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What I learned from Year Of Yes, Shonda Rhimes' new book.

No one does it alone. Why do we pretend to be super women?

The most important things my mother taught me included work from Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Wham! and Whitney Houston. My passionate adoration of Whitney, which began circa 1990, remains to this day.

I can sing every song, with feeling, and make myself cry or dance or triumph. I love this album.

Which is to say that when Shonda Rhimes talks about Whitney Houston in Year Of Yes, her recently-published book, she captured my attention. See, I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy. I came late to the Scandal party. So while Ms. Rhimes was taking over the universe, I was only vaguely aware of her.

“It never ever helps to think that Whitney’s hairdo is real.”

See, Shonda tried for hours and years to recreate the Whitney album look. It never worked. She felt like a failure. When she shared this with a friend later, her friend shared a secret: Not even Whitney Houston herself could do that hair.  It was a wig, with a team behind it.

Whitney Houston's album cover for 'Whitney'. 

That’s the whole problem with magazines, right? Media in general, women in general comparing themselves at their worst to the polished versions of other people.

I thought it was just me who did this. Apparently not.

Rhimes talks about this in terms of looks — everyone it takes to make her awards-show fabulous. But more importantly, regarding the help she has to make life possible. Being a busy mom of three with a crazy-demanding job and everything else may look amazing from the outside. If I can’t do it all the way Rhimes does, something must be wrong with me.

So Rhimes’ truth-telling about her nanny of awesomeness and the others on the team? It is refreshing and important. No one does it alone. Why do we pretend to be super women? The people I respect and care about in life are the ones who show their real selves — and give me a glimpse at how they are making it work. That almost always entails allowing other people to help us.

There’s one other part of the book I want to focus on. Something I never could put my finger on before, but that, when I read it, I found was absolutely true. Rhimes tries to figure out why she can’t take a compliment; why she deflects and ducks instead of owning her success and awesomeness.

Not to get too deep, but ya, I get that. And Rhimes? She’s a thousand times more worthy than I am of praise and adoration. The issue is the same though, and she’s proof that reaching your goals doesn’t suddenly change you into a different more confident person on the inside.

“I am worried that people will think that maybe I think I am special.”

I gasped. For real. I folded down the page. I looked around for someone to talk to. I thought of calling my best friend Jenny. She was working. I thought of texting, realized I had too much to say. I read it again. And again. The page before and after. Still in shock.

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I am worried that people will think that maybe I think I am special.

Once I realize this, I see how stupid it is. What the hell is wrong with not hating myself? Isn’t that kind of the point? You don’t have to be a jerk to own your success and feel pleased with how you’re handling life.

Shonda Rhimes. Image: Getty.

No exaggeration, this might be the sentence that changes my existence.

I didn’t love everything about Year of Yes. The voice and style aren’t mine. That isn’t a bad thing, just something I noticed. The point? The quest of analyzing and pushing yourself to do what scares you? I get that. I needed that. Even if Rhimes’ version of it looks different than mine.

I wrote these two quotes on a note card. I have to do something more permanent. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them and the book in the weeks since I finished. They both speak to the same problem I have, have always had. I don’t think I’m alone in this self-doubt and idiot internal voice.

Read the book. It’ll be good for you.

This story by Eliana Osborn was originally published on Ravishly.com, a feminist news+culture website.
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