8 Inspiring Lessons For Women From “A Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes


8 Inspiring Lessons For Women From “A Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes

Lessons from Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes

This is a particularly great book to read at the start of a new year and all year round to be honest. It’s a wonderful read that causes us to pause and reflect on whether we are indeed saying yes to and living the life we want. 

The Year of Yes is a memoir by Shonda Rhimes, renowned and award-winning writer of American TV shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. As amazing as Shonda was on paper (pun unintended), she was far from living her best life. She was miserable. She didn’t socialise, said no to all the events, interviews, parties etc and preferred to stay on her own – engrossed in work. One day her elder sister says to her “you never say yes to anything”. Those six words apparently changed Shonda’s life and she took up the challenge of a Year of Yes — to say Yes to everything – the start of her amazing journey and transformation. 

These are the favourites Yes lessons we picked up.

Yes to Yes

It’s one thing to agree to do something, but it’s another to actually do it. Shonda Rhimes’ year of yes didn’t quite start out as she would have expected. Her first invitation post-decision was a request to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live – the late-night talk show. It wasn’t the first time she had been invited but she had always turned it down.

And now? Sure she could very much rescind her decision. After all, she considered herself too socially awkward to be on live TV. The middle ground was a compromise – a yes to the show as long as it was pre-recorded. 

Yes to Play

In the book this chapter is actually titled, “Yes to all Play and no Work”. And you can see why.

As she said yes to more things, interviews, dinners and social events – her life got busier. Which meant less time for her kids. She was doing great everywhere else but her home as she started to feel irrelevant. She’d enter the room to find her daughters playing and they’d barely acknowledge her. This has happened because every time her daughter asked if she wanted to play, she didn’t have the time. Then she knew it was time to re-evaluate. And so she made it a rule. Her answer to “wanna play?” was always yes.

Are you saying yes to play enough?

Yes to Your Whole Truth 

After 25 years of graduating from her alma mater, Dartmouth College, Shonda is invited to give the commencement speech, which well, she had to say yes to! After the usual worry and insecurities, the next big concern is what to say. Her first speech which she considered “fluff” is full of the expected things to say: “follow your dreams, change the world, embrace failure, dream big”

After much pondering, she tears this up and decides to speak to these eager graduates sharing her whole truth – on life and challenges after graduation, on not only dreaming but doing the work, on how it’s really hard out there and how no one absolutely no one balances it perfectly.

In this social media frenzy and packaging world, are you speaking your truth?  See her full speech below


Yes to Compliments & Accomplishments 

Why do so many women find it difficult to genuinely accept compliments? At a powerful event for women and as their accomplishments were read, Shonda noticed that each woman either waved it off, ducked her head or gave an embarrassed laugh. Shondas’ case was no different as she went with the head ducking. 

Later, someone else mentioned to Shonda how not a single woman in the room could handle being told she was awesome!  Then she decides to own up to her accomplishments. Because she’s good. And to simply say thank you to compliments! 

Similarly, she decides to stop whittling down how badass she was by using “just”. Oh I’m just a writer. Or to be thankful she was fat — because fat and successful was somehow less intimidating. Instead, to take the compliment and run — without apologising for being powerful or downplaying their accomplishments. 

Yes to No and Difficult Conversations

No is such a strong powerful word. A complete sentence on its own. Yet it’s one many people find hard to use. In a Year of Yes, Shonda recalls casting for one her favourite characters for Grey’s Anatomy – Cristina Yang. 

Before she found Sandra Oh, everyone else agreed that a certain other person was the perfect fit for the role. But she knew in her gut that it wasn’t — only that she wasn’t sure how on earth to make that known without reeling off a bunch of reasons. 

Finally, she finds her voice to simply say No. And that, according to her, remains her favourite no ever! Judging by how much everyone loves Cristina – she was probably right on that!

But how many times do we get sucked up into doing things we don’t want to – loaning money, attending an event, and more life changing decisions like being forced to pick a course or study or get married – because we refuse to say No. Saying no wasn’t the end in itself. It helped Shonda realise how important it was to have difficult conversations as well – and how much easier life can be when you do have them! 

Yes to Parenting Help

This happens all the way in chapter six of the book. . She writes about getting asked certain questions in almost every interview, questions like:

–     “How do you manage work and home?”

–     “What tips do you have for working moms?”

–       “ What is your secret to finding balance in a busy world?”

And so she’d reel off some answers like

–        “I manage with a  lot of organisation and a label maker”

–      “ I do laundry late at night”

–        “I’ve started meditating on a regular basis”

Did you just roll your eyes? I know right!

But all she wanted to say was the truth. But then she’d read so many books about working mums and no one ever said it. So she couldn’t.

She gives an illustration about spending hours and hours trying to copy Whitney Houston’s hairstyle. But it never worked out. And then someone told her the truth –  it was a wig! 

Her truth in achieving balance was similar. It was all thanks to her nanny Jenny McCarthy. 

As powerful women were shamed into not wanting to say that they had help – nannies, or housekeepers, she thought that hiring a nanny to look after her baby was irresponsible. Until she felt the full weight of the experience – and realised we must all say yes to help. Because no one can do it all. And while you’re at it, tell other women you have help; so they don’t feel any less of themselves.

Yes to Who You Are!

Shonda loves weddings, adores them even — yet does not want to be married! A paradox you think? It doesn’t help that her parents are the marriage jackpot – soulmates, made for each other, fit like a hand in glove even after fifty plus years! 

But that’s just not for her, and finally she accepts it. She realises that she didn’t want the traditional fairy tale. She didn’t want to supposedly have it all — seeing as being married seemed the missing piece of the puzzle. For her, perhaps nothing else could come close to her devotion to writing.

Find and live your own happiness. 

Yes to the Right People 

In both chapters 12 and 13, Shonda talks about the need for a tribe and the need to feel seen. Life honestly shouldn’t be done alone and your tribe of people should be out there cheering you on! 

Also it’s important to differentiate such people from those you believe are your people simply because you’ve known them for years or because you would do anything for them! She narrates how she eventually saw through a toxic friendship and had to cut that off. This friend was never genuinely her person, not happy for her and she, Shonda had perhaps made up all of the excellent qualities in her head. In her words, “I spent years having a totally fulfilling, completely awesome friendship with a person who is only a stand in for a figment of my imagination”

Thankfully, she realises that her true friends, her tribe need not be in her imagination. She’s surrounded by them.

Have you found your tribe? If you’d love a group of incredible and ambitious women to do grow with and learn from in work and life, check out our membership and come join us! 

This is  a pretty generous summary of this fascinating book – A Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Although this book was released in 2016, it’s one that is evergreen and we can whole heartedly recommend!


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