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Thoughts: YEAR OF YES by Shonda Rhimes

year of yes by shonda rhimesOne of the ways that I try to remind myself of my One Little Word for 2016open, is to think about one of the rules of improv I remember from Tina Fey’s Bossypants – always respond to your partner with YES, AND… For Fey, the idea of YES, AND is to contribute, to show up and be part of the scene or experience in front of you. For me, it’s been a gentle reminder that a spirit of openness requires approaching life with an attitude inclined towards looking for more, not less.

As I was putting together a casual reading list for the year, one of the books that immediately rose to the top was Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes, a memoir about Rhimes experience saying “yes” to her life.

Rhimes, creator and showrunner for major hits like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, embarked on her Year of Yes after her sister forced her to accept the fact that she never said yes to anything. As an introvert prone to panic attacks before publicity event, Rhimes realized she’d been letting fear – in the form of always saying “no” – dictate the terms of her life. The book is her chronicle of how a Year of Yes changed her life.

I listened to this as an audiobook, read by Rhimes, and have to admit that I wasn’t initially enamored with the book. The first several chapters focus on Rhimes battle to deal with her social anxiety and introversion — the “say yes to everything” mantra had a lot to do with accepting invitations and going to social events, which, honestly, I didn’t find that interesting. I wasn’t really learning much about being open when all Rhimes talked about was how scared she was to be interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel.   

But somewhere in the middle Rhimes started to expand on what the year of yes meant to her – yes to play, yes to caring about her body, yes to difficult conversations, and yes to dancing it out with the best people in her life. As those topics came up, the book went from being an amusing memoir to this inspiring, soaring manifesto about female empowerment and making choices in your own life. The ending left me feeling excited and open and ready to take on the world.

Listening to the book on audio is really the way to go. Rhimes has a very distinctive cadence and rhythm to her television writing that translates beautifully to the memoir format. And the audio includes clips from several of the major speeches Rhimes gave during her Year of Yes that are fun to hear as given rather than read later.

Although a little slow to get going, I highly recommend this book for anyone feeling like their life needs a little bit of an shake up – even if saying yes isn’t quite the kick you need, the book will inspire you to make your own courageous changes.

P.S. If you want a quick preview of the book, I highly recommend watching the TED Talk Rhimes gave in February 2016 (embedded below). It gives a sense of the cool place the memoir ends up, skipping over the stories of the first chapters that I didn’t find as engaging.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

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  • Sarah's Book Shelves March 8, 2016, 7:23 am

    I recently read Quiet by Susan Cain, so introversion is on my mind. Might have to go listen to Shonda Rhimes’ Ted Talk!

  • Unruly Reader March 8, 2016, 8:02 am

    I have a hold on this audiobook, and your review is making me even more eager to listen to it!

    The concept reminds me a bit of Noelle Hancock’s “My Year with Eleanor,” in which the author tackles a year of doing things that scare her.

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:40 pm

      Yes! It’s a lot like that one — I read it several years ago now so can’t remember all the details, but certainly in the same spirit.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 8, 2016, 8:37 am

    This does sound interesting but I’m not sure saying yes to things that scare you would be as transformative for most people.

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:40 pm

      I suppose it depends where you start from — if you’re a generally open person, maybe it won’t expand your life much, but if you’re generally pretty reserved, that approach might mean more.

  • Vasilly March 8, 2016, 8:57 am

    I have this one on hold at the library. After reading your review, I think I’ll put the audiobook on hold instead.

  • Kailana March 8, 2016, 5:46 pm

    This sounds really good!!

  • Ann @ Books on the Table March 9, 2016, 8:33 am

    I read this book and had the same reaction you did to the first few chapters — I remember thinking that a lot of lonely people would be thrilled to receive party invitations. Many people don’t have anything to say YES or NO to. For example, I don’t know many people who are overwhelmed with requests for speaking engagements. But like you, I warmed to the book as it went on. I think, though, I’d just recommend that people watch the TED talk, which as you pointed out, hits the highlights of the book.

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:39 pm

      Yeah, that was exactly my issue, it just didn’t feel applicable to my life in a way the other chapters did.

  • Citizen Reader March 9, 2016, 4:35 pm

    I read a book a million years ago by a very funny Brit–Daniel Wallace–that I think was called “Yes Man” (it was later made into a movie starring Jim Carrey), and I enjoyed that in a kind of offbeat way.
    But this one? I just don’t even have the energy to say yes to this book.
    Gosh. Sorry to be so cantankerous lately. Perhaps as you suggest I will have to at least say yes to watching her TED talk! 🙂

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:38 pm

      Lol, that’s ok! There’s definitely a certain mood for this one that I sure I wouldn’t always be in too!

  • Marisa @ The Daily Dosage March 9, 2016, 8:49 pm

    What a great TED talk. I’ve been curious about this book and think I’ll try it on audio as well. BTW, I just read your One Little Word post and found it to be so inspiring.

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:37 pm

      The TED Talk, wisely, skips over the stuff at the beginning I didn’t love and jumps right into “yes to play,” which is the point the book turned for me.

  • Meg March 10, 2016, 9:21 am

    Ooh, I definitely need to grab this one. I’m pretty sure I reserved it on audio at the library, but if not… I’ll be doing that shortly! I love memoirs that leave you feeling enlightened, inspired and ready for something new. That’s actually my favorite genre to listen to on audio — I always learn so much!

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:36 pm

      Celebrity memoir/essay is starting to be one of my favorite genres too.

  • iliana March 10, 2016, 7:03 pm

    I like the idea of saying yes to more things that will help you grow as a person and get you out of your comfort zone. I’ll have to see if my library carries this one.

  • Heather March 12, 2016, 7:28 am

    I REALLY need to read this one. I love all of the Shondaland shows and I think the book would really inspire me. I’m glad you mentioned how great the audio is, I’ll definitely go that route.

    • Kim March 13, 2016, 6:36 pm

      I really enjoyed it on audio. There’s something about the cadence of her writing that really shines that way (which I suppose is to be expected since she’s a television writer).

  • Andi March 13, 2016, 10:27 am

    Me and this book, right now. YESSSSS.