January Book of the Month: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

This month’s Her Campus Book Club read was Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. We decided this was an appropriate read for the start of a New Year because this autobiography follows Rhimes’ rediscovering and reinventing of her life, just as many of us wish to achieve in our personal lives.

I went into reading this book with a clean slate frame of mind— well. That’s not completely true.

A little bit of background: I chose this book for two reasons. The first is in the opening paragraph of this article. The second is that I love Shonda Rhimes. She is LEGENDARY. I’ve watched nearly all of her shows in full, her Dartmouth commencement speech, and her TED Talk. Her entire being is something I’ve wanted to embody. So it’s a little selfish, but I chose this book because I want her wisdom to shed light on me.

And boy, did it. Her wisdom shed light on the things I thought I’d buried. Her wisdom shed light on the things that were right in front of me right now. Her wisdom? Sometimes it wasn’t even wisdom. Sometimes it was her shame. It was her mistakes. It was her successes. It was inspiring.

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It was people who inspired her, too. The premise of Year of Yes began when Rhimes’ sister Dolores told her six words that changed her life.

“You never say yes to anything.”

At the time, it was merely about the fact that Rhimes wouldn’t cut carrots at Thanksgiving. But these words rang true for other… for all instances of Rhimes’ life. She always said no to the things in life that required vulnerability. As a naturally shy person, she wanted nothing but to hide in her shell. She soon realized, however, “If I don’t poke my head out of my shell and show people who I am, all anyone will ever think I am is my shell.”

So she goes on a journey to ‘Yes.’ No, not a journey. An odyssey. She becomes yes and yes becomes her, but not without trials and tribulations. You don’t go from being reserved as can be to going all out on exuberance. In order to stick to her goal, people had to hold her accountable— and they were relentless. From her sisters to her tribe to her publicity agent, they made sure that she did not stray from the ‘Yes’ trail. So she returned to her alma mater Dartmouth as the commencement speaker; she went on Jimmy Kimmel; she attended public events; she acted; she had the hard conversations with people; she lost over one hundred pounds; she did all the things that scared her, that she thought she couldn’t do.

But perhaps what I loved most about this book is how honest Shonda is. (Is it okay if I call her Shonda? I would like to think we are on a first name basis now.) I know that this is all inspiring, her opening her glorious self up to the world; but in doing so, she opened up about the shameful actions she’s done as well. The hard days. The things about her that may make her feel icky. And no, I’m not saying I appreciate this because I’m a sadist. I appreciate this because she humanizes herself. This woman is my idol - but after reading this book, I began to love her beyond that. I began to love her for the person she is, rather than the manifestation of who I believe her to be. My love for her has transcended because of her compassion, her anger, her melancholy, her love. This woman was my idol, but now, this woman is my friend.

I mean, it feels like that, at least. Reading this book felt like having an open conversation with a friend. It felt like I cried with her, laughed with her, got lunch with her. Shonda has this magical way of spinning words in such a way that they touch your heart. This book has somehow exceeded my exceedingly high expectations, so I do not hesitate to say that this has become my all-time favorite book. I think you should say, “Yes!” to reading Year of Yes, all the way.

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Image credit: Shonda giving her Dartmouth commencement speechSHONDA SPITTIN' FACTS