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.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: My year of saying yes to everything – Shonda Rhimes
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.
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.
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.
I love working. It is creative and mechanical and exhausting and exhilarating and hilarious and disturbing and clinical and maternal and cruel and judicious, and what makes it all so good is the hum.
There is some kind of shift inside me when the work gets good. A hum begins in my brain, and it grows and it grows and that hum sounds like the open road, and I could drive it forever. And a lot of people, when I try to explain the hum, they assume that I’m talking about the writing, that my writing brings me joy. And don’t get me wrong, it does. But the hum — it wasn’t until I started making television that I started working, working and making and building and creating and collaborating, that I discovered this thing, this buzz, this rush, this hum.
The hum is more than writing. The hum is action and activity. The hum is a drug. The hum is music. The hum is light and air. The hum is God’s whisper right in my ear. And when you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness. That feeling, you can’t help but strive for greatness at any cost. That’s called the hum.
Or, maybe it’s called being a workaholic. Maybe it’s called genius. Maybe it’s called ego. Maybe it’s just fear of failure. I don’t know. I just know that I’m not built for failure, and I just know that I love the hum. I just know that I want to tell you I’m a titan, and I know that I don’t want to question it.
But here’s the thing: the more successful I become, the more shows, the more episodes, the more barriers broken, the more work there is to do, the more balls in the air, the more eyes on me, the more history stares, the more expectations there are. The more I work to be successful, the more I need to work.
And what did I say about work? I love working, right? The nation I’m building, the marathon I’m running, the troops, the canvas, the high note, the hum, the hum, the hum. I like that hum. I love that hum. I need that hum. I am that hum. Am I nothing but that hum?
And then the hum stopped. Overworked, overused, overdone, burned out. The hum stopped.
Now, my three daughters are used to the truth that their mother is a single working titan. Harper tells people, “My mom won’t be there, but you can text my nanny.”
And Emerson says, “Honey, I’m wanting to go to ShondaLand.” They’re children of a titan. They’re baby titans. They were 12, 3, and 1 when the hum stopped. The hum of the engine died. I stopped loving work. I couldn’t restart the engine. The hum would not come back. My hum was broken. I was doing the same things I always did, all the same titan work, 15-hour days, working straight through the weekends, no regrets, never surrender, a titan never sleeps, a titan never quits, full hearts, clear eyes, yada, whatever.