Bring It On, New Year! Why Shonda Rhimes Advice Is Worth Repeating


By Elia Esparza

As a certified or certifiable crazy writer, storyteller, dream merchant, queen of ideas and believer of all things mystical, when I heard Shonda Rhimes commencement speech to Darthmouth’s class of 2014, well it hit home big time. And, because I know I am not a lone fish in this pond of dreams we reside in, I felt it appropriate to share Shonda’s words with my fellow writers, actors, filmmakers, painters, musicians, and every artistic person who swims or drowns in the currents of disillusion.

Shonda Rhimes is an award winning TV Writer/Creator (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder) super heroine. Best of all she does not resemble Hollywood’s false illusion of what all women should look like. Shonda is an accurate representation of most of us. She is also brave enough to put herself out there with her refreshingly raw and pure honesty, which is why she is such a brilliant writer of TV dialogue.

So my gift to you, as we kick off the new year, is to consider her sage advice to the young bucks as they prepare to embrace the real world. Here are some of my favorite quotes and lessons from her speech.

Stop Dreaming Already

“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.”

…And Start Doing

“You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”

Don’t Let Hashtags Replace Activism

“A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones. Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week.”

Forget About “Having It All” Because Perfection is Impossible

“If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.”

Stop Trying to Be Someone Else, and Focus On Being Yourself

“You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize Winning Author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. […] Guess what? I couldn’t be Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Because Toni Morrison already had that job and she wasn’t interested in giving it up. […] [Eventually I figured out that] I could dream about being Toni Morrison. Or I could do. At film school, I discovered an entirely new way of telling stories. A way that suited me. A way that brought me joy. A way that flipped this switch in my brain and changed the way I saw the world. Years later, I had dinner with Toni Morrison. All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.”

Count Your Blessings

“Yes, it is hard out there. But hard is relative. I come from a middle-class family, my parents are academics, I was born after the civil rights movement, I was a toddler during the women’s movement, I live in the United States of America, all of which means I’m allowed to own my freedom, my rights, my voice, and my uterus; and I went to Dartmouth and I earned an Ivy League degree. The lint in my navel that accumulated while I gazed at it as I suffered from feeling lost about how hard it was to not feel special after graduation … that navel lint was embarrassed for me. Elsewhere in the world, girls are harmed simply because they want to get an education. Slavery still exists. Children still die from malnutrition. … So yes, tomorrow may suck for you—as it did for me. But as you stare at the lint in your navel, have some perspective. We are incredibly lucky. We have been given a gift.”

To hear Shondra’s full speech, forward video to 1:41:56

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