When I found out that Shonda Rhimes had a book coming out, I knew that I had to read it, even before I found out what it was about. I have long wanted to be a part of Shondaland, not just because it is where some of my favorite shows live, but because from my outside perspective, it looks like a family, where getting killed off of, or leaving one show just means you can come back and be on another show. It is also a magical land where you can spread your wings and try new things, like directing or writing, but also let your freak flag fly proudly, without fear of judgment or rejection. Her characters are strong and vulnerable, flawed and wonderful. Her interviews can make you feel inspired, or that you truly are not alone. So the book had some big shoes to fill, even before it set the bar so high, with a title like “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person”.
This post isn’t exactly a review of the book, more like me telling you that you should read it, while sharing how it made me feel, and affected my life. The premise of the book is that Shonda’s sister tells her “You never say yes to anything” so she decides to spend the year saying yes to everything. Not to prove her sister wrong, but because after all of the excuses and justifications that she defends herself with, she realizes that her sister is right. She went to an event and had an amazing time and realized that if she had been asked if she wanted to, rather than told that she had to go to this event, she would have said no.
There are a lot of differences between me and Shonda. Our stories, some of our wants and dreams greatly differ, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking, “This is me.” I grew up writing stories and having conversations with my characters, sometimes in my head, but sometimes out loud. I didn’t exactly come up with magical worlds in the pantry, but I do remember using my grandparents’ old pill bottles rather than canned vegetables when I was little. And to this day, if you want to keep me occupied and out of your hair for hours on end, just give me a piece of paper and a pen. I’ll write as small as I have to in order to make that paper last me as long as it needs to.
Even more than our love for imaginary worlds, at the time of reading the book for the first time, I very much shared her fear of doing things and meeting people. I had just signed up for a semester at LAMDA, which would send me to London, on my own, to study something I had never learnt, while doing theater, which has always terrified me.
To this day, I will often find myself regretting missed opportunities, or the fact that the fear that I wasn’t good enough kept me from applying to any theatre programs after high school, where I could have learnt so much and conquered fears years earlier. At the same time, I know that I was nowhere near ready. Had I gone to theatre school when I was 17, I probably would have hung out in the back of the class, gone up when I was called upon and forced to, been constantly terrified, and hopefully made it through. I wanted to be different, but I was still too afraid to actually change.
After starting the book, I took to Shonda’s Year of Yes philosophy, and pushed it farther so that my time in London was incredible. I not only said yes when asked to do things, I volunteered for them. I am not bragging, because it was things that everyone else in the program probably considered routine or not that exciting, but I was amazed at all of the things I was getting myself into and accomplishing.
I reread the book when I got back and am pretty sure it is a book I will be rereading over and over again whenever I need to be reminded to say yes to life and new experiences and all of the wonderful things that the world has to offer. Because the things that terrified me before I went to London aren’t so scary any more. And since I kept up with this momentum, my comfort zone has grown exponentially, and continues to do so. This time last year, I was a couple of weeks into my semester and doing amazing by my standards. LAMDA was definitely the starting point of my journey, or at least putting the philosophy into practice, but even in the time since I got back, I have grown so much. If I went back to LAMDA right now, there are even more challenges and adventures that I would have sought out. More people I would have talked to in class and in hallways. Students from other programs I would have gotten to know.
The book is full of so many lessons and so much wisdom that I definitely needed to hear. Because it showed me that I truly wasn’t alone. That someone understands. It also terrified me to think that being Shonda Rhimes wasn’t enough to make all of the fears and insecurities go away. But there is no magic wand once you’ve ‘made it’. I don’t think it’s true that you need to love yourself in order for other people to love you, but I do think you need to love yourself in order to fully accept this love and believe it.
Through stories told with her magical flair for storytelling, Shonda teaches you to say yes to what matters in your life, to being honest (with yourself and with others), to loving yourself (whether that means accepting all of the imperfections that make you perfect, or finally putting yourself first and taking care of yourself like you deserve), to breaking glass ceilings, to compliments (just say “thank you”, don’t argue or explain it away!) and also to saying no when you need to.
Like Shonda, I am not stopping after a year. And while I am maybe not saying yes to every single possibility, I am putting a lot more consideration into why I want to say no. If it is something that I really don’t want to do, or am just too afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, I will say no. If it is something that I am afraid of, because it is new or outside my comfort zone, then I will say yes, and 99% of the time, I am glad that I did.