Shonda Rhimes is my new Oprah (don't worry Oprah, I still love you, but you are not around as much as you used to be.) This middle-aged powerhouse, creative genius, single mom and idea-packed dynamo literally OWNS Thursday night on ABC. An entire night on network TV!
I have to be honest. I consider myself a bit of an expert on Shonda Rhimes and all things ShondaLand. In the way of evidence, I have watched all 394 episodes of Grey's Anatomy, >Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder (not including reruns on Lifetime or screening on NetFlix which would be too embarrassing to calculate). I have watched Shonda's inspiring commencement speech at Dartmouth from 2014 dozens of times.
Sure, to the casual viewer, ShondaLand might look frivolous and make believe. In ShondaLand, busy professionals with complicated personal lives look stunning every day, wear perfectly-tailored, expensive and ironed clothes, sport impeccable physiques/figures without ever going to a gym, or any of the mundane tasks done on planet Earth. And yes in ShondaLand, one can work with and have relationships with any number of medical, legal or political colleagues without permanent damage to their job trajectory or their emotional stability -- and unlimited "meetings" in the on-call room. But dig a little deeper and there is so much more. Here is just a sampling of what I learn in my frequent visits to ShondaLand.
1. ALWAYS STRIVE FOR NEW GOALS: Just look at Arizona. Despite being double certified in complex "tiny human" specialties, Arizona is now pursuing a fellowship. And let's face it, with her pedigree, experience and complicated personal life, she could easily rest on her pretend laurels. But she doesn't. So we shouldn't either -- continue to push forward in whatever you want to be great at.
2. HAVE A PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO: Let's face it -- Annalise Keating's life is a big hot mess. Between her teaching, caseload, unstable interns, complex office staff, philandering (and now dead) husband, she should be in bed with the covers pulled over her head. But watch her come alive cross-examining a witness, developing a case strategy or uncovering new evidence. That woman rocks. Your career or family or hobby or cause can give you purpose, focus and order -- no matter how unbelievably chaotic and troubled life sometimes seems.
3. FIND YOUR PERSON: Okay, Meredith and Christina are twisted sisters, who have fought, yelled, stopped speaking when either of them screws up -- interferes with a clinical trial, experienced post-traumatic stress, fought over research resources. But no matter where they are and where they go, their support for each other is unflinching. They push the boundaries of unconditional love without ever having them break. So find your person -- at work, at home, in your marriage, in a support group, in a carpool, in the Starbucks line, somewhere, anywhere.
4. DON'T LET YOUR PAST DEFINE YOU: You could be the daughter of a mean, Alzheimer-suffering brilliant doctor who didn't know how to show love ala Meredith. Or you can be the daughter of a convicted terrorist and mastermind of the secret, violent, underground arm of the government and still have a life -- just look at Olivia. In ShondaLand, people overcome everything -- alcoholism, disease, divorce, abandonment -- and find a way to be brilliant. So find a way to be brilliant in your own life.
5. BE PREPARED BECAUSE BAD STUFF HAPPENS: In ShondaLand, bad things come at everyone -- fast and furiously. Planes crash, spouses cheat, violence strikes, marriages end, disease happens, friends lie, people die, and friends go to jail. Life is really hard. Your particular challenges might not be faced in high heels with a full face of make-up or on a network show viewed by millions. Be prepared for the unpredictability and inevitable challenges of real life. Figure out solutions, lean on your "person", mediate, exercise, read, help someone -- whatever works.
Okay, you might think I am trying to justify the extraordinary time commitment (or waste of time depending on your point of view) on my frequent visits to ShondaLand. But let me tell you this, Shonda Rhimes has got serious game. She has defied stereotypes, disregarded traditional rules, created memorable, passionate, strong role models, while raising her family. And you and I might not be the best-dressed and most talented fixer, physician, lawyer, professor, or Commander-in-Chief . But as Shonda said to the students at Dartmouth in 2014:
My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination...You are... citizens of the real world. You have a responsibility to become a person worthy of joining and contributing to society. So be brave!!!
I don't know about you, but she sort of makes me want to challenge myself to be awesome -- every single day -- even when it's hard -- even when I fail. Shonda for President!