Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes” is a Manifesto on Modern Womanhood


I’m always hesitant to read books that promise to turn your life around in a year. It’s not necessarily that I think self-help advice is snake oil … it’s more that watching someone publicly declare a mission to figure out Happiness, Life and Being an Awesome Person makes me a little nervous. What if they don’t succeed — and they do it in public?!

That said, I knew that Shonda Rhimes would not be peddling any false answers in her book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. Here, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder details a year in which she decides to say yes to everything that scares her.

I won’t call anyone crazy for wanting to learn some secrets of the good life from Shonda. Not only does she own the most popular time slot on TV, but she’s been honored many times for advancing storytelling itself by writing characters that reflect the world we live in today. These include women who talk to one another about stuff other than men, characters of color who are not tokenish sidekicks and queer characters who get to have love lives just as rich as anyone else’s.

I opted for the Year of Yes audiobook, because Shonda reads it herself and I’m a sucker for hearing an author read their own work. After listening to the sample, I was in. Rhimes is a great reader, and she has killer comedic timing. I laughed out loud so many times while listening to this book, and you will too.

The first thing I’ll say about Year of Yes is that if you’re actually looking for a manual for finding happiness, being a TV writer or losing 127 pounds in a year, that’s not necessarily what this is. It is more of a memoir than a guidebook to Ruling At Life.

Rhimes refuses to apply a band-aid to the realities of her (incredibly packed) life. She lets us see all the messy parts, from her social anxiety to her complicated relationship with food. Her penchant for telling the truth led to many YES moments for me. Here are a few:

On Having It All

Rhimes talks about never knowing what to say when reporters ask her about “having it all” — by that meaning a successful career while raising three children on her own. She finally decides to give them the answer they didn’t know they were looking for: She has a full-time nanny. (Her nanny is, oddly, named Jenny McCarthy, but is not an anti-vaxxer.)

This reminded me of a charming J. Law moment in Marie Claire last month, when she says, “I won’t fuck with you. I don’t do my own laundry.” If only more women admitted that pulling off the dance of successful career woman / domestic goddess involves being able to afford help, the women who can’t afford it might not feel so bad about being unable to measure up.

On What Women are Praised For

Another big revelation Rhimes experiences in her “Year of Yes” is that she gets more praise for landing a man her friends like than she has ever gotten for her shows or her kids. She also points out that greeting cards make it seem as if the right thing to praise women for is the moments they’re off in the shadows, serving someone else silently. Why is this self-sacrificing woman image held up by pop culture in this day and age, when women are, say, running must-see TV?

On What Women Do When Praised

Rhimes recounts receiving an award at a banquet honoring women in Hollywood, when she notices that all these women react to praise with a horrified, “Who, me?” This inspires her to go on a journey to learn to take a compliment, and accept that she may be awesome sometimes.

On Diversity and TV

In one of her many wonderful speeches featured in the audiobook, she talks about what she says when asked about the importance of diversity (which she gets asked about a lot). She replies, “I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ It suggests something … other, as if it is something … special, or rare, as if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: normalizing. I’m normalizing TV.”

On Saying No

In case the idea of saying yes to everything makes you want to bite your nails off, this book also has a chapter about the power of saying no. Her idea of “yes” is not just a polite affirmative to what the world demands of modern women. It’s about framing everything presented to you as either an opportunity to grow (yes) or an opportunity to do what’s safe and avoid conflict (no). Sometimes doing the former involves saying no (or, as she might put it, saying yes to uncomfortable conversations). Rhimes shares that her “Year of Yes” made her lose actual weight, but also weight in the form of friendships that weren’t as friendly as she thought.

Yes to Year of Yes

This book is no rosy guide to having The Coveted Life All Your Friends Want. Instead, it’s a critical (and funny) examination of why women are led to want a certain, prescribed life, and all the ways we might be assuming we don’t deserve the life we actually want. Plus, it has some insight to the plotlines and actors on her shows. What more could you want? Anyone who is or knows a lady should pick it up.