Shonda Rhimes: My Year of Saying Yes To Everything at TED Conference (Transcript)

Television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes presents My Year of Saying Yes To Everything at TED. Here is the full transcript of the TED talk.

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Shonda Rhimes – Television producer and writer

So a while ago, I tried an experiment. For one year, I would say yes to all the things that scared me. Anything that made me nervous, took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say yes to. Did I want to speak in public? No, but yes. Did I want to be on live TV? No, but yes. Did I want to try acting? No, no, no, but yes, yes, yes.

And a crazy thing happened: the very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear, made it not scary. My fear of public speaking, my social anxiety, poof, gone. It’s amazing, the power of one word. Yes changed my life. Yes changed me. But there was one particular yes that affected my life in the most profound way, in a way I never imagined, and it started with a question from my toddler.

I have these three amazing daughters, Harper, Beckett and Emerson, and Emerson is a toddler who inexplicably refers to everyone as “honey.” as though she’s a Southern waitress.

“Honey, I’m going to need some milk for my sippy cup.”

The Southern waitress asked me to play with her one evening when I was on my way somewhere, and I said, “Yes.” And that yes was the beginning of a new way of life for my family. I made a vow that from now on, every time one of my children asks me to play, no matter what I’m doing or where I’m going, I say yes, every single time. Almost. I’m not perfect at it, but I try hard to practice it. And it’s had a magical effect on me, on my children, on our family. But it’s also had a stunning side effect, and it wasn’t until recently that I fully understood it, that I understood that saying yes to playing with my children likely saved my career.

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See, I have what most people would call a dream job. I’m a writer. I imagine. I make stuff up for a living. Dream job. No. I’m a titan. Dream job. I create television. I executive produce television. I make television, a great deal of television. In one way or another, this TV season, I’m responsible for bringing about 70 hours of programming to the world. Four television programs, 70 hours of TV — Three shows in production at a time, sometimes four.

Each show creates hundreds of jobs that didn’t exist before. The budget for one episode of network television can be anywhere from $3 million to $6 million. Let’s just say $5 million. A new episode made every nine days times four shows, so every nine days that’s $20 million worth of television, four television programs, 70 hours of TV, three shows in production at a time, sometimes four, 16 episodes going on at all times: 24 episodes of “Grey’s,” 21 episodes of “Scandal,” 15 episodes of “How To Get Away With Murder,” 10 episodes of “The Catch,” that’s 70 hours of TV, that’s $350 million for a season.

In America, my television shows are back to back to back on Thursday night. Around the world, my shows air in 256 territories in 67 languages for an audience of 30 million people. My brain is global, and 45 hours of that 70 hours of TV are shows I personally created and not just produced, so on top of everything else, I need to find time, real quiet, creative time, to gather my fans around the campfire and tell my stories. Four television programs, 70 hours of TV, three shows in production at a time, sometimes four, $350 million, campfires burning all over the world. You know who else is doing that? Nobody, so like I said, I’m a titan. Dream job.

Now, I don’t tell you this to impress you. I tell you this because I know what you think of when you hear the word “writer.” I tell you this so that all of you out there who work so hard, whether you run a company or a country or a classroom or a store or a home, take me seriously when I talk about working, so you’ll get that I don’t peck at a computer and imagine all day. So you’ll hear me when I say that I understand that a dream job is not about dreaming. It’s all job, all work, all reality, all blood, all sweat, no tears. I work a lot, very hard, and I love it.

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When I’m hard at work, when I’m 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 Beyoncé. And it is all of those things at the same time.

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