Five Reasons to Love Shonda Rhimes

shonda rhimes speech
Every so often, in our society, we get a flurry of noisy social media outrage – shoutrage, if you will – because someone has expressed an opinion that is (pause for sharp intake of breath) different from our own opinion.

Most recently it was TV craft/housing type Kirstie Allsopp, who apparently said something about how she thinks girls should get to the business of breeding earlier, and worry about careers later. You might agree, you might not – but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to feel strongly either way that Kirstie Allsopp has a particular worldview.

I suspect it’s something to do with the way we seem to revere celebrities these days. Like, you’re on TV so automatically you are smarter than me, or your opinion on gender, politics, or finances, is more credible, more important than mine. We look up to celebrities, expecting them to validate our view of the world, and seem unduly shocked when one of them says something we think is ill-informed, or just plain stupid.

I don’t want celebrities to be my touch-stone for what I think about the world. And I don’t want that for my daughter. Maybe that’s why I don’t care about what Kirstie Allsopp thinks about parenting.

Actually, if we’re going to talk about women who inspire me with their worldview, how about Shonda Rhimes?

Shonda is the black, female screenwriter, director and producer of some of the world’s most popular TV shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She’s smart, well-educated and powerful, and she recently gave a university commencement address at her old college, Dartmouth. The speech is well worth watching in full if you have the time, but if you don’t, here are five lessons I want my daughter to be learn, as shared by Shonda:


Dreams are lovely, says Shonda. It feels good blue-skying your life and plotting out what you’ll do when you have enough money, the right job, the right partner, the right house. But you can waste your life dreaming. Get a job, work hard, make things happen. You wish you could travel? Do it. Sell your car, buy a ticket, go. Want to be a writer? Do it. Start writing. Shonda says: “Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Do something until you can do something else.” 

Seriously, how amazing is that advice? How many people do you know who hate their job, hate their life, but sit around waiting for the magical One Day to do something about it, or who never appreciate what they have, because it isn’t what they dreamed of?


Hashtags are fun, says Shonda. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that using a hashtag ever made a difference.

What makes a difference is getting up off your sofa and doing something. Shonda advises young people to choose one cause and devote some time every week to making the world suck a little less. I think that’s amazing advice. How much better would the world be if we all did the same? Let’s teach our kids that they can make a difference when they DO something. And clicking a button to retweet or share a hashtag? That’s not the same thing at all.

Or, as Shonda puts it:  A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething


I think as women it’s easy to get caught up in feminist politics and think that the goal of feminism is allowing women to “have it all”. Sorry, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think the goal of feminism is allowing women the freedom and opportunity to choose from all the options. As Shonda says, if you make the choice to be a working mother, you are making sacrifices all the time – you attend a meeting, you miss sports day; you go to the recital, you miss someone’s presentation. It happens. Deal with it.

But if you’ve made that choice, and you want a career, don’t beat yourself up about the things you miss because your children gain in other ways – as a working parent, you’re setting a powerful example for your children. Or as Shonda puts it: “I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. In their world, 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 write all day – 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 who wasn’t doing.”


I love how Shonda says that when she was young, she dreamed of being the next Toni Morrison. But if she’d stuck doggedly to that path, of emulating someone else’s story, she never would have become Shonda Rhimes – which is a pretty amazing achievement in its own right. I think it’s all too easy for us all to fall into the trap of thinking we want to be just like this person, or that person, because they are respected, or wealthy, or beautiful, or whatever. But every day you waste trying to be someone else is a day you’re missing out on the opportunity to create your own adventure – which could be just as amazing as the one you’re coveting.


Life’s hard. Even if you’re Shonda Rhimes. And for our children, who have still got to navigate that path to their own future, there are tough times ahead. It’s okay to think it’s tough, says Shonda, but have some perspective. “Yes, it’s hard out there. But hard is relative. Elsewhere in the world, girls are harmed simply because they want to get an education. Slavery still exists. Children still die from malnutrition. The lint that accumulated in my naval while I gazed at it, feeling lost at not feeling special after graduation… that naval lint was embarrassed for me.” 

So there you have it. Five perfect reasons (I reckon) to love Shonda Rhimes. You can see her full speech below and it’s well worth a few minutes of your time. But better than that – show it to your kids. Because it contains a heck of a lot more wisdom than you’ll find in some half-hearted festival of outrage on Twitter most days…


10 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Love Shonda Rhimes”

  1. You share some mighty thought provoking fodder sometimes. Thank you. This was a brilliant interlude to a short moment this morning where worrying amounts of naval lint were starting to gather… Right, off to make more stuff happen and have this flagged up to watch this evening.

  2. Unfortunately, the stars of her shows get far more attention than she does, when in fact she has achieved far more and her achievements will stand far longer.

    Thanks for the analysis!

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