January 14th, 2021
Before Shonda Rhimes recently landed back on our radars with her latest Netflix blockbuster, “Bridgerton” (and if you haven’t watched that yet, stop reading this and run, don’t walk! You can thank me later. I’ll still be here when you get back.), I decided to revisit her book, “Year of Yes.”
It’s a memoir of sorts with the premise that, despite a number of fantastic opportunities that present themselves to her, Shonda Rhimes rarely agreed to participate or engage in any of them. It is her older sister who calls her out on that. “You never say yes to anything,” she said. So, in 2014, she took those words to heart and challenged herself to accept invitations to do things that were scared her – celebrity events, convocation speeches, putting moments with her children above her work even when it wasn’t the most popular choice. All told, of course, with her style and humour that we have come to know and love through her characters, Meredith Grey, Olivia Pope and so many more. I really liked “Year of Yes” in print, and loved it even more as an audio book, as it is Rhimes herself who reads the text and shares recordings of speeches that she has given. Her narration truly brings the book to life.
The year that I left my marriage, I spent a lot of time seeking out positivity in the world, which is how I discovered this read in the first place. On a very deep level, I understood that if I chose to see a sliver of positivity in the most difficult of situations (especially when I wasn’t feeling it) that I could rally to take the next best step. I worried that if I didn’t, I would sink and wallow and get stuck there. Really stuck. And that was the last thing that I wanted – for me and certainly for my kids. I felt that, maybe, the more positivity that I acknowledged and consumed, that some of it might actually stick. This approach worked…sometimes.
“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time. No to going out tonight. No to catching up with that old college roommate. No to attending that party. No to going on vacation. No to making a new friend.”
This passage resonated with me deeply then. Out of necessity and self-preservation (there were only so many hours in the day and my capacity was limited with so little energy left for the extras), I said no to a lot of things for a really long time. Fun things. Interesting things. Delicious things. “I said no to so many things that people actually stopped asking me,” Rhimes wrote. Yep. Me too. And that was ok for a while. My kids were small and we were trying to navigate the world as a new family of 4 and there wasn’t a lot of me left over when I climbed into bed at the end of the day.
So when I was feeling ready to get back out into the world, to start to reclaim some of the pieces of me, I decided to take a page out of Shonda’s book. I had to start by creating my own opportunities to get that ball rolling again. It was scary. Really scary. I hosted a party one Saturday night when my kids weren’t home (an actual grown up party – with cocktails and music and delicious food. People came. And they stayed – until 3 am!). I signed up for a Yoga Retreat weekend away with like minded women. I created my online dating profile (and actually posted it). And these things began to re-ignite in me what I knew had been there all along. Connection. Laughter. Fun. ME. And with that came the opportunity for beautiful new experiences, whether they scared me or not.
Rediscovering this book in December of 2020 and listening to it again (twice), “Year of Yes” still resonates, although maybe differently this time. I have grown. I am not the same person. And the world that we are living in looks like nothing that we could have imagined at this time last year, let alone in 2016 when I first devoured it.
With all of the challenges that came with 2020, there are a number of silver linings too – bonus family time with my teenagers (whether they liked it or not!), simplification of life out of sheer necessity, reassessing what is working and what can be left behind, figuring out what really matters. And in all of that also comes a desire to get out there in the world – safely, of course. To say, “YES!” with unbridled enthusiasm. Yes to the scary things, the lovely things and yes to the things that will push me to grow. Yes to connection, to kindness, to laughter. Yes to service and to new opportunities (even if they are a bit scary). Because we could all use a little more YES in our lives right about now.
How is 2021 going to be your “Year of Yes”?