda’s courage; her badassery and swagger; her opinions on Athlete Talk, the joy of writing and working hard, and the futility of hashtags without real action. Watch for more yeses in my life, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.