You may or may not have read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes, so I’ll do the distilling for you. There is some good inspiration in there, and I think we can all benefit from considering it.
“You Never Say Yes to Anything”
It all started with an under-the-breath comment from her sister, and Shonda (let’s call her by her first name since she’s just like us!), a showrunner best known for ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, set herself on a path that revealed possibility, enjoyment, and fulfillment.
Yes We Can
As a prominent TV producer and writer, Shonda had a lot of opportunities coming her way. And she said no to every one of them. She preferred books to people, had spent a lifetime feeling most comfortable leading an interior life, and remained content to live through the characters she created. Or so she thought. She realized, upon further self-examination, that she was deeply unhappy (which, she acknowledged, she had no real right to be based on her circumstances) and didn’t know why. But she reasoned that being unwilling to embrace opportunity had led her to that unfulfilled state, and that if she said yes it might lead her to a better place, or at least a different one. Once Shonda understood her unhappiness, she was compelled to change it and then committed to that sometimes difficult process, she being a doer and all (more on that below).
Are you reluctant to try something new, deviate from habitual patterns, or venture outside your comfort zone? What does this look like? It can mean something as simple as mostly sticking with non-fiction because getting engaged in a novel takes too much effort (*guilty), or perhaps not taking the time to meet up with a friend you’ve barely seen since you joined Facebook, or retreating from networking events because you’re not sure where to start (but, this).
Shonda decided to say yes to everything that came her way, and for her this meant major speaking opportunities and talk show engagements. You might not start with anything as extreme as the latter, unless you really do get a call from Stephen Colbert (and then, what are you waiting for?), but what yes decision might spark a change for you? It’s so easy to do the same things and follow the same patterns day in and day out. How might a new hobby or mentor (or mentee) shake things up and inspire you in your personal or professional life? The process may take some reflection, and discipline and determination, but a small change can have a big payoff in the end. Say yes to things that are scary, goofy, out of character. You might wind up pleasantly surprised by what you find: improved writing skills, a love of sea scallops sautéed with garlic and wine, confidence while speaking about something you care about, or a monthly lunch date with a grants management colleague you connected with through your GMN Regional Chapter.
Be a Doer
We all know people who are doers. They do stuff. We just think about doing stuff while gazing admiringly at their energy and motivation. Despite her introversion, Shonda is a doer. She implored graduates during a commencement speech at her alma mater (the first yes assignment she accepted) to forget the dreaming part, and do. Put another way, don’t dream it, be it. (Tell all your friends.) Do what you say you will do. Work hard. Try something new. Shonda says to keep moving forward and make things happen. We can do this. (See what I did there?)
Now I know I started this post by telling you to say yes, but no is just as important a word. We understand its gravity, and we hate to say it. It might make someone think we can’t, or that we aren’t a team player. We do a kindness to others by saying yes when we really want to (or should) say no, when someone asks us for something that might be difficult to accomplish, or when it will take time away from another project or investment of time we deem more worthwhile. But where does that leave us? Shonda believes that paying ourselves the same consideration that we would to others is important. In her case, she trusted her instincts and said no to a casting decision when saying no seemed impossible. Yet saying yes didn’t feel right, and in the end she said no, then found the actor who matched her vision of a character.
I’m not recommending that you start throwing around the word no to everything you’re asked to do. But consider it an option. If no is too difficult, here’s another option: Let me think about that. Or: Let me get back to you. And do take the time to consider a request before making a final decision. Ask for assistance in setting priorities if your project list is longer than the amount of time you actually have. Can a yes lead to a valuable career connection? Will a no allow you to focus on your most pressing or meaningful goals, personal or professional?
I Did That? Well, Yes I Did
Why is it awkward for some of us to receive a compliment about our work (our shoes, that cake we made)? Perhaps it’s because we feel put on the spot and don’t feel we deserve or even want the attention, and would rather just go about our business. Oh, it was nothing. We don’t want to brag! Is it boasting to acknowledge that we’ve done a good (or even terrific) job? Maybe it feels like it. But it’s not. Shonda says, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Give yourself permission to hear compliments, and to acknowledge them. Feel proud of the effort you put forth, your knowledge, the results. You may have worked as part of a team, but that doesn’t mean your contribution should not be recognized.
Know, accept, and celebrate your accomplishments. Shonda calls this practice Badassery. It has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Don’t apologize. Don’t minimize. Claim credit. Say yes.
“We worked very hard on that project, and the effort paid off.”
“I’m really proud of that report.”
“It’s a new recipe. I’m glad you liked it.”
Does that give you a few things to think about? Good. Me, too.
If you want to hear more from Shonda, check out her TED Talk.