Watching “Scandal” has always been an exciting event in my house.
About 30% of the time, I’m audibly cheering on leading lady Olivia Pope, and the other percent of the time? I’m cheering on the “Scandal” queen and creator herself, Shonda Rhimes. Any unique situation that Olivia Pope finds herself in and successfully digs herself out of, I’m rooting for Shonda. Anytime Olivia pulls out a glass of merlot and cuts ties with her father, I cheer for Shonda. Whenever Olivia demands that her team pulls it together and makes the impossible possible, I cheer for Shonda.
You can’t watch a second of “Scandal” (or any of her hit shows) without thinking of Shonda in the process. And that is the brilliance of her. While most writers tend to blend into the tapestry of the show they’ve created or give the stage up to their leading actors, Shonda always manages to stay on your mind. Not because she is taking away the spotlight from her spot-on actors, but because a Shonda show has a strong voice and point of view. It is what makes her a force to be reckoned with. And today, I’m going to have you cheering for Shonda as we take a look at some of the secrets that make Shonda a success. Secrets that you can incorporate into your life right here and right now.
1. Hold Onto Your Voice
Shonda Rhimes has created 3 hit shows for ABC over the years, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Keep in mind, ABC is owned by Disney, and Disney is extremely specific with the type of content that they put out into the world to always uphold the Disney brand. So how does a writer manage to create a show that is so uniquely reflective of their voice all the while managing to please the bosses?
The secret might not be that big of a secret after all. The secret might be as simple as staying true to your own voice. “Grey’s Anatomy” was created because Disney CEO Bob Iger was interested in adding a hospital drama to the ABC lineup. Shonda pitched “Grey’s Anatomy,” knowing that it was the type of drama that ABC was looking for. Rather than simply creating a show to please others, Shonda stayed true to her unique storytelling and signature plot twists. She was able to both create a show that would make the boss happy, but also stay true to her creative flair. That perfect combo is how to make a hit.
2. No Work After 7PM
Shonda Rhimes has balance in her life. You might be wondering how the heck she pulls this off since she has children, runs her production company “ShondaLand,” writes, produces and basically does everything. Shonda has a strict "No Work after 7pm" rule. By setting a firm end-of-work time each day, she is able to shut off work and focus on herself and her home life. The 7pm cutoff means no business emails or work calls or work, period. So how do you accomplish everything that Shonda does and manage to shut down by 7pm? Wake up an hour before the earliest riser in your household. Shonda wakes up and gives herself personal time before her kids wake up to write, read the news and start the day. She dedicates time to herself so that she can start each day refreshed and ready to work.
3. Know When You Need Help
Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. It’s a key to being a successful person in life. Shonda’s personal assistant has the main task of being her ears on a daily basis. Her assistant is responsible for remembering every conversation that Shonda has had and every detail of her day so that Shonda can easily reference it. For a woman who is juggling as much as she is, admitting you need help remembering the details is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
4. Every Life Experience is a Part of Your Legacy
Is there a dream job that you’re working toward and fantasizing about daily? Ever feel like you’re stuck in this never-ending pit of day jobs and nonsense and just want to fast forward to the good stuff? Don’t hit the fast forward button quite yet. Your life experience as you are experiencing it right now is forming a tapestry that will transform you into the person you are trying to become. Just ask Shonda. She was a candy striper in high school. Her high school gig gave her true insight into how hospitals function and the plethora of stories within each hospital room. It was her high school job that opened her eyes to the endless possibilities of stories to be told if you limit the location of your stories to a single hospital.
5. Say ‘Yes’ Once in Awhile
It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in routine and put the blinders up. Sometimes, a simple step outside your comfort zone could give you the inspiration you need to dart down a new path, or run smoothly down your current path. What’s the best way to start stepping outside your comfort zone? Try saying "yes" to activities you would normally say "no" to. Whether it’s saying "yes" to an afternoon picnic or even "yes" to that late night party you feel too tired for, you never know what will come of pursuing the "yes." Just ask Shonda. She’s written an entire book on it, called, “Year of Yes.”
We all need role-models, and Shonda is a pretty fantastic one. I hope some of these tips will help you to continue to be the heroine of your own life. Cheers, and let the butt-kicking begin.
Erika Jenko is a playwright and theme park junkie trying to navigate the magical world of adulting. Also, a YouTuber and blogger at www.subwaymouse.com