Late last year, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC mega-hits Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, talked about her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. The interview was held with New York Times best-selling author and journalist, Jake Tapper.
Year of Yes, published by Simon & Schuster, documents a year in which Rhimes, a notorious introvert, decided to say ‘yes’ to people and activities she would normally say ‘no’ to—this included speaking engagements, parties, and other social events, which Rhimes says were out of her comfort zone.
She even went as far as to describe herself as a ‘wall hugger’ at social events, telling NPR, “I’ve always been an introverted person,” and that fame and success were, to her, “daunting.”
But for an entire year, whenever she wanted to decline an invitation or new experience, she made the choice to say ‘yes,’ and the results, she says, were phenomenal.
During the panel, Rhimes talked about her childhood growing up in a highly-intellectual home where her parents encouraged her to read and write and envision her own reality. She also talked about being the only African American girl in her school and being lonely because off this. Her imaginary world, ‘Shondaland,’ served as a creative refuge.
Rhimes discussed her disdain for the term “diversity” when describing her shows, she feels she’s simply normalizing television by creating roles for actors of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups; not revolutionizing it. She also rejects the notion that she alone is responsible for breaking “the glass ceiling” by being, arguably, the only black woman to definitively own an entire evening of network television. Instead, she stated, breaking the glass ceiling is a collective effort.
During the Q&A session audience members were invited to ask questions. To my delight, my question was the first one answered by Rhimes.
I asked her if, when she first started writing, she was ever afraid of her own voice—afraid of the depth of her talent and where it might lead. Her response: “As a writer, write as if you are the only person who will read your work.” In other words, create from honesty, not the need for approval or validation.
So what can we learn from this phenomenal African American pioneer?
- Truthful representations can lead to success. Just like the saying goes, ‘sex sales,’ in today’s competitive entertainment arena, so does the truth.
- Stay open to new things and allow yourself to be surprised. Sometimes not knowing is a gift.
- Build a strong support system of people who respect and inspire you.
Although my question was specific to writing, Rhimes’s advice to create from a place of truth or, at the very least, adhere to your own standards of excellence, is invaluable.
Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared in Black Enterprise.