'I spent a year saying yes to everything. It changed my life.'

Shonda Rhimes is a prolific, successful hit maker.

She created Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and How To Get Away With Murder. She literally wrote the scripts on diversity in Hollywood today.

So I was pretty excited when I discovered that one of the women I admire most had recently gone on a similar “journey” as me.

A few years ago I was miserable. A Pretty Serious Relationship had dissolved, and I totally fell apart. Panicking that I would always be miserable, I left my job, and moved to another state.

As part of this change regime I had a rule which I forced myself to stick to in the first few months. I said yes to everything.

Every party. Every social invitation. Every date (really not my thing). EVERYTHING.

The result was that I had a lot of fun and I built friendships that I probably wouldn’t have bothered with before my “rule of yes”. I also stopped having time to wallow in my misery.

That rule forced me to think differently about myself and my choices, and while I don’t do it all the time anymore, when I feel like I’m heading for a rut, I bring it back.

And it turns out Rhimes is all about saying yes too. (After the Pretty Serious Relationship ended I watched a ridiculous amount of Grey’s Anatomy – it is like break up crack.)

Break up crack.

She has written a book about it, Year of Yes, that was released this week.

In it she writes: “The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me.”



Sure, the stuff Rhimes was saying yes to (sitting with the Obamas at a Kennedy Center Gala, giving a university commencement speech, agreeing to an hour-long Jimmy Kimmell Live special) is VERY different to what I said yes to (speed dating, parties where I knew no one, foods I didn’t like eating). But the point is the same.

Aside from validating my personal motivational technique, Year of Yes has a lot to say about the way women are perceived and treated.

Rhimes has an incredibly high-profile job and she feels the pressure of that acutely, particularly as a rare thing in TV-land: A woman, and a woman of colour.

“I had to do everything right. I had to keep it all afloat. I had to run to the top of the mountain. I could not rest, I could not fall, I could not stumble, I could not quit.”

On being good at her job she writes that she didn’t feel like she had room to fail:

“This wasn’t just my shot. It was ours. I had to do everything right. I had to keep it all afloat. I had to run to the top of the mountain. I could not rest, I could not fall, I could not stumble, I could not quit. Failing to reach the summit was not an option. Failing would be bigger than just me. Blowing it would reverberate for decades to come.”

Part memoir, part motivator, Year of Yes is a bit like listening to all the monologues from all the shows in Shondaland in a row.

It can be searing. This is her response to being asked what she calls “the Big Questions” on being a mother, and working:

“I get asked the Big Questions in almost EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW I do. I hate the Big Questions. I hate being asked the Big Questions ALMOST as much as I hate being asked the Diversity Question—”Why is diversity so important?” (which ranks for me as one of the dumbest questions on the face of the earth, right up there with “Why do people need food and air?” and “Why should women be feminists?”).”

And blunt.

“It irritated me to my core that we live in an era of ignorance great enough that it was still necessary for me to be a role model, but that didn’t change the fact that I was one.”

And for all the people who wonder why the only things Olivia Pope ever consumes are popcorn and red wine, I found the answer.

This is not a sensible dinner.

How does Rhimes make herself feel better?

“My own special formula involved red wine. And buttered popcorn.”

I could pull quotes out of this book all day. But you should read it instead, and then you should embark on your own yes campaign.

Saying yes didn’t lead me to the love of my life, a dream job,  a million bucks, or a night out with the Obamas. But it taught me that the stuff we avoid because we are scared about what might happen is never as bad as you think.

A lot of the time, it’s really really good.