She owned Thursday nights on television with her hit series “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
She got to make things up for a living — something she’d thrived on since childhood.
But Shonda Rhimes was unhappy. She was overworked and unhealthy, and she didn’t feel like she was living her life to the fullest.
So she embarked on a yearlong experiment in which she’d agree to any and every request that came her way — in her personal or professional life.
As she describes in her 2015 book, “Year of Yes,” over the course of that year, she stepped out of her comfort zone and learned what it means to be truly successful. Here are six life-changing lessons she learned.
1. You’ll never know if you can get your way until you ask
Jimmy Kimmel had been requesting Rhimes’ presence on his show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” for years, and Rhimes had politely declined each time.
Once her Year of Yes began, however, there was no way out. She agreed to appear on the show, except for one thing: The interview wasn’t live.
“If I have to be on TV, if I have to do something as scary as ‘Kimmel,’ Rhimes writes, “we’re going to do it my way or we don’t do it at all.”
In other words, Rhimes learned that if there’s a will, there’s a way. She’d always assumed that appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel” was out of the question for her because it had to be a live interview — and she was terrified of making a fool of herself on live television. But when her assistant communicated her request, Kimmel’s team was able to make it happen.
Rhimes was begrudgingly proud of herself for overcoming her fear: “I said yes to something that terrified me. And then I did it. And I didn’t die.”
2. Other people benefit when you get over your fears
Shortly after Rhimes, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1991, began the Year of Yes, she received a phone call from the president of Dartmouth, asking her to give the commencement speech in 2014.
Though she was terrified, she agreed.
As she reveals in “Year of Yes,” she rewrote her entire speech during the plane ride to New Hampshire. While onstage, she calmed down when she stopped focusing on herself, and started thinking about the students in the audience as younger versions of her:
Whatever I’m going to say is not for me. It isn’t for the outside world. It doesn’t matter how people react to it or judge it. I’m not talking to anyone but these graduates sitting in front of me. This is just for them.
The speech encourages students to “be a doer, not a dreamer,” among other advice. You can watch it below:
3. Making time for love is a priority
Perhaps the most important “yes” Rhimes uttered was in response to her youngest daughter’s question: “Mama, wanna play?”
Rhimes was heading out the door, all dressed up for a fancy event, but she kicked off her heels and sat down on the floor to spend 15 minutes playing with her three daughters.
Though she was late to the event, Rhimes writes, “That little fire inside of me has been reignited. Like magic. Let’s not get carried away. It’s just love.”
Now, she says, whenever her kids ask her to play, she says “yes.”
She urges readers to take at least 15 minutes a day to “play” — whether that means hanging out with their kids or indulging in a long bath or a manicure. In other words, those 15 minutes should be filled with love — for others or for yourself.