What Shonda did in a little over a year was life changing and it all started with six words, “You never say yes to anything.” A phrase mumbled by her sister as they prepared for Thanksgiving dinner stuck in her craw. She didn’t say anything right away, didn’t even acknowledge that it bothered her or that her sister was right. But weeks later, it hit her like a ton of bricks and woke her up at 4 a.m. And what does the woman that created Olivia Pope do at four in the morning when she needs to sort things out? She drinks red wine.
That morning Rhimes realized that while she had the career she wanted and the children she wanted and was surrounded by family and friends, overall she was unhappy. In fact, she says she was miserable. She made the decision to stop shutting herself in the house and to stop saying no to interview requests and speaking appearances and all of the other things that she’d been hiding from over the years.
Those frozen stiff appearances she used to give? They were because she was nervous. While she presented a perfectly poised persona, the woman who once accidentally threw a chicken bone across the room while making her point was terrified that she would have the same mishap at an industry event. Even though she’d been interviewed by Oprah a number of times, she couldn’t remember any of those interviews because, “chicken bone, Janet Jackson boob, fear-snot” – all of things that she thought could go wrong. So she fake smiled her way through it and declined invitations right and left.
The year of yes brought about a lot of changes: saying yes to speaking engagements and college commencement speeches; yes to playing more with her children; yes to difficult conversations; yes to losing weight; yes to dancing it out in the sun; yes to badassery; and yes to being her authentic self. When you see her giving interviews now, when you see on her red carpets, the change in her physical being is apparent and, as she emerges from her cocoon, the change in her mental being is just as apparent. The woman who once froze on a speaker’s panel now easily controls the conversation. The woman that once let her body merely serve as a container for her brain while wearing whatever her stylist put on her has become a fashionista. All of those sentences that she created for Christina Yang to say on her behalf, she says them for herself now.
Rhimes’ tone throughout the book is very conversational. It feels like sitting on the couch with your best girlfriend, shooting the breeze and drinking red wine and eating popcorn while she fills you in on what she’s been doing since you last saw her. I tore through the book in less than 24 hours and was sorry to see it end, but I came out of it with a healthy appreciation of the woman formerly behind the mask. I'm already planning to start dancing things out when life gets too stressful. And I just might start saying yes to a few things myself.
Published: November 2015