90 Year of Yes

yearofyesby Shonda Rhimes, 2015

I’ll admit to jumping on the Grey’s Anatomy bandwagon from the very beginning. I remember Sunday nights, in my apartment with the exposed brick walls, watching tv with my roommate when it was Desperate Housewives and then Grey’s before heading to bed to start a new week. I left Grey’s when it became the kind of show that actively tried to get the audience to cry every week – I’m not down with that kind of melodrama – but I did once love it. I’m just now dipping into How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal, so I’m not a ShondaLand zealot by any means, but when I came across this memoir, written by one of the most successful women in television, someone who has brought overt racial and sexual diversity into millions of American homes, yet who calls herself an introvert, I had to read it.

Now, I’ll say from the get go that Rhimes’s version of yes is a bit different from what my or your version of yes would look like. I don’t think I’ll be invited to give commencement speeches or asked to be on the Jimmy Kimmel show any time soon, and there’s a certain amount of off-handedness with which Rhimes discusses these “everyday” events. Still, I think there’s something to glean here, especially when Rhimes discovers that saying no is sometimes saying yes to something else. A year of continual yes sounds like the perfect recipe for hedonistic overindulgence, but in her sections on weight loss and motherhood she succinctly spells out the importance of choosing what you’re saying yes to. A yes to increased health might mean a no to chips in bed tonight. A yes to being a successful working mother might mean a no to home-baked brownies for a school fundraiser.

In fact, Rhimes is strongest when she’s talking about these quite ordinary things. I don’t have children, but I greatly admire, in her section praising her children’s caretaker, the bold declaration that “powerful famous women don’t say out loud that they have help at home…because they are ashamed. Or maybe a more precise way to say it is that these women have been shamed.” She goes on to criticize those who call motherhood a “job,” asserting that mothering still happens whether you stay at home or go off to work and to call it a job diminishes the role. I find this so important because Rhimes is refusing to have the “can we really have it all?” argument. Instead, she maintains that different people say yes to different kinds of lives and “we all have to acknowledge that our way is not the way.”

So, where does a year of yes leave her? Through the book we find Rhimes on the ground playing with her kids more, we see her accepting compliments and acknowledging her own strengths as more than just luck, we see her shed a significant amount of weight, and we see her shed so-called friends whose true natures are revealed by Rhimes’s decision to say yes to having difficult conversations. While we may never have to say yes to fancy ball gowns for awards ceremonies, we can certainly learn to say yes to many more things in life. Yes to surrounding ourselves with our people. Yes to creating a life we want instead of a life others want for us. Yes to playing more and speaking our truths. Yes to dancing.

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