Shonda Rhimes is one of the most successful, smartest, bad ass women in Hollywood. She is the genius behind McSteamy, McDreamy (MY personal favorite and totally on the Top 5 Hotties List) and some of the most poignant and deeply passionate fictional characters on ABC television. But, did you know that she is also an introvert of extreme proportions, a single mother of 3 daughters through adoption, and her best friend is actually one of her television characters? 'Tis true. She is just as deeply complex as her television characters and that is why her shows are so popular across the demographics. Here are a few things I picked up while listening to the audio book.
Parties make everything better. If you are a frequent viewer of Shonda's shows, you know that she is big on parties. There is always a reason for celebration and a reason to dance, even if it is surviving a long grueling day in the ER of Seattle Grace. This philosophy on life stems from Shonda's childhood. She grew up in a very loving family with a mom and dad who were the poster-perfect sweethearts and parents and they always had a reason for celebration. I also love a good reason to celebrate and find comfort in a good party, even if it is something as simple as a tasty drink and delicious dinner out with friends after a challenging day of life. There is always always a reason to celebrate. We can celebrate living each day we open our eyes again.
The nothingness of terror stole all the fun. Because of her intense introverted personality, Shonda turned down countless interviews and appearances because her fear paralyzed her ability to do something new. She was WELL in to her television empire with Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice before she had this epiphany year of yes. When she decided that she would say yes to life, it also meant that she had to face her fear and start stepping out of her comfort zone and making appearances to promote and celebrate her success. One of the first scheduled appearances was speaking at her Alma Mater, Dartmouth College, for their commencement exercises. I was able to listen to the live version of this in the audio book and it brought tears to my eyes. I was driving across east Idaho and almost had to pull over just to listen and cry. I have felt a lot of fear and unrest in the last 2 years of my life. Even in the last 2 weeks of my life, I've thought "what the hell just happened....PLOT TWIST!" We can all do hard things even when we think we are completely incapable of doing it.
Here is the YouTube video of Shonda's address at Dartmouth. Please take the time to watch it. It is amazing.
Life is hard, but hard is relative. Many times we are faced with trials that may seem similar, but really they are 100% different. I am feeling this on a very personal level right now and I can attest to my current challenges being so very different than the others. Yes, the common denominator is there, but the circumstances and surroundings are different and much much better in more ways than they are worse. Life is WAY hard, but somehow, the hard part seems to diminish itself when we turn to our tribe and to God to carry us on the days when we just can't do it anymore. I am so grateful for a tribe that includes some new faces and lacks some others. The level of difficulty of life is truly relative and it eases up when we turn over our faith to God and let others serve us in small, but simple ways as well as in very large, critical ways. Lemons to lemonade can mean so many different things depending on the time of day, the severity of the trial and the types of people we are surrounded by as we keep swimming.
Find a cause you love, focus on something outside of yourself; hashtags aren't a movement. She spent a lot of time talking about finding a cause that you are passionate about and changing the world. She was very specific in stating that just because we hashtag a photo on social media for a cause does NOT mean that we are moving mountains to improve something. We need to get out of our seats, open our mouths and help others around us who have it far worse than we do. This is such an important part of my life. I am a non-profit guru because I have felt the immense healing power that comes when I step outside my complicated brain and look for ways to help others. If there is cause to aide at-risk children, I am on it. My mamma bear instincts are fiercely present in my non-profit work because I know that it is so important to protect our rising generation and it also fills a void in my heart as I wait to be a mom to my own kiddos.
The air you are breathing is rare air; appreciate it. Every day is a gift from God. For those of us who live in countries that are modernized we often take for granted the gift it is to breathe clean air. We are so damn lucky to live in peace and harmony with medical care that is as advanced as its ever been and to have clean tap water and food that doesn't rot our insides. We are damn lucky to have the opportunity to vote, get a post-secondary education and work in occupations that require us to use our brains. As you read this blog, there are men, women and children who are starving and laying their heads on dirt floors wondering if they will wake up tomorrow, will have food to eat and if their babies will live another day in such dire circumstances. There are women who are self mutilating their reproductive organs so they don't bleed anymore and lose their jobs because they are unable to have the sanitation products to remedy their condition. There are orphans who spend countless nights wondering if anyone will ever love them and care for them other than some strangers in the other room. Thank your lucky stars for the rare air you breathe.
we support each other and love each other unconditionally and live how we see fit.
It's not diversity; it's called normalizing. This portion of the book was one that really struck chords for me. She talked about an awards ceremony that she spoke at which honored diversity in the LGBT community as portrayed on television and in the movies. During the speech she said that many times people have thanked and praised her for writing television characters that are so diverse, complex, twisted and vulnerable. She also said that she will correct people and say that she is not bringing diversity to television, but she is normalizing television. She is bringing to her viewers what they see in actual life. She is bringing characters who struggle with sexuality, PTSD, infertility, death, birth, alcoholism, addiction and the list goes on and on and on. THAT is life. THAT is our reality. We are HUMANS with beating hearts. We all struggle. We all wish we had something better. Her goal in each of her shows is to not just have the token black alcoholic who is in senior management of a hospital, or a gay Republican who can't admit who he loves or an Asian feminist who finds the most satisfaction in her career, not a relationship or even the Caucasian dream boat who may be a pretty face, but is just as imperfect as his seemingly less attractive counterparts. She portrays people as they are in actual life. She wants people to feel that their tribe is waiting when they turn on the TV on Thursday nights or as they're binge watching on Netflix. To further explain this point, I found a outstanding video of Kerry Washington speaking about her experience working in ShondaLand (the name of Shonda Rhimes' company) that I thought explained this philosophy so beautifully. It is much shorter than the commencement address from above, so please take six minutes to watch it.
Hate diminishes, love expands. As a black female, Shonda is very familiar with the hate that is ever present when people who are different are in the room. As a child she was often bullied and mocked for her weirdness and her coping mechanism was writing. She often found solace in her characters and would sort out her thoughts by writing characters that were dealing with similar struggles. I'm a big advocate for journaling in the therapy and coping process for similar reasons. I have calmed my brain down many times by writing out the "plot" of my life and the characters in it and sorting out the story on paper. Somehow doing it on paper and pulling it out of my brain makes it turn from an emotional thought to an analytical equation that I will either solve or will not solve. I thank God daily for a therapist that encouraged me to journal this way because it has served me well many times over the years. Shonda's favorite character is Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy. The reasons are many and I won't give it all away because the insight she shares about Cristina are really beautiful and you should read the book! But, I will say this, it made so much more sense why she wrote Cristina as a fiercely driven and passionate feminist because she needed a way to sort her own thoughts. She also shared that Cristina was one of her best friends over the years because her plot lines helped Shonda work through a lot of her personal struggles.
I hope that we can all take something from these thoughts from The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person" by Shonda Rhimes. Upon finishing this book, it promptly went on my list of "MUST listen to annually" books because it had a zen-like power on my brain because I related to her struggles and passion very much. Life is dang hard, but life is also so beautiful and full of love and simple joys.
The moral of the story: Keep fighting, keep speaking your mind for the causes you love, and keep saying yes to life!
Until next time, my lovelies!
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