Shonda Rhimes is a workaholic. The mind behind ABC’s Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy handles 70 hours of television programming a season, a slate that totals about $350 million.
“I work a lot, very hard, and I love it,” the self-described “titan” said during her first-ever TED Talk on Monday. “When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling. For me my work is at all times building a nation out of thin air, it is manning the troops, it is painting a canvas, it is hitting every high note it is running a marathon, it is being Beyoncé – and it is all of those things at the same time.”
While Rhimes, 46, understands many consider her career a “dream job,” she clarified that her work is “not about dreaming.”
“It’s all job. It’s all work. All reality. All blood, all sweat, no tears,” Rhimes said. And that caught up with her.
Rhimes called the feeling she gets while working a “hum,” a “shift inside me when the work gets good.”
“A hum begins in my brain and it grows and that hum sounds like the open road and I could drive it forever,” she said, adding, “The hum is action and activity, the hum is a drum. When you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness.”
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“Yes changed my life; Yes changed me,” Rhimes told her TED audience. The first thing she said yes to? Playing with her daughters, Harper, 14, Emerson, 4, and Beckett, 2.
“There was nothing special about it. We play. We are joined by [Emerson] sisters,” Rhimes said. “There is a lot of laughing, and dancing and singing. I give a dramatic reading from Everybody Poops. Nothing out of the ordinary, and yet it is extraordinary.”
The hum was back. Rhimes said she learned – and advised listeners to do the same – that “the hum is not work specific, the hum is joy specific. The hum is love specific.”
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While Rhimes contended that she still has “issues,” her “year of yes” reinvigorated her career and her personal life and taught her a lasting lesson: “Work doesn’t work without play.”
“My kids are my happy place. They’re my world,” she advised. “But it doesn’t have to be your kids, the fuel that feeds your home. It’s not about playing with your kids, it’s about joy, it’s about playing in general. Give yourself 15 minutes, figure out what makes you feel good and play in that arena.”
Shondaland’s #TGIT block (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) airs Thursdays starting at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.