“Year of Yes” – Shonda Rhimes

I originally heard about this book on The Daily Show (of all places). It came out a few years ago and has been sitting on my shelf ever since, just waiting to be read. Maybe timing is everything for when we read certain books…it certainly was for me! Through reading this book, timing was certainly everything for Shona Rhimes when she decided to do her ‘year of yes’ as well.

‘Year of Yes’ is of course about saying ‘yes’ to things, but it isn’t quite what I thought. I wondered if it would be like that Jim Carey movie “Yes Man” where he has to say ‘yes’ to everything and then you see how it changes his life. That is only part of how this book goes (I’m trying to share and make it enticing, but I also don’t want to spoil it for you!).

This book is written entirely in first person and Shonda gets pretty personal.  You feel like you get to know her intimately, the way you know Olivia Pope or Meredith Grey.  Yet, although this story is deeply personal about herself, you feel as if you’re in her head, and sometimes you see yourself in her shoes because you’ve been there before.

Here are some of the personal thoughts that she shares that I found to be both pertinent and inspirational!

I’m Not Lucky – I’m a Badass – And I Need To Own It

I hate when people say “you’re so lucky”. It drives me crazy. In this book, Shonda describes how and why she hates it too, when she says: “Lucky implies that I didn’t do anything. Lucky implies something was given to me. Lucky implies that I was handed something I did not earn, that I did not work hard for…I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.” (p.181).

Take Time to Power Pose

Early in the book (p. 64) Shonda tells us how her online network reminds her to ‘power pose’. Power posing is basically posing like Wonder Woman – ‘legs in a wide stance, chin up, hands on your hips. Like you own the place.’ She even references a TED Talk that discusses how posing like this to start your day really does give you more confidence by noon!

Wonder Woman is not faking it. Wonder Woman means it. Wonder Woman is all swagger and badassery.” (p.195)

Something that women, including myself, are often not very good at is accepting compliments or any kind of praise. Most women just don’t naturally have swagger. We always reply with “oh, it was nothing” when really it wasn’t just nothing – something was a giant pile of hard work! Or we try to pass the praise off onto others, sometimes warranted, but not always. On page 176, she describes three ways in which women handle praise and recognition and how we need to change this! We need to start owning our accomplishments – with swagger and badassery. Shonda defines the word ‘badassery’ on page 195 and is (paraphrased) as accepting ones own gifts and accomplishments, celebrating them and not caring about what other people think. The confidence that comes from this is literally mind blowing. It seriously is – have you tried it? Try it and you’ll realize it’s true.

I struggle with this a lot (just ask my husband!). Accepting praise and compliments is not something I’m very good at. I mean, something like being told my hair looks good is a compliment that I can accept (I strive to be ‘Becky with the good hair’ LOL). But what I really mean is more along the lines of praise in my professional life. Here’s an example: I attended a women’s entrepreneurial networking event last year with a good friend of mine. At this event, she introduced me to other women that she knew and said things like “Carlee is really brave – she went out on her own and started her own company.” She said a few other really nice things, too, and she was so sincere about it. When I came home, I told my husband about what she had said and his reply was “Well, yeah. She’s right. And you really need to start owning it.” Hmm.

The truth is, yes, it was brave to start my own company. It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t all that easy, no matter how much I love it. Putting myself out there (including sharing things about my life in editorials like these) is terrifying at times. Of course I feel fortunate to have found something that I love to do, but it certainly has not come without sacrifice. I wouldn’t change any of it because it’s mine – all mine – the good and the bad. I think the best thing to do is to think of myself in a power pose when someone gives me these compliments. Seriously, try it – it works.

The Importance of Difficult Conversations

I’ve had to have some difficult conversations lately and what I’ve learned is that it just pays to be honest and forthright with your feelings and what you want. It’s important to ask the questions that will give you the answers you need – not to be told what you want to hear. No one likes difficult conversations, but there really is something so freeing about knowing where you stand with someone or on a particular issue.

In this book, Shonda covers the topic of difficult conversations on p. 225 when she says: “Any difficult conversation, any tough issue I have sitting in the pit of my stomach, any unsaid confessions, any itchy little resentment and unpleasant business? I can talk about it. I want to talk about it.

Because no matter how hard a conversation is, I know that on the other side of that difficult conversation lies peace…And the more difficult the conversation, the greater the freedom.”

Later, she continues with: “Saying what you think and wading into the deep end don’t always have a happy ending. Difficult conversations are somewhat of a gamble and you have to be willing to be okay with the outcome. And you have to know, going in, where you draw the line. You have to know when in the conversation you are going to say no. You have to know when you are going to say “that doesn’t work for me.” You have to know when to say, “I’m done.” You have to know when to say, “This isn’t worth it.” “You aren’t worth it.” The more I said what I thought, the more I was willing to dive into difficult conversations, the more I was willing to say yes to me, the less I was willing to allow people in my life who left me emptier and unhappier and more insecure than before I saw them.”(p.228-229).

I recently wrote an article called “Can You Shake Off Bad Blood?” and this idea is within that same theme. Who you allow to be a part of your life is something that should be taken really seriously and it’s something that should be evaluated over time as well. Share your time with those who make you feel like your best self, who you can be your real self around and not those who leave you empty inside or full of anxiety. Sometimes these conversations can be a way through the darkness with someone – they can be a way to resolve deep issues and misunderstandings and a way to find truth in a relationship and a path forward. But sometimes, they don’t go well and you have to be okay with that, too.

What I Learned From This Book

I learned a lot about myself from reading this book.  I learned that as much as I like to think I’m an extrovert, I really don’t put myself out there as much as I should and sometimes I miss out. I also learned to say “yes to saying no” and to re-evaluate some of my relationships – maybe they aren’t what I thought they were, or maybe I’d made them out to be something they weren’t in my own mind. I also learned that I need to start owning my accomplishments. I mean, I’m proud of what I’ve done and how far I’ve come – why do I need to hide that or pass it off as if its unimportant? I also learned a lot about how to feel empowered and what I need to do to make myself happy for me.

There are of course 100 other amazing topics and countless quotes in this book that I didn’t share or mention (like her incredible Dartmouth Commencement Address). It’s a well-written book and I think you should read it for yourself. I know that each of you will get something different from it.  What I want to do is leave you with this:

“There is one rule. The rule is: there are no rules. Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.” (p.286).

“This YES is about giving yourself the permission to shift the focus of what is a priority from what is good for you to what makes you feel good. Everyone has a different happy place, being with their best friend, their job, their family, a hobby, something.  Take time to go to the happy place.” (p.123)

Click here to Shop This Book: Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

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Carlee Krtolica
Carlee Krtolica


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