How to turn your life around by learning from Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes


Do you know what ‘scandal’ ‘how to get away with murder’ and ‘grey’s anatomy’ have in common? Well, apart from being some of the most amazing TV shows that graced the earth, the creative juices of these shows flowed from Shonda Rhimes. Shonda is an insanely huge deal in Hollywood. Her family, however, doesn’t care for a minute about her VIP status. In trying to impress her sister she tells her of all the awesome invitations that she has gotten. But she won’t go to any. She always says no by spinning a brilliant eloquent declination. How can she say yes? She has three TV shows that depend on her full-time! She not only has to bring home the bacon but also to cook it.  More importantly, as she defiantly blurts out, she is a ‘single mother’. The technicality of being called a ‘single mother’ fits as she is a mother and single. The cultural stigmatization we attach to ‘single mothers’ is however wrong.

The gist of the story is that her sister throws her a grenade, ‘you never say yes to anything’. What’s the point of all these opportunities if all you will say is no? The grenade explodes when she realizes that saying yes was terrifying as she had to face her fears as an introvert. Saying yes meant she got out of the tales she spins into a real world. Never mind, that it’s saying yes to opportunities such as hanging out with the POTUS and FLOTUS. She decides to say yes to everything that scares her for a whole year. Year of Yes. By saying yes, Shonda’s life changed from a meagerly successful creative to a blooming flower. It would be indeed beautiful if we also began to flourish in our lives. So, what do you need to say yes to?

  1. Yes to hard work

Shonda grew up in a family where working hard was not optional.  In 2013, she was insanely successful with Scandal and Grey’s anatomy. She could have chosen to sleep and relax. But she works even harder spinning tales and gives birth to ‘how to get away with murder’. She is egged on by the knowledge that lazy is the new broke. Shonda says it best in her commencement speech at Dartmouth, “Although dreams are lovely, it’s hard work that makes things happen…hard work creates changes.  Don’t sit around and wait for the magical dream opportunity. Who are you? Prince William?” For the love of God, say yes to work! While you are dreaming, the successful people are doing.


You know what they say, ‘do as I say and not as I do’. It doesn’t work in parenthood. Children learn best by watching what you do. In working hard you are a living lesson to your children. Shonda runs her empire: Shondaland. Shonda’s three children know that there is a land named after their mother! In their world, we all stop and pause on Thursdays for their mother’s shows. In their world, their mother doesn’t sit on the couch and wait for the bacon to miraculously show up. She gets up and gets it through hard work.

  1. Yes to speaking out

Do you know what athlete talk is? Athlete talk is that post-game interview devoid of controversy that athletes have with the press after a game. It’s all about the game and no talk about important issues such as gender equality or parenthood. Shonda was good at athlete talk. She was good at giving people what they wanted -as we all are. Anything honest is locked up. Come on, I’m a good girl. I’m not going to speak about deadbeat dads! Ai, what will people think about me? Speak. Be Heard. By all means have the dry mouth but speak out. Hello gladiators.

  1. Yes to grabbing opportunities

One of my favorite statements by Caroline Mutoko is “if you are not on the table, you are on the menu”. While this is in reference to how ridiculously lucky we are as women to be able to sit on the table of opportunity, it resonates with Shonda. After she is invited to a Hollywood event for women in entertainment it hits her that she knows no one. She is used to standing at the edges hugging the walls. Thing is, she was being recognized- wait for this- for being a woman and an African- American. Come on, didn’t she just wake up like that with a vagina and a brown skin? Truth is, that award was for changing the way women are portrayed on TV. Both her shows have strong female characters and they are huge hits. Women can and should sit on the table. When you get the opportunity, girl grab it! Sit on the table, otherwise you’ll be on the menu and you’ll surely be devoured.


  1. Yes to living a life of service

I’ll be the first to admit that this book has stirred in me a myriad of feelings. It even a catalyzed a personal meeting where I had to ask myself tough questions. Who I’m I? I’m I doing enough? My beloved reader believe you me that you should also self-examine. Asking these questions is important as many of us are guilty of being keyboard warriors. According to Shonda, ‘a hashtag is not enough’. We need to get out and make some actual change. Live a life of service, as one of my friends likes to say.  Or according to Shonda don the white hat. Be a gladiator. Hello scandal.


  1. Say Yes to being open-minded

In 2015, Shonda gave a humans right campaign speech and rightly so. Shonda had normalized our TV shows. She had used images to catalyze conversations about diversity. Her shows feature prominent people of color not just criminals.  Did you ever think the day would come when all of us would go bonkers about black superheroes thanks to Black Panther? I see you. Rolling your eyes asking ‘wakanda’ question is that? Thanks to Shonda it is now normal for Olivia Pope, Viola Davis and Meredith to run the world. Her shows have shown us that LGBTQ is part of our community. In so doing she has taught us to embrace diversity. To stop marginalization or even stigmatization in the name of religion. Come on, you cannot pray away the gay!

  1. Say yes to saying No

Shonda beautifully sums up this lesson, “No…is the single most powerful word in the English language”. No is a weapon that all of us should have in our arsenal. You should have a ‘No’ and so should I. That way we can steer the ship however we damn please. And for those people that need us only for what we can do for them: No. No, is a complete sentence.  We all avoid saying it, probably to wade off conflict. Wait, you think by avoiding hard conversations that they won’t happen? It just goes away? Sorry mate. You just catalyzed drama on steroids. Drama that you could have avoided by saying hell to the no!


  1. Yes to self-love

How can you say yes to everything and not to yourself? Shonda just like many of us has struggled with self-love. Actually the reason she used to say no was because she never thought she was deserving. Have you ever felt that, dear reader? Have you ever felt undeserving? Have you ever almost destroyed yourself loving someone? Well, I have and that was the most exquisite form of self-destruction. Christina of Grey’s anatomy teaches us a great lesson on self-love. You have to learn not to let pieces of yourself whither in order to be what someone else wants.

Trust Shonda: Yes is not just life-changing. Its life saving. Dear reader, you will have a year of yes now won’t you? 


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