Every now and then you read a book so profound it stays with you for days after.
A ‘Year of Yes’ is one of these books. A phenomenal piece of writing that stares straight into your soul to shake it right up. Shonda Rhimes’ life changed with six little words uttered by her sister, ‘You never say yes to anything.’ Now immediately I didn’t feel aligned with this statement. I do say ‘yes’ but I say ‘yes’ when I feel like saying yes. I don’t say yes when honestly, deep down, my heart is saying ‘no’ so I was left wondering what this book could teach me. I was wrong to doubt it.
Say ‘yes’ to things that scare you
Shonda started by saying ‘yes’ to things she previously would have said no to – things that scared her. Shonda’s worst fear was public speaking something I can definitely relate to. I am terrified of public speaking. I hate it. I clam up. I’ve been sick before and I have cried tears of genuine fear. Shonda decided to confront this fear head on – she decided to throw herself in to public speaking and not just in front of intimate audiences but in front of thousands! She found that although the fear never went away, the more she presented, the more the fear subsided and slowly but surely she grew to enjoy presenting. At the start of this year, prior to the reading of this book, I, too, decided to tackle my public speaking fear head on. And that is why this year I am talking at my first ever conference. I’m terrified about this but, at the moment, July is far away enough for it not to be a reality and, therefore, not so much of a fear. How will I cope when the time comes? Who knows? I know, however, that Shonda’s spirit will see me through it safely.
Say yes to your body
So like most women Shonda did not like her body. Classified overweight, she recognised, like most women, she ate to comfort herself. A bad day resulted in bad food. Then came the year of yes and saying yes to losing weight which she did – a whole 100 pounds or something across the year of yes. Now at this point, i say no. Yes, I am overweight BUT genuinely do I care enough to do something about it? And when I say care, what I really mean is, am I willing to give up delicious food and drink – pork belly, cheese, baileys, cheese, caramel lattes, cheese – to be a but thinner? The answer is no. Does this mean that I don’t love myself enough? No. It means that I recognise how great food makes me feel and I am not willing to sacrifice that. Food is so important to me that if I weren’t teaching, I would be in the food industry. And to those who feebly attempt to convince us fatties that healthy food is delicious, don’t bother because you lie. Even Shonda admits that you have to force yourself to love salad.
Say yes to thank you
Shonda was at an awards ceremony one evening when the women on her table were introduced. In that moment, she realised that none of them could take a complement and that each of them, in their own way, deflected the complement. Having struggled with receiving complements herself, she decided she would always accept complements graciously with a simple ‘thank you’ in the future. Women are, in fact, notoriously bad at accepting complements. I am notoriously bad at accepting complements. Reasons for this range from a lack of self-worth to finding it awkward to not wishing to appear arrogant about our achievements yet Shonda argues that we should, instead, embrace our badass, celebrate our successes and graciously accept the complements we receive for a job well done. This is also true and yet whilst I am the first to tear myself apart, admit my mistakes, share that I don’t know the answer to something and therefore that I am the world’s worst leader, I am not so good at recognising that I am a badass in my education world. I’ve taken our GCSE results from 44% to 63% in two years. That’s total badass. I’ve led understaffed teams EVERY year and coped. Badass. In a month and a half, I have pushed through reading quizzes so that 65% of our students have now quizzed compared to the 18% at the start of December. Reading badass. I’ve produced literacy booklets that have been viewed / downloaded over 1000 times. Literacy badass. And I am coping with three key stages worth of changes at the same time! That is super superhero badass. So for all my weaknesses, Shonda’s right I need to embrace the serious badass within me and celebrate my achievements. Celebrating those achievements doesn’t make me arrogant. Instead it should give me the confidence to say, actually, I am not bad at what I do. It should also fire me up to think about those next career steps I might wish to take to spread badassery even further. I agree with Shonda we need to say yes to being badasses and celebrate this as we go as well as smiling graciously when someone else recognises our badassery.
Yes to shedding people
As Shonda went through her year of yes, she started to question some of her friendships. Whilst some were solid, some were less stable. Friends started to ask her for more: the more famous she became, the more they demanded from her and when she refused, in one instance, to give a friend some money, the friend turned nasty. Shonda decided, in her year of yes that it was time to say yes to getting rid of fake friendships. This is an area I excel at. I’m 35, for God’s sake. I don’t have time for fake people, for liars, for those who go behind your back or want to play with your mind so I’m not embarrassed to say I shed, where necessary. This is not a difficulty for me because people who do this to you are not friends and are not worthy of your time. Yes, you become a few friends lighter but those you are left with are true and genuine and that is more important. The difficulty I’ve had has been the blurring of lines at work, especially as HOF. I’ve come to realise that no one in my department is my friend. That’s not to say that we aren’t friendly, we are, but when you are HOF, the relationships are different and I have learnt this the hard way. Now work is work and friends are those from outside the department and outside of school. The lines are no longer blurred because emotionally I don’t invest in the same way I do in my friendships. There is a guard, a layer of protection which is needed. Yes, indeed to knowing who your friends are and exposing yourself to those few only.
Say yes to you
The following paragraph made for profound reading as I had been discussing the very topic with friends that night at dinner – one of whom understood my perspective and the other who did not. Here Shonda describes the moment she broke off her engagement to her fiancée.
I take a deep breath and tell him my first love is writing. Writing and I am a MFEO. I tell him that my well of energy is only so deep and that I happily pour that energy into writing and my daughters, and so I would never be pouring the energy into a devoted marriage in the way I know from our conversations he imagines a marriage would be. I tell him that he will resent me and grow to hate me if we got married and I did not make him a priority above my work. And I have no ability to downgrade my creativity in my soul. I have no desire to either.
This actually made me cry because there are a number of truths here that I needed to see and to be at peace with:
- I love my job. The love I have for my job has been described to me as abnormal. I proudly write that I disagree. After hearing Shonda say the words above, I will no longer accept the label abnormal to describe the attitude I have towards my work. I love my job. I care. I have passion. And I have no ability to downgrade the creativity in my soul for what I do. I am no longer going to apologise for this.
- I don’t want to get married either and I don’t want children. Like Shonda, my well of energy is only so deep. A lot of energy goes on my work. Some of the energy goes on my friends and my family. What is left, I need for me. You don’t have to have pity for me because you don’t get this – aren’t women of my age supposed to be married with children by now? – you don’t have to pity me because I don’t feel pity for myself. I love my life. I love the freedom I have. I love the care I take of myself when I need to. I will not apologise for the lack of conformity and the fact that what makes each of us happy is uniquely personal. Instead I will represent myself proudly and enjoy the short time we have on this earth in the best way I see fit.
So Shonda has raised a mirror towards me – she has made me think, made me reflect, given me confidence, told me to be brave, to be a badass and most of all, she has taught me to say yes to all that will make me happy. Shonda I thank you from the bottom of my heart.