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Shonda Rhimes, has owned Thursday night television through ABC as the force behind Greys Anatomy, Scandal and executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder for years, but it was this past year where the writer pushed her inner self to new heights. The showrunner shared how her life has changed simply by saying “Yes” as she discussed her new book Year of Yes during The Los Angeles Times’ Ideas Exchange on Monday night at the University of Southern California.
Rhimes told moderator, Los Angeles Times critic-at-large Sasha Frere-Jones, that the revelation occurred on Thanksgiving 2013 (nearly two years ago) when Rhimes told her sister of her sudden slew of invites to Hollywood parties that she was going to turn down to which her sister responded “you never say yes to anything.” It was those six words that prompted Rhimes to take a serious look at herself and make some changes with her “unhappy” life at the time, starting with saying yes to an invitation to the Kennedy Center Honors where she sat with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
“The idea of doing that would have been overwhelming and I absolutely would have said no and I would have missed what was an incredible experience that I was forced to have,” said Rhimes. “Because if the President asks you to do something, you’re not allowed to say no. So from that moment, I decided that at least for a year that if I was asked to do something I thought was scary, made me nervous or made me worried I wasn’t going to succeed in it, I would say ‘yes.’”
Guests learned how Rhimes‘ new goal inspired her to lose over 100 pounds, and gave her the strength to participate in presenting inspirational speeches to the public including her commencement speech “Dreams are for Losers” that she gave at her alma mater Dartmouth University, her thoughts on breaking the glass ceiling for female entertainment executives at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Breakfast and her words on “finding your tribe” at the the Human Rights Campaign dinner.
Rhimes shared some of her most vulnerable and sometimes embarrassing moments that are explained in detail in Year of Yes including her appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, filming a scene for The Mindy Project (a show she watches religiously), deciding to never marry, references to Beyonce’s enviable life, and her writing habits which include a need for over-the-ear headphones (she’s currently writing to the sounds of Aretha Franklin).
“I’m the person who splits their pants and doesn’t notice the breeze for a really long time. I really, truly, went to a dinner party with the price tag there on the back of my dress, so you could see not only how much I spent, but what size the dress is,” said Rhimes which drew laughs from the audience. “I threw a chicken bone across the room at a dinner party onto somebody’s white carpet and then tried to pretend it wasn’t me…so those events are terrifying to me. ”
Rhimes also satisfied the hunger of the devoted viewers of her shows as she delved into the impact Grey’s Anatomy had on her life, particularly with the character of Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh. Rhimes admitted that Yang is one of her “Ride or Dies.”
“She doesn’t exist and I don’t care,” said Rhimes. “She’s still one of my best friends.”
Added Rhimes: “She was test-driving the idea that maybe I don’t want to get married. She was test-driving the idea that you could be more excited about your work than you were about the idea of being in a relationship. She was test-driving a lot of things. She was test driving the idea that being powerful is interesting, much more interesting than a lot of things we’re supposed to want as women.”
In her “year of yes.” Rhimes concluded that the hardest “yes” was to having difficult conversations with her friends, but she says she has “no regrets.”
“When you’re not making the most of your life, whatever your life is, it’s not a life.”
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