About six months ago, I found myself intrigued by a new Netflix series called Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda as Grace and Lily Tomlin as Frankie, two women facing divorce as their business partner husbands come out of the closet and profess their love for one another to their wives. The two women, who soon find themselves housemates, couldn’t be more mismatched. Lily Tomlin is a free-spirit hippy-chick and Grace is the embodiment of country club elegance. At first they’re bound only by their mutual misery, but as time goes by, a real friendship develops. They begin acting like girlfriends and not just de facto roommates.
One night, when Frankie feels particularly low, Grace offers to do anything to help cheer her up. Frankie suggests they do a Yes Night — a night when Grace has to say “yes” to everything. Of course, Frankie’s ideas for their Yes Night would probably be the last thing uptight Grace would do, but they end up having an uproarious good time, and we viewers laugh along with them.
It was watching that episode (“The Bachelor Party”) that first got me thinking about the power of a “Yes Mentality.” Though Frankie and Grace were just having a night on the town, forcing yourself to say yes when the natural inclination would be to say no is an incredibly powerful mental empowerment tool. A Yes Mentality, I realized, is what a person needs when reinventing. So when I heard my idol Terry Gross interview television writer phenom Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away with Murder, Private Practice) about her new book, “Year of Yes,” I knew I’d want to read it.
Unlike Grace and Frankie, Shonda’s book is not a piece of fiction. Though she readily admits upfront that she’s a writer and therefore makes things up for a living (“I lie. A lot.” she warns us over and over again), this story isn’t one of her lies. It’s an auto-biographical tale of how, despite all of her raging success, Shonda found herself closeted-off and miserable in a world of self-created isolation.
I’m reading “Year of Yes” on my Nook, but thankfully e-readers build-in all the tools an avid note-taking reader like me needs because my copy is “dog-eared,” highlighted, and annotated galore. Shonda’s story isn’t about a career reinvention — or, perhaps she might say, not even a reinvention at all — but her anecdotes are lessons for us all. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to share some really salient bits that resonate with me and my theories about the reinvention process:
- Choice – Our tagline at ReinventionWorks is, “Reinvention is a Choice.TM” Once Shonda makes up her mind to say yes to everything for an entire year, she rationalizes her chosen decision with herself, even telling herself she has no choice (Ha! Who’s twisting her arm??):
- “Saying no has gotten me here.
- Here sucks.
- Saying yes might be my way to someplace better.
- If not a way to someplace better, at least to someplace different.”
- Problem Solving – “I am not a person who can see a problem and not solve it,” Shonda writes. The ability to problem solve is a critical component to reinvention, mainly because you will encounter many problems on your reinvention journey.
- Doing – Shonda frequently talks about being a Doer, and I like that. Her commencement address, delivered at her alma mater, Dartmouth, in June of 2014, has an amazing portion dedicated to doing. And though she’s addressing college grads (who are about to embark on INVENTING themselves, maybe for the very first time), her words echo with reminders we could all heed later in life, particularly when we’re contemplating a reinvention:
“When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things. They have wisdom to impart. They have lessons to share. They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don’t stop dreaming until your dream comes true.
I think that’s crap.
I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing.
…LESSON ONE: DITCH THE DREAM. BE A DOER, NOT A DREAMER.
Maybe you know exactly what you dream of being. Or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. (The rest of Shonda’s commencement is equally fantastic, and I highly recommend you read or watch it…and be simultaneously dazzled, entertained, and inspired.)
- It’s Hard – Shonda says, “…the real world is hard,” and of course it is…as is reinvention. Every single damn day can be hard. Every day between here and there, wherever “there” is. But no one ever said that this journey would be easy.
- Commitment – Shonda reminds us that in addition to being a doer and the difficulty comes the commitment to do that which you say you’re going to do. This is also what reinvention is about, but not only do you need to do what you commit to doing, but you need to also commit to yourself period. You need to say to yourself, “If I’m going to succeed at this commitment, I need to accept that I’m going to be the only one who’ll really see this through.”
Now you see why there’s good reason for this woman — the woman behind so many “Thank God It’s Thursday” blockbusters — to have motivated me to share her hardly scandalous philosophy of saying yes. Yes is open. Yes speaks of possibilities. Yes instantly increases our energy levels. Yes fills us with optimism and hope.
Yeah, saying yes can be scary. But right now, the alternative — the No — will likely not improve your lot today, tomorrow, or weeks and months from now.
Don’t try to compete with Shonda Rhimes. You do not have to say yes to everything and for a whole year. You do not even have to say yes to most things. But do try to say yes to at least one hard thing a day. Just one hard thing. How’s that for a fair starting point?
It shouldn’t even be that hard. 😉