My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Shonda Rhimes is a liar. Her word, not mine. She calls herself this because she likes to make up stuff, all the time. Lucky for her it’s paid off. The highly successful ABC shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Private Practice (no longer on air) are spawns of what she calls being a liar, but we call being a great writer. Just as the NFL owns Sundays, Shonda Rhimes owns Thursdays. TGIT.
While Rhimes has carte blanche to write whatever events and endings in the characters’ lives of her fictitious worlds, she has to reveal nothing but honesty and truths in Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.
The title references Rhimes’ year and half long decision to force herself to step all the way out of her comfort zone and accept invitations to the various dinners, luncheons, galas, award shows and interviews she usually declines. This is a major step for a woman who hired a publicist specifically to avoid interviews. Rhimes’ professional team, close friends, family, and actors on her shows all did their part to help keep her accountable. She taped an hour long episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, shot a photoshoot for the cover of, and feature story in, Entertainment Weekly, and guest starred on Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project, one of her favorite shows.
It’s hard to imagine that even being the lauded creator and writer for three hit on-air shows, along with fulfilling a dream of adopting children, Rhimes was not happy. Her life was all work and no play by design. Not feeling comfortable in her own skin, Rhimes buried herself in writing and motherhood. Though she bragged to her family, in particular her closest sister, about all the opportunities and experiences that were coming her way as a result of her success, she didn’t accept any of them.
A year of yes was not meant to be a clichéd new year’s resolution, though that was the timing. Overhearing her sister mutter under her breath, “You never say yes to anything,” while prepping Thanksgiving dinner was the catalyst for change in her life a few weeks later. The mindset change led to losing weight, weeding out weak relationships, building stronger ones (especially with her children), and getting to know herself better by way of writing and delivering speeches.
My favorite aspect of the book, part memoir and part how to, is the inclusion of speeches she delivered: the commencement speech at her alma mater Dartmouth, a speech at the Human Rights Campaign Gala, and an acceptance speech when she was the recipient of Hollywood Reporter’s Sherry Lansing Award at the annual Women in Entertainment breakfast. In each speech to the audience and in the book’s narrative, Rhimes shares about overcoming her own self-doubts, fears, anxieties and not shying away from challenges, which requires using her skills and talents to full capacity.
As the writer of several blow-your-mind hour-long dramas, Rhimes’ self-deprecating humor is unexpected and appreciated. An alternate chapter title is “Jenny McCarthy is My Everything.” Jenny McCarthy is the real name of her children’s nanny. Rhimes panics about sweat, poop and face snot at the thought of public speaking. Beyoncé is mentioned several times. “I did not wake up like this” is a confession to readers who marvel at celebrities’ awe-inspiring looks. She wants readers to know that it takes a glam squad to get her ready for her public appearances. The general public should not obsess over getting the perfect look as she once did when trying to recreate one of Whitney Houston’s looks only to later find out it was a wig. It’s also quite funny when Rhimes prefaces comments directing readers not to judge her for certain thoughts and actions.
Year of Yes is a great read and reminder to people not to underestimate themselves. Accept the invitations, challenges, compliments and chances to enjoy life as you’ve never imagined. Though things might be scary outside your comfort zone, you’ll survive and flourish, even if there are stumbles along the way.