For the longest time I thought Shonda Rhimes hated me.
Just so we’re clear, I don’t know Shonda Rhimes. She doesn’t know me. I’m not that cool.
I’m also not crazy.
Let me explain.
For the past year, I have been working on a book about dreams where I interviewed 120 people about a dream they achieved. I came up with the idea after being brokenhearted on a bathroom floor, crying over an ivy-league rejection email. I figured maybe I was dreaming too big. Maybe this whole trying hard thing was a lie. Maybe I should stop striving. Maybe dreaming is the worst thing I’ve ever done.
I decided to try giving up.
That lasted about 10 seconds before these three words, with quiet force and fierceness, broke through: I am a dreamer. I fought with myself at first. A dreamer? That’s a stupid thing to be. Look around you. Life is terrible and you are terrible and dreaming is naïve and dumb.
But then I remembered that speech. “I have a dream…” That guy wasn’t naïve and dumb—far from it. And he didn’t just talk. He did stuff to try to make his dream come true. And the speaking of the dream, the vision, it infused a lot of other people with energy and hope to act and keep on acting, especially when things were terrible.
I decided that I wasn’t going to shame or punish myself anymore for being a dreamer. I was going to let myself be who I was. I was going to keep dreaming. I was going to keep trying.
And then… Shonda Rhimes gave this speech called “Dreams Are for Losers.”
Shonda Rhimes. The Shonda Rhimes. The trailblazing writer powerhouse who brought real people to the TV screen in successful shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. I tried not to take it personally. But something inside me started to break.
It would have been easy to brush off if Shonda wasn’t someone I admired so much. This was not one of those privileged billionaire men I could write off as someone spouting advice without knowing what it means to pursue things in a world where you don’t see yourself represented. This was Shonda Freaking Rhimes! Someone whose journey I truly respected.
Even though I’m a non-fiction writer, I constantly watch YouTube interviews of women writers of all genres and forms—people like Shonda Rhimes and Taylor Swift; even though I don’t write songs or shows, these are the creative people who fascinate me, who I want to learn from. I watch their interviews like Sherlock, looking for clues about when they write, how they write, why they write, and, most of all, how they tackle self-doubt and rejection.
Did I mention Shonda Rhimes is also a fan of Taylor Swift? I loved this woman!
And she hated me.
Or, at least that’s where my mind went.
Suddenly that nasty voice in my head became something much worse. The voice took on the form of someone I admired, someone who was more successful, someone with more experience, someone who knew what she was talking about.
I was crushed.
Now Shonda Rhimes was telling me I was a loser. And who was I to disagree with Shonda Rhimes?
She knew what I had suspected all along…. My dreams are stupid. I might be stupid. (That is what that nasty voice sounds like.) And it’s not Shonda talking. It’s that sly, nasty, ugly voice learning how to shape shift, learning how to really make me feel small.
When Shonda’s book Year of Yes came out, at first I didn’t want to read it, for fear of hearing that nasty voice again.
But I read it anyway.
Because deep down I knew that the voice wasn’t really her, and I was still so hungry to learn more about her journey.
I devoured the book in two days. I inhaled it. The writing was fantastic, the honesty soothing and the stories laugh-out-loud insightful.
It also showed me once and for all that maybe Shonda doesn’t hate me after all.
Because after reading the book I was inspired by how much we had in common. Her work ethic, her dogged pursuit of a goal—it made me feel less alone in my ambition.
And when it comes to dreams, it seemed like in many ways we were really saying the same thing—that it’s the doing that makes things happen. Shonda would probably identify herself as a doer. I identify myself as a dreamer. But to me, a dreamer is also a doer, a doer also a dreamer. I think that by the very nature of doing something with all your heart and hustle, there is an underlying belief there that what you’re doing matters, that it will propel you somewhere, even if you don’t know or ever dreamed of where. I don’t think dreamers have to know where they’re going either. How can you ever really know?
What you call yourself, what moves you, whether it’s a dream or simply the task of the day, doesn’t really matter, at least not to me.
To me what matters is you using your gifts to their fullest, sharing your art, creating your thing, being your kindest self, and allowing it to grow outside yourself, to seep into the life of someone else, to make it a little better.
Is there any greater warmth than getting to experience someone else’s gifts to their fullest, someone else’s love, for you or their craft? It’s why we love entertainment and art and our moms so much, I think. It’s why we can admire people like Shonda Rhimes and care about her imaginary opinion of us.
And while I can only hope to meet Shonda Rhimes in person, I’ll know she doesn’t hate me at all. As for the Shonda disguise that the mean voice took on in my head? I unmasked that sucker and took back Shonda. A Shonda who tells me to GO GET IT, GIRL!
That Shonda gives me a high five as we sit side by side on our laptops, writing. Because what almost two years of researching dreams taught me if anything else, is that if you dream of being a writer, you should write. The rest is unknowable, and though you can’t always create the exact outcome you intend, what I’ve learned is you do create a special kind of potential, possibility and growth—a kind that will not exist unless you do your dream. Unless you try. Every day. Even when it feels like it’s going nowhere.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to help but say yes to that.