Book Review: The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

This month I have been working on building up my community—getting over my social anxiety and connecting with likeminded people. A book that I have been wanting to read seemed like the perfect book for inspiration with this endeavor: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. Shonda Rhimes, the writer and producer behind a number of huge TV shows (Greys Anatomy, Scandal) writes about her year of saying yes to everything that scares her.

Rhimes had gotten to a place where she worked constantly and had no time or energy left for anything else in her life. She identifies as an introvert and was more comfortable at home than out socializing with friends or attending fancy award dinners. However, she realized that something needed to change when her sister pointed out that she never said yes to anything.

So, she decided that she would say yes to everything—speeches, dinners, and galas as well as spending time with friends and family and, most importantly, playing with her kids.

I loved this book. Even though it is a memoir, a personal story not meant to be a how-to guide, there is so much to learn from her experience. If you want a snapshot of the book, I also recommend checking out her TED talk. You can tell just by her stage presence how far she has come.

I relate to Rhimes in a lot of ways. I am definitely an introvert and a homebody. Before this year, I was on the path to being in the dark place that she found herself—lonely, working too much, and missing the joy in life. I am so glad that I read this. It is giving me the inspiration to keep putting myself out there. Here are three lessons I took

Give yourself the time to do what brings you joy

Saying yes allowed Rhimes to rediscover what made her happy. For Rhimes, it was playing with her kids. It is different for everyone. It could be being with your partner or your dog. Or being creative, going hiking, doing your favorite hobby. As Rhimes says, it is “the place where life feels more good than not good” (123).

Letting yourself have time for these things is a bigger challenge, but we all deserve to give ourselves our full attention.

“Work doesn’t work without play”

-Shonda Rhimes

I found it helpful when she discussed the mindset shift of moving your priority from what is good for you to what makes you feel good. As a perfectionist, I really needed to hear this. There are so many times, even outside of work, when I do what I think I should do as opposed to what I really want to do.

This doesn’t mean shirking all responsibility—missing meetings, failing to do your taxes, or eating crap and not exercising. Rather, it’s about shifting your priorities and letting yourself have even a small amount of time to be in your happy place. For Rhimes, work is still a huge part of her life, but now, her kids are the most important.

Conserve your energy for things outside work

As I wrote about earlier this month, I am struggling to put myself out there and make new friends because my energy is completely zapped at the end of the day.

There was a Meetup that I really wanted to attend at 7pm last Wednesday. But at about 6:45, I found myself sprawled on the couch barely able to keep my eyes open. I could not fathom the idea of pulling myself up, looking presentable, and speaking to a bunch of new people coherently. I skipped it.

Rhimes writes that she had fallen into the habit of working as hard as she could all of time. This meant that outside of work, she took the path of least resistance because she had no energy left. She kept turning down invitations to socialize outside of work, so people stopped asking her to do things. Her friend group shrunk and shrunk.  This is what I am scared of happening to me. I know I need to do something to change.

Again, it takes a mindset shift. I am still getting there, and it is something I am also talking to my therapist about. How do I not give everything to work? How do I make a shift so I can save some energy for the other things in my life?

If you were reading my blog back in January, then you know I spent that month setting better boundaries around my time at work. This was a HUGE step for me. As often as I can, I am done with work after 8 hours.

It is still not enough though. I need to take it a step further and set boundaries relating to my energy—I need to look more at the types of things I am doing and cut down on the ones that drain me. And just, frankly…work less hard? I am not sure how to do this, but it seems like something that needs to happen.

Get out of your shell

As Rhimes writes, “It’s time to stop standing at the edges of the room. Hugging the walls. Living in my head. Wishing I had something to say.” (167). If you don’t come out of your shell, she goes on, people will start to think that you are your shell.

The only way that Rhimes was able to cure her fear, to overcome her social anxiety, was to do the things that scared her. It’s a harsh reality, but it is true. I have felt the consequences of not doing it over the past year.

Being in a new city, not clicking with my coworkers, having a hard time making new friends, and then of course, the whole pandemic thing… this all caused my social anxiety to spike. Instead of facing my fears, I retreated farther and farther into my shell. And it did not help at all. Instead, social interactions have become more difficult.

Instead, I need to embrace the “badassery” that helped Rhimes gain confidence. As the book goes on, she writes about all the changes that she experienced. People told her that her energy, the way she fills up a room, completely changed.

Mentally, she says, it is about trying to take up as much space as you need to. In therapy, we talk about how I physically and mentally shrink when I become anxious. I withdraw, I hide.

Instead, Rhimes taught herself to shamelessly be the loudest voice in the room– “to not make myself smaller in order to make someone else feel better” (200). She also talks about the time when she first asserted herself at work, saying no to a casting decision that everyone else was in favor of. She was scared of having an opinion different than everyone else. Finally, she burst, and said no. She had never asserted herself like that, bluntly saying how she felt. Once she was able to do it, it became easier in all areas of her life.

I would highly recommend this book if you are having any issues speaking up, making friends, letting go of expectations around work, or are looking at your priorities in life. Even though Rhimes is such a huge name, her struggles and the way she writes are incredible relatable. It may be just what you need to motivate you to make a change.

Let me know if you have any good book recommendations!

-M

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