Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Year of Yes’ is about falling in love—with yourself

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Despite being English, I feel entitled to join in the Thanksgiving spirit this year due to the fact I am currently writing this from the US of A, and am shortly off to devour a feast of sweet potato mash and pumpkin pie. And I’m also feeling particularly Thanksgiving-y because of the book I read on the plane over here: Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.

Year of Yes

I fell in love with this book the moment I started reading it. Partly because, within the first few pages, Rhimes describes being broke and having to choose between wine and loo roll—and loo roll doesn’t always win. On holiday with my family this year, we played a game called “Wine or…” along the same lines, and I was hard-pressed to find a single thing I would pick over wine. Wine or chocolate? Easy. Wine or Netflix? Not a problem. Wine or my husband? Sorry, darling. “Wine or books?” was the first time I came up against a serious hurdle. So I’m glad to have found Shonda Rhimes is on the same level.

But that’s not the main reason I fell in love with the book. The main reason is that Rhimes, the fantastically successful, beautiful and talented creator of Thursday night television, actually treats herself like the fantastically successful, beautiful and talented creator of Thursday night television. She’s “won the genetic lottery”, she tells us; she’s “eloquent and delightful”; she’s “created whole worlds” and “added words to the lexicon of daily conversation”. And all these things are true; it’s just that women aren’t usually encouraged to like themselves that much. But we should. I like myself. Mindy Kaling likes herself. And Shonda Rhimes bloody deserves to like herself. “Hell,” she adds, “I don’t own Thursday nights for nothing.”

So I’ve fallen in love with Year of Yes. Despite the fact it’s written more like a TV monologue than a memoir. Despite the fact that I’m an editor for a living and have to fight the urge to go through it with a red pen. Because it’s about saying yes to yourself—saying yes to loving yourself.

Two years ago, Shonda Rhimes wasn’t saying yes to loving herself at all. She was, in her words, deeply unhappy. And on Thanksgiving 2013, she realised that. (Or rather, her sister told her that and Rhimes said “Whatever” but a few weeks later she realised she was right.) So she set herself a challenge: to say yes to anything and everything that scared her, for a whole year.

I wasn’t convinced by this premise; I mean, I’ve seen Yes Man. The concept of saying yes to everything seems, aside from being a little gimmicky, a dangerous game to play. But one plane ride and 15 chapters later, I’m sold.

Because when Shonda Rhimes says yes, she’s not just saying the word. She’s saying yes to honesty, yes to the present, yes to her body. Her Year of Yes actually led her to say no more, too: to decisions at work; to the food that was making her unhappy; to the friends who weren’t who she thought; to a marriage proposal that wasn’t what she wanted after all. She said yes to parties and no to fear; she said yes to compliments and no to shame; she said yes to herself and her children and the job she loves—and she said no to everything else.

The book closes with Shonda Rhimes confident, happy, 127 pounds lighter, dancing in front of a camera for the cover of Entertainment Weekly—and saying she can’t wait to find out who she’ll be by the time next Thanksgiving rolls around. Which is tomorrow.

Well, I hope she’s still just as in love with herself. Because she deserves it. Shonda Rhimes has changed the face of television; her shows actually represent the world as it is, not the white-washed, straight-washed Hollywood version. Thanks to her, teenagers have been given the dialogue to come out to their parents, and parents have been given the context to understand it. Thanks to her, we have a network drama led by an African-American woman for the first time in 37 years; and thanks to her, Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Best Actress in a drama in—well, ever.

Apparently it’s an American tradition at Thanksgiving for everyone to declare what they’re thankful for this year. This sounds kind of embarrassing, but I shall find out tomorrow. But I already know the answer: this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for Shonda Rhimes. And after reading Year of Yes, I have a happy feeling that Shonda Rhimes might be thankful for Shonda Rhimes, too.