XXTRA Book Club: Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes

Review by Vanessa Williams

“You never say yes to anything.”

Six little words.

Those six words were the inception of a year-long journey that Shonda Rhimes, hit television creator and producer, would initiate to help get her out of her comfort zone and conquer some fears. She called it her Year of Yes.

Shonda Rhimes practically owns Thursday nights on ABC with three hit television shows, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. She’s the showrunner. She’s the boss. She tells everyone what to do and when to do it. She’s assertive. She’s in control. Yet, she found that she was quite opposite in her personal life.

“You never say yes to anything” were the words that Shonda’s sister, Delores, said to her while they were preparing Thanksgiving dinner in 2013. Shonda and Delores were discussing invitations Shonda had received to several prominent events and her explanation for declining those invitations. At the time, she was the producer of two hit television shows. She had three daughters at home to raise. And the list goes on and on. But after Delores boldly points out that Shonda rarely participates in any of these prominent events, Shonda finds herself trying to figure out why she doesn’t accept the invitations.

After assessing the unhappiness in her life, Shonda concludes that she declines attending these events because they are uncomfortable for her. She describes herself as an awkward, shy introvert that is often afraid to find herself in situations that are outside of her comfort zone. Annoyed with being unhappy and wanting change, Shonda decides to say yes to everything. Yes, to everything that takes her out of her comfort zone, out of character, or that is just plain crazy.

Shonda accepts lots of invitations and takes us along for the journey. Here are five lessons learned through her Year of Yes.

Face Your Hard Truths

Shonda had to face some hard truths to take responsibility for the things she wanted to change about herself. One thing she wanted to change was her weight. Yes, she understood she ate too much. But she went deeper and determined that she used food to cope with difficult emotions she was experiencing. This discovery afforded her the opportunity to truly deal with those emotions and develop more positive ways to deal with them.

Like Shonda, there are some hard truths that we need to accept about ourselves. Until we get honest and acknowledge the not so good things about ourselves, then it will be hard to see a positive change in our lives. We must accept our faults and find ways to grow in those areas. That is the only way that we will see true personal growth.

Learn to Accept Compliments

Although Shonda, has three hit shows on television and has been successful in Hollywood, she found it hard to accept other people’s compliments. It was at an award event, when being celebrated, that Shonda was so uncomfortable that she hid her face in her hands. It was then that she realized it was hard to accept people acknowledging and praising her efforts, despite knowing that she worked extremely hard.

Sometimes when we work hard, other people take notice. And those people may see fit to acknowledge and praise our efforts. It’s ok to personally admit that you deserve the recognition. You’ve done the work, so enjoy the accolades. You earned it.

Let Go of Toxic People

Of course, becoming a happier you will not always be a wonderful experience. Shonda found this out the hard way when she realized that a close friend was not being supportive of her journey. Her friend was not happy to see Shonda becoming a happier person and standing up for herself. Shonda also found herself with people asking for money and help as she found more success. She eventually severed ties with these people and learned to say no.

It takes courage, but you must get rid of the toxic people in your life. These people love nothing more than to see you unhappy and can’t hide the disdain they feel when there’s a smile on your face. Sure, this is easier said then done. Sometimes you don’t have the option of getting rid of all the toxic people in your life, but you can learn to keep a healthy distance from them.

Stay True to Yourself

Shonda understands herself. So, she prepared to lean-in to getting out of her comfort zone. In doing so, she also made sure to make the events suitable for her to be as content as possible. For instance, when she was invited to be a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! – Shonda was mortified by being taped live. Ultimately, she accepted the offer, but told her publicist that the show had to be taped prior to its airing. Everything worked out, and a taped special was in the works.

While it is great to step out of your comfort zone, you do need to know your limits. You must know what does and does not work for you and how to find the middle ground. If something is too daring or crazy, you may talk yourself out of it. So, do your best to find ways to step out of your comfort zone, but always remember to stay true to yourself.

Live Your Best Life

By the end of the book, Shonda was living her best life and taking advantage of all the opportunities that life had afforded her. She was being photographed for the cover of Vogue. Something that she would have declined prior to her Year of Yes. But here she was not only doing it, but enjoying it. Accepting the joy, she was receiving from the moment and loving herself.

One of the best points in the book is learning to enjoy life and living your best life. We only get one chance at this thing called life. So, enjoy it. The good and the bad. Learn to enjoy it all.