I set out to read 12 books this year. That’s one a month. I felt pretty good about it too. I knew I could do it. I’ve read two and half books. Yikes. Still, I’ve learned a lot in those 2.5 books and I’ve even lined the pockets of some great black writers. So, I’m cool with it.
I can’t promise that all 12 book reviews will be on the blog by December, but there will be some. And I promise, they’ll be worth it. Now, my review of Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes (here’s the journal and the Kindle version as well).
I’ve got a secret.
I’m a bit of a pushover. Well, I was. Especially in high school. You didn’t have time to do the homework last night? No problem, I have the answers. If a yearbook staff member was about to miss a deadline because they waited too long to contact a source, I’d just write the entire thing myself. Need to talk to someone at 3 a.m. after your boyfriend (who I told you wash trash a month ago) finally admitted to cheating on you? Might as well call me, I’ve got nothing better to do.
I said yes a lot because I was afraid of what would happen if I said no. I hated letting people down and I hated asking for help. I still do.
Then, I went to college. And I needed help. A lot of it. That’s when my dad reminded me that this was my time to be selfish. My time to do my own thing. My time to say no.
So, I said no. The world didn’t end. I said it again, nothing. I said it a few more times and felt inspired. It’s amazing what you can get done when you choose to prioritize yourself.
There came a point when saying no didn’t work. In summer 2015, when I landed my first job at an ad agency, I was still in selfish mode. I had my own dreams and plans and that’s what nights and weekend were for. While I was at work, I was all work, but when 5:30 came around, I was gone.
The first time a work email came through at 10 p.m., then another at 11 p.m., 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., I stared at my screen, said “nope,” and closed my laptop.
I found out pretty quickly that’s not how it worked in that agency. My time there was short lived. I loved saying no too much.
When Shonda Rhimes book first came out, I avoided it, heavily. There was too much buzz around it. Women were talking about how it gave them a new outlook on life, how it made them want to say yes to everything. I didn’t want that. I wanted to keep saying no. I wanted to be selfish, answer to no one. Which is the same way I reacted when people kept suggesting I read more to become a better writer.
So, it’s fitting that after years of avoiding books, my first book in my year of “saying yes” to reading would be this book.
But guys, I didn’t like it.
I know. I know.
I didn’t hate it either though. But I didn’t like it. I’m a huge fan of TGIT, I want to be a badass combo of Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating when I grow up (maybe a little less messy though). But this book didn’t do it for me. I thought I’d be getting a book of advice. Clean cut steps that I could take to let people in, not be afraid to ask for help and take risks.
There was none of that. Instead, it was 300 pages about Rhimes and her incredible year. There were stories of her Dartmouth graduation speech, her HRC award and landing another (as in a third) T.V. show on Thursday nights; making her the only person to own a night of prime time T.V. besides the NFL. Oh, and she lost 100+ pounds. Superwoman. Truly.
Going on a journey of Rhimes’ year of yes was amazing, but as a reader, it wasn’t practical. I couldn’t take her advice and adapt it to my own life.
I did find a few gems that I loved though and I want to share them with you.
- Life can’t be all work and no play (pg. 128).
“I make a rule that I will not work on Saturday or Sunday unless it’s an emergency or unless the show is filming. I’ve been guilty of working straight through far too many weekends in order to ‘get ahead.’ There’s no such thing. The work is always there in the morning”
2. Do not let being successful while marginalized be the only thing your fans (and haters) talk about. You aren’t successful because you’re black, trans or asian. You’re successful because you’re the shit (pg. 139).
“I am what I have come to call an F.O.D — A First. Only. Different. We are a very select club, but there are more of us out there than you’d think. We know one another on sight. We all have the same weary look in our eyes. The one that wishes people would stop thinking it remarkable that we can be great at what we do while black, while Asian, while a woman, while Latino, while gay, a paraplegic, while deaf. But when you’re an F.O.D., you are saddled with that burden of extra responsibility — whether you want it or not.”
3. “No” and “I’m scared” are not the same thing, but often, instead of being honest about our fears, we say no. This ruins us (pg. 141).
“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.”
4. Women aren’t brave for doing things that erase their presence (pg. 187).
“I don’t think it ever occurred to me before how much and how often women are praised for displaying traits that basically render them invisible. ‘She sacrificed everything for her children…she never thought about herself…she gave up everything for us…she stood in the shadows, she was the wind beneath our wings.
The message says, mothers you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you. That makes you amazing. YUCK!
There are tons of reasons that mothers should be praised. But for cultivating a sense of invisibility, martyrdom and tirelessly working unnoticed and unsung? Those are not reasons.”
5. Keep your tribe close (pgs. 241–259).
If you read no other chapter, read this one. Chapter 13. It talks about friendships, honesty, love and support. At a time in my life when nothing feels consistent, Shonda reminded me that my tribe has got to be that thing that holds me down. The people that tell it like it is. The ones that call me out. The people who hug me when I’m crying and are down for celebratory happy hours. Anyone who isn’t interested in this type of relationship doesn’t need to be in my life. They don’t need to be in yours either.
There’s no rule that says you have to hang out with high school friends, coworkers or family members who make you feel awful. Relationships are work, but they shouldn’t drain you. They shouldn’t dull your shine.
In the end, starting my year off with Year of Yes was the best choice I could have made. Rhimes reminded me that I’m the best because I say I am. Her confidence in her work jumped off the page and gave me, as a reader, permission to love and believe in myself just as much as she loves and believes in herself. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5.
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