Hollywood ‘Titan’ Shonda Rhimes Reveals How She Rediscovered Her Creative Spark

February 21, 2016

“‘Yes’ changed my life. ‘Yes’ changed me.” –Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a force of nature in Hollywood, best known for writing and producing Grey’s Anatomy, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. She’s in charge of a whopping 70 hours of television programming per season, and loves to work. As she describes it:

“I work a lot, very hard, and I love it. When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling. For me my work is at all times building a nation out of thin air, it is manning the troops, it is painting a canvas, it is hitting every high note, it is running a marathon, it is being Beyonce. And it is all of those things at the same time.”

Trying to find a word to identify that wonderful feeling she derives from work, she calls it “the hum.” But eventually, that hum stopped in response to being overworked and burned out. And as a result, she started to question many aspects of herself.

At a point in her career when Rhimes was stuck in a pattern of only going to work and coming home, her sister told Shonda that she never does anything fun or says “yes” to anything, The self-described “workaholic” Shonda resolved to have a “Year of Yes;” that is, a year in which she would say ‘yes’ to challenges that she previously felt uncomfortable doing–if not terrified. What scared her? The list included being interviewed on a talk show without having “a huge panic attack,” any public speaking, as well as saying “yes” to healthy habits. In turn, she bit the bullet and appeared on talk shows, gave a commencement speech at her alma mater Dartmouth College, and lost 117 pounds. “And a crazy thing happened: the very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear–made it not scary,” she now says.

During her year of saying ‘yes,’ when her three children asked her to play, the always-busy mom made sure to slow down enough to play with them. “And it’s had a magical effect on me, on my children, on our family,” Rhimes says. But the most surprising result was that the impact of saying ‘yes’ to play was probably responsible for saving her career. Rhimes says as she spent time playing, she had a revelation that, “Play is the opposite of work. And I am happy. Something in me loosens.” Indeed, this is what it took for her to feel that “hum” again.

Rhimes shares many personal details about her struggles to find joy in both her work and personal life in this nineteen-minute Ted Talk. If you’re interested in hearing more about the path to her success, you can listen to her Dartmouth speech which was centered around the theme of “Don’t Follow Your Dreams.”