Shonda Rhimes on dreams and being a powerful working woman who is also a mum

This Dartmouth commencement speech by Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s AnatomyPrivate Practice and Scandal, is awesome, and I’m not just saying that because she’s one of my heroes. Some highlights:

I did not dream of being a TV writer. Never, not once when I was here in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, did I say to myself, “Self, I want to write TV.” You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue sky’ed it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming, I was living in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, FYI … So one day I was sitting in that basement and I read an article that said — it was in The New York Times — and it said it was harder to get into USC Film School than it was to get into Harvard Law School. And I thought I could dream about being Toni Morrison, or I could do.

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.

Give up, parents. We can’t instill a love for something in our kids

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My 4yo made me draw this. She was obsessed with ‘Frozen’ at the time, and she loves to draw, so when she found all these drawing tutorials by Fun2Draw on YouTube, guess who ended up doing all the work? I’m not complaining; there are far worse things she could be watching on YouTube.

People often comment on how much my kid likes drawing and how well she colours inside the lines, and I say, well that’s only because she’s been practicing for years. And she has. I started drawing with/for her when she was one. It was the only way I could get her to sit through an entire two-hour episode of ‘American Idol’. Or a two-hour dinner in a restaurant. Or whatever else I needed her to sit through. We went through stacks of used paper and unused notebooks, and when she first discovered buses, I must have drawn literally a hundred or more of them, over and over and over again.

I guess all those hours I spent doodling for her are paying off now that she loves to draw and colour on her own, which makes me wonder if she would have ended up loving art anyway, or did I have a part to play in it? Certainly I’m proud and glad, but as this post by Penelope Trunk argues, we can’t force our kids to love something. And telling ourselves that it’s “good for them” or anything of the sort is us lying to ourselves about our own unfulfilled dreams and real motivations behind the “encouragement”.

She’s probably right. As parents, I think we have less influence over our children’s passions (and future) than we would like to believe. The only things we can do are give them the opportunities to discover, learn and grow, encourage them to dream, and teach them to be good, compassionate and hardworking human beings. Then we cross our fingers, and we wait.

Hopes for my little girl

I’m not kidding – I really do hope my kid grows up to do great things one day. For a long time, I’ve thought that if I have a boy, I want him to become a good man, and if I have a girl, I want her to change the world.

It’s very unfair, I know, but I really think it’s so hard to raise good men these days. I don’t think it’s that much easier with girls, but I guess it’s a reflection of what I feel the world needs today.

The world needs good men because there are so few of them. And we need good women who will change the world because it’s time they stepped up and into the spotlight (even more).

I hope my daughter grows up to be kind, compassionate, beautiful and intelligent, and then I hope that in her own way, big or little, she will one day change the world. And I really, really hope I don’t screw it up. No pressure.