Four Powerful Takeaways from Shonda Rhimes’ Interview with Oprah

Four Powerful Takeaways from Shonda Rhimes’ Interview with Oprah
16 Nov 2015

I just love me some Super Soul Sunday! Oprah’s signature programming has become part of my spiritual food for the week. There’s just something about getting that behind-the-scenes look at what success looks like from the other side—from a spiritual perspective. Yesterday, Oprah’s guest was Shonda Rhimes. If you’ve never heard of Shonda Rhimes, you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade. I rarely watch T.V. and I know Ms. Rhimes. By the time you have a day of the week named in honor of your shows (T.G.I.T.—Thank God It’s Thursday), you know you’ve arrived.

Shonda Rhimes is the brilliant mind behind the addictive television dramas: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. And although she may be the picture of success, her life wasn’t always this good. In fact, Shonda grew up as a bullied outcast who never seemed to fit in in school. She wore Coke-bottle glasses and was often the only Black girl in her class. Her escape became writing. She created worlds where her characters became her friends and gave her a lifeline in an otherwise difficult childhood. She became so good at creating these characters that she found there was a “beauty in getting to hide behind my characters.”

It wasn’t until she had a conversation with her sister one day that she realized she had been doing just that: hiding from living by saying “no” to just about every invitation that came her way. After some serious soul-searching, she decided to make a drastic shift in her life. She made up her mind that for one year, she would say “yes” to everything that scared her. Soon after, President Obama came knocking.

He invited her to join the Board of Trustees for the Kennedy Center and to attend the Kennedy Center Honors. To her horror, she found out that she was actually sitting in the VIP box with POTUS and FLOTUS, and all she could think was “Why would they want to sit with me?” Although it took awhile for her to shed her nervousness and finally enjoy herself that evening, once she relaxed, she found that she had fun. At that moment she realized what she would have missed out on had she said “no” to the invitation out of fear.

Lesson #1: Face the fear and do it anyway. You never know what you’ll miss out on if you allow fear to keep you from stepping out of your comfort zone.

As she continued on this journey to do those things which scared her, she decided to start saying “yes” to telling people what she really thought. I loved how she said, “I stopped eating my feelings.” She realized that she had been a yes-woman for so long and would do things she really didn’t want to do, only to become resentful. In the process she began to realize that “No.” is a complete sentence. And what she would tell people instead was, “No, I’m not able to do that.” The irony was, as she stopped “eating her feelings”, she began to shed both friends and weight—110 pounds of it!

Lesson #2: There is freedom in saying “yes” to yourself and “no” to those things you really don’t want to do. And when you discover that, you sometimes actually discover a more powerful, freer version of yourself.

As much as Shonda loved writing about characters, she cared less about writing speeches that she had to give. Then in 2014, the President of her alma mater—Dartmouth College—came knocking and asked her to give the commencement speech. It was her first speech ever. And it was paralyzing. But since she had committed to saying “yes” to everything that scared her, there was really no way out. So she prepared and wrote the speech. A good speech. One that was inspiring, practical and quite acceptable—but not in the least bit personal. She realized that this was a moment of truth. She scrapped her original speech and wrote a completely different one on the flight to the graduation. One that was authentic, personal and even somewhat embarrassing. And she discovered:

Lesson #3: There’s nothing better than being yourself and speaking your truth.

There were so many great insights she shared in her interview—one that I would encourage you to watch. I think one of the most powerful for mothers was this final one. As a mother of three young girls, this incredibly successful writer has come to understand that there is always going to be a trade-off between business and motherhood. If you’re spending time with your children, you’re going to be taking time away from your business and vice versa. She decided that she didn’t want her daughters to think they should fade into the background, that they should do any less than what they are capable of. Sacrifice is the price you pay for living out your passion.

Lesson #4: Give yourself permission to be okay with the fact that there will always be a category in your life which is lacking at any given point in time.

I’m looking forward to reading her book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. Indeed:

“Every time you say ‘yes’, you’re stepping forward.” —Shonda Rhimes


What is the most powerful “yes” you’ve ever said and how did it impact your life?


Photo courtesy of Disney | ABC Television Group



Julian B. Kiganda

I hope you enjoyed this post! A little about me: I’m the founder of Bold & Fearless and a Transformational Brand Strategist. My gifting is in helping purpose-driven women transform and build million-dollar brands. I’m also an author, transformational speaker and multi-passionate entrepreneur. In 2014, I published my first highly-acclaimed book co-authored with my sister: Whose Shoes Are You Wearing? 12 Steps to Uncovering the Woman You Really Want to Be available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. To learn more about how you can connect or work with me, visit

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