Year of Yes (book review)


Year of YesShonda Rhimes, the prolific creator and producer of ABC’s hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, was not as confident in herself as you might think.  “I am an introvert. Deep. To the bone,” she writes early in her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.  A chance conversation with her sister while preparing Thanksgiving dinner shook her world.  “You never say yes to anything,” her sister Delores told her that day, remarking on Shonda’s tendency to keep a low profile.  “You are your own boss – your job is only as busy as you make it.  But you never do anything but work.  You never have any fun.  You used to have so much fun.  Now all of these amazing opportunities are coming your way – once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – and you aren’t taking advantage of any of them.  Why?”

Soon thereafter, Shonda relates, she is given a seat in President Obama’s box for a Kennedy Center Honors event.  Intimidated by this, she has no choice in the matter – she is going.  She ends up having a wonderful time that evening, chatting with the Obamas and enjoying the performance.  Her sister’s words then come to mind.  “If they had asked me, I would have said no,” she recalls.

Shonda is very open in revealing her fears in Year of Yes.  But she decides not to let those fears stop her.  Inspired by her sister’s counsel she writes in her journal, “(I) am going to say yes to anything and everything that scares me.  For a whole year.  Or until I get scared to death and you have to bury me.

Yes to everything scary.
Yes to everything that takes me out of my comfort zone.
Yes to everything that feels like it might be crazy.
Yes to everything that feels out of character.
Yes to everything that feels goofy.
Yes to everything.”

Shonda leads the reader through her many challenges in those 12 months, such as giving the commencement speech at Dartmouth College (her alma mater), appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and being interviewed by Oprah.  I liked the book’s conversational style, and the author’s sense of humor.  I had never seen any of Shonda’s hit TV shows and I did not know who she was until I read the book.  I could relate, however, to the challenges she faced as an introvert putting herself out there in the world.  If you liked Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, one of my top book selections of 2012, you’ll love Shonda’s many entertaining stories of overcoming her introvert nature to not only survive, but thrive.  “The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me,” she writes,  “So in order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – and then I have to say yes to that thing.”

I’ve been noticing my own tendency to “never say yes to anything” lately.  Shonda’s words encouraged me to say my own “yes’s” to opportunities I may otherwise have skipped.  Like snowshoeing for the first time (“what if I fall and I can’t get up?!” said my voice of fear.  I did it anyway and had a great time).

Especially if you are an introvert, I recommend reading Year of Yes.  Then you may tell yourself, as Shonda does at the end of her book, “I am now almost afraid to say the word no.  I can no longer answer any challenge with no … The year was done.  But I was not. Which is how the Year of Yes went from twelve months to forever.”

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