Finding My Own Year of Yes

Andrea Toole

I have finished reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Full title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. You likely know of her, whether you immediately recognize her name or not. Her production company, Shondaland, has produced eight television shows including Grey’s Anatomy (yes, it’s still on) and its spinoff, Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

My takeaways are weaved into this story, rather than being presented as a listicle, because my takeaways are intertwined in the stories that Rhimes told in her book, and my “real life” story continues.

I bought Year of Yes in mid-January. I didn’t read it all at once. Instead, I opened my Kindle app while on public transit and occasionally read it in bed. I suppose that I approached Year of Yes the way I approach watching Scandal: I binge watch a few episodes (or read some page), put it aside, and come back to it.
(I’m currently up to season 6, episode 10. Last week I yelled at Huck for being a dumb-ass.)

I needed this book, I just didn’t know it

One of the things I noticed about Year of Yes is that I didn’t realize how much I needed this book. I couldn’t have known how much it would resonate with me. At a different time, it might not have resonated, or I’d read it, think, “That sounds nice,” but not take action. I bought it and downloaded it on January 18th, 2018 because it was on sale for a low, low price that was practically free. I previously knew about the book, but like most books, it sat on my Amazon wishlist. I bought the book because it was on sale and because I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy (I lost interest after one of the significant cast shakeups), I watched Private Practice, and I watch Scandal.

In Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes says the following, which about her weight loss journey but can be about any self-empowerment journey:

…nothing works if you don’t actually decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.

And, on the following page,

Everything sounds like crap until you are in the right mind-set. Everything sounds like crap while you are still busy listing reasons why you should eat the whole cake.

I understand this. Not in the context of weight loss, but I get it. I read a ton of self-help and “self-improvement” books and articles, information to help me be the best version of me. One of the reasons that the same topics come up again and again, and one of the reasons that “experts” rarely say anything new, is that people aren’t in the right mindset when they read it. They don’t take action, or they take action, fail, and don’t try again. There’s always a market for people looking for the key to unlock the door that will take them to Action Street.

Even when we know what we need to do, we need to be in the right mind-set.

Even when we know what we need to do, we need to take action

Saying we want it, even if we believe we do, isn’t enough.

To quote another woman in entertainment-turned book author:

You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.
-Amy Poehler,
Yes Please.

Notice how both book titles have the word “Yes” in them?

Former smokers who tried and failed several times weren’t necessarily lazy, or losers, or weak, they weren’t in the right mind-set. (Or hadn’t switched to a method that works for them.)

Dive in. You can do it!

I agree that we can’t achieve our goals without action and we need to be in the right frame of mind for advice to absorb. I don’t agree that we always need to be ready.

I believe that if we “wait” until we’re ready we might never be. If we wait until we think we’re ready, we might miss some great opportunities. Sometimes we need to dive in with faith and trust. Sometimes we’re more prepared than we think we are. I do believe that we need to be doing it for our own reasons because we want to, deep down. Ready or not, here I come. You jump, I jump, Jack.

Keep reading until you get that a ha moment.

Another key to finally taking action is to keep reading. Sometimes it takes multiple reads for something to click. It takes a particular author, a specific writing style, a case study that sounds like it was written about you before you say “Yes, this time it’s going to stick.” Sometimes it takes repetition. For example, I read Yes Please in 2014. I took notes. I highlighted. I’ve used the above quote several times. I’m not sure that it completed clicked, though.

Lather, rinse, repeat

There’s a statistic about how many times a person has to read a sales message before they’re going to buy. I don’t recall what it is right now, but it’s part of email marketing and online advertising education. Marketers are supposed to present a sales message multiple times, and multiple ways. Most people won’t buy the first time around. In this analogy, the sales message is the advice. “Buying” is an action.

Let go and embrace the new

When we make changes in our life, we need to be amenable to shedding some of our identity to take on a new one. It’s scary. Who are we if we lose weight, leave our spouse, quit our job, move cities, start a company, close our business and go from being an entrepreneur to an employee, stop eating meat, stop eating gluten, or change our lives in another significant way?

It’s scary to risk losing friends when you change. I’m not a smoker nor have I ever been, but I’ve heard former smokers talk about the fear of not taking smoke breaks anymore and of losing their smoking buddies. Remember that episode of Friends when Rachel became a smoker because business decisions were made outside without her?

Do you want to quit drinking? Do you need to ditch gluten? You’ve got to find a new group of friends. Or so you worry, because your fears are uttered by those assholes in your brain that I refer to as “gremlins”, also known as Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs.

Be willing to embrace success

There’s a chapter in Year of Yes in which Shonda Rhimes shares a story about attending a dinner event celebrating women in TV. Before the meal was served, the host(ess) called out each honoree by name and spoke of her accomplishments. The response of each and every one of the women indicated her unease with being told that she is awesome. They were reluctant to receive praise. “What is wrong with us?!”, Shonda Rhimes subsequently asks.

Shonda Rhimes encourages herself — and us — to own up to our own accomplishments. To take a compliment. To accept “any and all acknowledgements of personal fabulous awesomeness with a clear, calm, ‘Thank you’ and a confident smile and nothing more.”

We fear our own success. We fear praise. We don’t want to appear to be “full of ourselves” or “better than”. As women, we’re often taught to be humble. Strong women are often seen as “bitches” or “ball breakers”. Women are afraid to be successful and strong. I vaguely recall a conversation in an early season of Grey’s Anatomy in which Meredith discussed the concept of being extraordinary. I remember it because she pronounced the first “a”, which sounded bizarre to me because I’ve always pronounced the word with that “a” being silent.

“A fountain pen next to a red thank you card” by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Accept gifts and say “thank you”

It’s also common to feel uncomfortable — guilt or unworthiness, for example — when offered gifts, of help, and to feel the inclination to decline. Here’s an experience I had on the evening that I wrote much of what you’re reading here:

I was on the streetcar with my dog and the woman opposite me pulled out a plastic bag labelled “Lamb :ung $3” and, with my permission, started feeding my dog pieces of it. The more she fed her (as I had my head down in my Kindle app reading Year of Yes), the more uncomfortable I felt, with a twinge of guilt. $3/bag lamb lung. I thanked her a few times and expressed gratitude on my dog’s behalf. Before the kind dog-loving woman left the streetcar, she offered me the entire bag. It was a very nice offer! A part of me thought, “lamb lung, $3.” To some people, $3 is nothing. To some, it’s a big deal. The woman wouldn’t have offered it if she didn’t want to give it, so why was I uncomfortable accepting it?

I have an easier time accepting gifts from people I know than I do from strangers, but even then I sometimes feel that it’s “too much,” and I feel almost apologetic about accepting. I don’t know why this is. It’s something to reflect on. Maybe you, an objective reader who likely doesn’t know me, have insight. If you do, offer it in the comments.

Not a stock photo.

Voice and Visibility

When I decided to start writing for Medium on a daily basis, it was part of this an ongoing voice and visibility challenge that I’ve been undertaking.

I play small. I always have. I was afraid to raise to raise my hand in class in case I got the answer wrong. It’s a confidence issue. I know I can be awesome, though. A couple of months into a work contract, a former manager told me something like, “Let’s see how we can make you the rockstar I know you can be.” (And months later he fired me after I made what I maintain was the right decision based on the information I had.)

I can be a rock star.

Shonda Rhimes wants us to be badass (her word choice), to stop playing small. I can do that.

I’m practicing right now

I need to position myself as an expert and thought-leader. I need to write for consistency and practice. I also can’t beat myself up if my writing isn’t perfect or I don’t publish with the exact intended schedule, both of which have already happened in the past week. It’s practice, and I’m possibly better than I give myself credit for.

In the past when I challenged myself to write daily, I burnt out. I found it too stressful to come up with something to write every day. I feel like Medium gives me some freedom to not have to write for a specific niche — at least, not yet. There’s less pressure publishing to Medium, despite the potential of more people finding it.

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

A few details about how the sausage is made…

I didn’t particularly love the story that I published on Friday when I first wrote and scheduled it. As I’ve been striving for writing and scheduling one day in advance of publishing, I finished it late on Thursday night and set it for Friday morning. It was up and out there. Then on Friday night, I gave it another edit. I think it flows better it did. It’s okay if it’s not perfect. It’s also okay to improve it.

I started this story on Friday evening, intending to finish writing it on Saturday and publish same day. That would have given me published stories Monday-Saturday, and the next one would be up on Tuesday. I finished this on Sunday (truthfully, on Friday evening I had about 100 pages left in the book). No pressure on myself. It didn’t go according to plan, but no one is going to object.

Never apologize

I often say that we should do what’s right for us and not worry about societal norms. We should do what feels right for us. For example, our choice or marry or not marry, to have children or not, is ours and no one else’s. I assert that if we think that people are looking down on us, it’s really some part of ourselves looking down on us. If people do judge us it’s not about us, it’s about them. When I realized that one of my insecurities wasn’t about me or my story, it was a story that I’d somehow inherited, that insecurity faded.

We all spend our lives kicking the crap out of ourselves for not being this way or that way, not having this thing or that thing, not being like this person or that person….

Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story.

The story is in your head, people. It’s your inherited story, your Automatic Negative Thoughts, your gremlins.

Keep striving

I need to work on having uncomfortable conversations. I need to stop running away from conflict. When I stand up for my beliefs, good things happen. I need to stop assuming I’m wrong. I need to assert myself as I tell others to do.

When something wasn’t going well, when there was a conflict or someone was upset or being difficult, the more introverted me would flee and hope it all went away. The new me wades right into the deep end and asks, “What’s wrong?”

I flee. I panic and run. Fight or flight? Good things sometimes happen when I do fight, and people tend to respect a fighter.

…the moment I said yes to the challenge, the moment I was open to having the conversations, suddenly in that instant my life was changed. I grew more courageous; I shed some shyness, some awkwardness, some social fear…. laughed more. I was bolder. I was brazen. I spoke my mind and spoke it loud.

I want this. I can do this. I can find my own “year of yes”.

We’re all people, sharing common experiences

See, I identify a lot with this imperfect human that is the amazingly talented person who wrote Year of Yes. I was the introverted, sensitive child with few friends. I too have been the “nerdy, introverted writer with an eye twitch who could barely speak up for herself”, minus the eye twitch (though I did have a lazy eye when I was a young child and occasionally my muscles near my eye do start to spasm).

I wrote a TON of fiction when I was a kid. I was always in my head, creating fiction. Writing. I wrote stories. Somewhere, I have tales that I wrote with pencil on construction paper.

I don’t know why I stopped. I wonder if is still be a fiction writer if I’d been accepted to the university with the Creative Writing program I applied to. Maybe my life would have taken another path had I been admitted to the journalism program at the school that accepted me to their Mass Communications program instead.

“A pair of glasses and a pen on an open notebook next to a laptop” by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

My fiction writing faded as I focused on non-fiction as that’s what I was working on in school. I wrote non-fiction and fiction during high school, in classes and the school newspaper. The only “creative writing” that I wrote in University was in the form of poetry. I don’t remember how to write fiction anymore. I forget how to create characters and story. I don’t know where that creativity went. It’s got to be inside me somewhere, right? (Please say yes.) “The Elephant’s Party” — the one written on construction paper — could have been a great success. A few years ago (August 2012, according to Evernote) I tried to write a children’s story based on a cat that used to hang around.

My current writing is an extension of journal writing and university essays. But even before then, my best work in high school and junior high was in classes that involved writing. In grade 7 (or as you Americans call it, “seventh grade”) I got the highest mark in my class for an assignment that I did about my family. Shocked, was I. I was never the best at anything. I excelled at writing assignments but never really pursued it. Maybe that’s why I’ve never stopped blogging. I go for months without writing a thing out of lack of motivation or writer’s block and then go on a writing spree.

You know those people who talk a lot but never really say anything? I never want to be that person.

From super shy to just super?

Like Shonda Rhimes, I was a super shy child. I didn’t speak much. A few years back, someone a generation older than me who’s known me since I was three or four years old recalled that in those days he knew that I’d start to speak up when I had something to say. Sometimes I think that once I came out of my shell and began to talk more, I never shut up. Not that I didn’t know how to talk, or was stunted — I started to speak at the age that babies/toddlers to — but I mostly directed my words to the people I knew well. Shy.

Kids like us live in our heads, and we’re afraid to speak and be visible and shine.

This is my time.

Andrea Toole

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Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach, #ADHD mentor. Social Media Manager. Contact me for info. Subscribe:👉🏻

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