Being traditional is not traditional anymore. It’s funny that we still think of it that way. Normalize your lives, people. You don’t want a baby? Don’t have one. I don’t want to get married? I won’t. You want to live alone? Enjoy it. You want to love someone? Love someone.
I think this is the thing: everyone’s got some greatness in them. You do. That girl over there does. That guy to the left has some. But in order to really mine it, you have to own it. You have to grab hold of it. You have to believe it.
I lean in. I lean all the way in. I lean so far in that sometimes I’m lying down. Hell, I don’t own Thursday nights for nothing.
The upside of culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear. My vision has become razor sharp. I now work to see people, not as I’d rewrite them, but as they have written themselves. I see them for who they are. And for who I am with them. Because it’s not merely about surrounding myself with people who treat me well. It’s also about surrounding myself with people whose self-worth, self-respect and values inspire me to elevate my own behavior. People who require that I stay truthful and kind and not totally crazy. Not eating every single thing in sight. Not hiding. Not saying no. I want Ride or Dies who make me want to be a better person.
I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.
Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is. It’s who I am. You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are. Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever. Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages.
I don’t know about you, but it’s the idea that I’m not measuring up that gets me. I’m constantly worrying and wondering and feeling like I am failing because everywhere I look, everyone else seems to be thriving.
You say, “I want to be a writer” – guess what? A writer is someone who writes every day. Start writing.
Powerful famous women don’t say out loud that they have help at home, that they have nannies, housekeepers, chefs, assistants, stylists – whatever it is they have to keep their worlds spinning – they don’t say out loud that they have these people at home doing these jobs because they are ashamed. Or maybe a more precise way to say it is that these women have been shamed.
‘It’s not bragging if you can back it up,’ I whisper to myself in the shower every morning. That is my favorite Muhammad Ali quote. If you ask me, Ali invented modern-day swagger.
‘Shonda, how do you do it all?’ The answer is this: I don’t. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite. If I’m accepting a prestigious award, I’m 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 trade-off.
In order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – and then I have to say yes to that thing.
I now know that the demons out there are some version of me. I am aware that I am the only one chasing me, running me down, nipping at my heels. Trying to bite my head off. It’s time to be a better friend to myself.
If you are a kid and you are out there and you are chubby and not so cute and nerdy and shy and invisible and in pain, whatever your race, whatever your gender, whatever your sexual orientation, I’m standing here to tell you: you are not alone. Your tribe of people, they are out there in the world. Waiting for you.
When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. When I say I’m going to do something, I really do it. I throw myself into it and I do. I do my ass off. I do right up to the finish line. No matter what.
In [my daughters’ worlds], mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get to write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person – and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them to know the me that didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me that wasn’t doing.
Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time. No to going out tonight. No to catching up with that old college roommate. No to attending that party. No to going on a vacation. No to making a new friend. Losing yourself happens one pound at a time.
Badassery, I’m discovering, is a new level of confidence – in both yourself and those around you. I now feel like I can see so many amazing things about myself and the people around me. It’s as if before, by hiding and worrying and being unhappy, I was not looking at the people around me and seeing how truly gifted and amazing they are. There was certainly nothing in me that could have been positive and uplifting or inspiring to them. Not when I was so busy hiding and trying to be smaller and a nothing.
You know what happens when all of your dreams come true? Nothing. I realized a very simple truth: that success, fame, having all my dreams come true would not fix or improve me, it wasn’t an instant potion for personal growth. Having all my dreams come true only seemed to magnify whatever qualities I already possessed.
I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing. 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.
What is the opposite of a cocky, immodest, brazen woman? A meek, chaste, timid woman. Who in the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Queen Bey wants to be a meek, chaste, timid woman? Do YOU? Because I sure as hell don’t.
Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies toward making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest that doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it’s just good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. And don’t be an asshole.
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.
I don’t think it ever occurred to me before how much and how often women are praised for displaying traits that basically render them invisible. When I really think about it, I realize the culprit is the language generally used to praise women. Especially mothers. ‘She never thought about herself.’ ‘She was the wind beneath our wings.’ This is good, we’re told. It’s good how Mom diminishes and martyrs herself. The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you… this all makes you AMAZING. Yuck. What the hell kind of message is that? Would ANYONE praise a man for this?
Any difficult conversation, any tough issue I have sitting in the pit of my stomach, any unsaid confessions, any itchy little resentment and unpleasant business? I can talk about it. I want to talk about it. Because no matter how hard a conversation is, I know that on the other side of that difficult conversation lies peace. Knowledge. An answer is delivered. Character is revealed. Truces are formed. Misunderstandings are resolved. Freedom lies across the field of the difficult conversation. And the more difficult the conversation, the greater the freedom.
I used to be an unhappy person. And nothing was more frustrating than seeing a fellow bitter, jaded, toxic, dark and twisty friend find their way up into the sun. Like a vampire trying to save one of its own, you want to drag them back into the dark. And you truly think you are doing the right thing. I was clinging to the dark and twisty misery. It was what I knew. And I needed it. I needed it the same way I needed the fatness. It was easier than trying. Being dark and twisty gave me permission to not want anything more than the miserable status quo. To never hope, to never be optimistic. Dark and twisty takes up the time and space in my head. It’s a hall pass: I don’t have to do anything about my problems if I am busy complaining and feeling sorry for myself.
Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story. Wipe the slate clean. And rewrite it.