Unpopular opinion: I have never really liked Grey’s Anatomy. As a twenty-something American female who came of age in the mid-2000s and who has a healthy appreciation for television, this is somewhat of a heresy, I know. One time I pretended to like Grey’s Anatomy for a couple of months freshman year of college, mostly because the girls on my dormitory floor would gather around the lounge television on Thursday nights, and I was really just terrified that I wouldn’t make friends if I didn’t join in. Even in the face of that totally legitimate fear, I still couldn’t get it up for GA for more than, like 6 weeks.
So when it comes to the prolific and apparently generation-defining works of Shonda Rhimes, I was pretty much clueless. But back in November I saw her book blowing up Instagram and since I’ve been in a pretty deep groove of reading career/memoir style books, I decided to give it a crack.
At the time, however many years since I stopped pretending to care about Meredith and friends, I no longer had any memory or feelings about the writings of Shonda Rhimes. So I came at this book from a place of almost no expectations, just those for any celebrity book—a little fake humility, a decent ghost-written style, a story of how this celebrity overcame some challenges and went on to be strong and funny and conquer Hollywood.
That’s not what I got.
There is not really any humility coming from Shonda Rhimes, fake or otherwise. In her introduction she writes a two page monologue about how beautiful and ageless the women in her family are, and peppered throughout the book are sentences like, “I’m amazing,” “I own America on Thursday nights,” and “My shows are basically redefining life as we know it.” If Rhimes’ recent PGA acceptance speech is any indication, these are feelings she has on the reg.
When I first started reading her book, this bothered me. What’s so great about her, I grumbled. This confidence is a little off-putting.
But then I thought a little more and it bothered me that it bothered me. I’m always reading statistics about how women don’t speak up about their accomplishments or give themselves enough credit and I’m all, “That’s bull! Be confident, ladies!” But then I’m there reading the words of an extremely confident lady and I’m thinking, whoa, let’s tone it down here and stop shoving your greatness down my throat, ok?
After further reflection, I’ve settled somewhere in the middle. I’m not a huge fan of Rhimes’ television work, but she’s obviously talented and has done a lot of things in television that no one else has. She should be confident, she does deserve awards. On the other hand, I do think it’s possible to be too confident, and I can’t decide where Rhimes falls on the spectrum of confidence I’m comfortable with. Perhaps it’s because she’s a celebrity that it put me off a bit. Maybe you can read it and help me sort out my complicated and conflicting feelings on this?
Once you get past Rhimes’ insistence that she will never look older than 26, you dive into the crux of the book, which is this: Rhimes turned 40 and realized that, for whatever reason, she was supremely unhappy. She worked too much, she didn’t spend enough time with her kids, she was overweight, she felt trapped. And she realized all of these things were her own fault. She wasn’t open to new experiences, she never let people in, she gave everything to her work. So she decided that what she needed was a year of saying yes—yes to things that scared her, to new people, to trying new things in her career and her personal life. The book is basically the highlights of what happened during her year of yes.
It seems that Rhimes took this idea seriously and really did have to push herself out of her comfort zone. She agreed to giving speeches, appearing on live television, establishing a better work-life balance, loving herself. To hear her tell it, she really did change herself and get to a more whole, loving place.
Which is obviously very inspirational. A little unrelatable, sure, given that she had to force herself to say yes to being on Jimmy Kimmel Live and attending like, White House dinners and stuff and she saw it as a struggle, where most of us would give semi-major organs to do things like that. But if you can look past that, past what each one of us may find challenging, and take the idea at it’s core, without the Hollywood filter, it’s a good one: be open. A lot of us are probably a little closed off, a little hesitant to try new things or give new people a chance.
It might not even be new things we need to say yes to—maybe we need to say yes to ourselves, or our partners, to open a door a little wider. Maybe we need to say yes to a change of career. Maybe we just need to say yes to a million little things we’ve been putting off—a doctor’s visit, a mommy-daughter date, a little alone time to relax and recharge. Whatever it is, maybe now’s the time to do it.
It’s funny that a couple of days ago we published a personal essay on the power of saying no, and here I am writing about a book that preaches saying yes. All I can say to that is life is a balance and we have to say yes and no—and the tricky part is figuring out which word to say to what. Maybe reading about Shonda Rhimes’ life will help you figure it out. Maybe it won’t, but her idea is intriguing and if it’s a struggle you’re concerned with, I definitely recommend reading it. And obviously if you’ve ever actually loved Grey’s Anatomy, you should just run right out and buy a copy right now.