How Shonda Rhimes Got Her Joy Back

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Why you should care

Because we’re often told we can have it all — but sometimes even that isn’t enough. 

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As addictions go, workaholism seems like a decent one to have. You support your family, contribute to society and the economy and ideally do some self-realization along the way. So what if you’re afraid to take a vacation or use only half your paid time off each year? The same passionate “hum” that drives many of our workaholic tendencies propelled Shonda Rhimes to become the most powerful woman in TV.

But what if that hum just disappears?

That’s exactly what happened to Rhimes, as she candidly shares in a powerful TED Talk that OZY is proud to co-premiere today. She was busy writing plot twists across Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder while managing 16 episodes at a time and overseeing about 70 hours of television programming every season with an estimated budget of $350 million. It became a dream job — without any of the dreaming. That was true even for a woman who vulnerably acknowledges that she would have rather been busy at work than busy at home.

Which is why it’s worth listening to how this work addict triggered a transformation. For one year, Rhimes tried something new: saying yes to everything that made her nervous, including speaking in public, being on live TV and acting. And while that exercise helped her overcome fears, the most profound moment of change occurred when Rhimes listened to her toddler as she was asked to just stop and play. Sure, playing brought Rhimes — a single mom by choice — closer to each of her three girls. Yet it also had “a stunning side effect,” Rhimes says. “And it wasn’t until recently that I fully understood … saying yes to playing with my children likely saved my career.”

It’s something we parents at OZY can relate to when we’ve needed a crucial jolt of energy to help us meet yet another deadline and push through a particularly tough week. But it’s also just one of the many unconventional proposals that can help combat workaholism — try a four-and-a-half-day workweek on for size, or consider ditching offices entirely. Still, we must admit, none of us has delivered such an eloquent speech on restoring joy to your work and your life — and with the cadence of Olivia Pope and poetic flair that only Rhimes herself could pull off.

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