Shonda Rhimes on Saying Yes — But Not to Everything

If I’ve been pushing the “when do we say no/when do we say yes” question a little heavily these past two months, it’s because it is something that has become a big part of my day-to-day calculations. I’ve just reached the point of timorous financial security where I can start saying no to opportunities, and every time I do it, I am — like everyone else — terrified.

I spent the last half of October/first week of November pretending that it was totally cool that I had turned down a bunch of stuff, that I had good faith and a little bit of background information that suggested something better would appear, but it was a long and anxious few weeks before it did.

(And, I mean, imagine if it had been a long and anxious few months or years, which is probably a more realistic timescale for a lot of us.)

Of course, when the job you want does show up, you actually have to spend time and energy working at it — which meant that Shonda Rhimes’ recent NPR interview about her new book slayed me in one line:

“My oldest sister said to me, ‘You never say yes to anything.’ And by that she meant I never accept any invitations. I never go anywhere. I never do anything. All I did was go to work and come home. And she was right. My life had gotten really small.”

Who else instantly identified with that quote? Rhimes’ book is called Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, and I am currently number 57 on the library hold list. As she told NPR:

“Once I sort of realized that she was right, I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous, that freaked me out, that made me think I’m going to look foolish doing it. Anything that took me out of my comfort zone I was going to do it, if asked to do it.”

My cynical side says that sometimes you just have to go to work and come home; thanks to the pre-holiday rush, my calendar is pretty well booked for the next couple of weeks (including some social activities) which means that I can’t accept new invitations because I have already promised that time to someone else, and I am saving the bits of time left over for me.

My life feels like it expands in those rare hours I get at home where I realize I don’t have something I am supposed to be thinking about — not work, not book club, not playing a game with friends, not anything. I can think about whatever I want. I sit quietly on my couch and let my mind go, and it is the best feeling ever.

The whole interview is well worth listening to — it’s only seven minutes long, and Rhimes covers everything from her own introversion to the fact that more women should be open about needing help (including paid help) to care for their children. She also tells NPR that she’s started saying yes to one very nervewracking truth:

“Being able to say out loud the concept that I don’t want to get married, which is a real taboo in our society for some reason.”

So. How do you think you fall on the saying no/saying yes scale? Do you identify with Rhimes’ realization that all she does is go to work and come home? Do you say yes to the opportunities that make you nervous, as well as the truths that may be difficult to speak aloud?

I’m pretty sure I don’t do half of that, except for the working and coming home part. (Yes, I know, I already work at home. But you get the idea.) So I’ll go ahead and be number 57 on the library hold list. I could say yes to pushing myself out of my frugal comfort zone and buying the book at my local indie bookstore, but I honestly don’t think I’m there yet; I still feel like I’ve got to say no to everything extraneous in order to have time, energy, and money for tomorrow. What about you?

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