How Shonda Rhimes Saved My Vacation

By Puja

I just came back from vacation a mere 18 hours ago. If you follow me on twitter and Instagram (@meanrice) you will see that I went on a girls trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I am what one can call a grump. I have spent a lot of time building up this grumpiness to a curmudgeon level, no one asked me to, it just happened. It was easier to be cynical and maybe a sign of weakness that I let life beat me down until all I could be was bitter. I had become a grumpus before 40, which is especially stupid since people tell me I look younger than 30 (either they are blind or the lighting is bad, but either way thanks genes!). So as a favor to the wonderful women I went on vacation with I undertook reading Shonda Rhimes’ “The Year of Yes” before getting on the plane.

I had heard good things about this book; and I wanted to be sure that I was not the reason I wasn’t open to a good time; and, in the alternative, that I was not the reason we had a bad time and I never get invited to go on a girls trip again. And die a lonely grumpus, with a lot of cats. Like Shonda, I realize that I tend to be dismissive to certain things. Either I point out the flaw in the plan, or I just sit it out because I was uncomfortable or I let my anxieties dictate my life. I didn’t take the time to examine why I was saying no. Sigh, I was the perennial purse watcher. In The Year of Yes Shonda details how she went from curmudgeon in training to owning her fly fabulous Self. I listened to this book (read by the wonderful author) the day before leaving for Cabo, on the plane, on the beach, and finished it on the flight home. And truth be told, I will probably go back to it several times until I have internalized the messages.

The messages of The Year of Yes are essentially the same things the women of this blog have been telling you about for the last 5 months: when trying new things/existing beyond your comfort zone, you must (1) be willing to be vulnerable and/or open, (2) be present, (3) celebrate where you are in your journey, and (4) be appreciative your accomplishments. Let’s take a look at how each of these guide posts were executed and the resulting memories  they created (ugh, so corporate speak crept back in to my lexicon 18 hours after leaving paradise).


(1) Be willing to be vulnerable and/or open

Well I think me recognizing that I am an anxiety-prone crazy woman was my willingness to be more vulnerable. It led to me reading this book. BUT ok here was my biggest hang-up about this trip before going in: my roommate is this gorgeous, bubbly, sassy, young marathon runner and I am essentially a mountain troll by comparison. This is how I talk to myself people; My self-loathing has zero chill. I was prepared to fake not being worried about how I looked in a bathing suit in front of her, fake being comfortable in a bathing suit, and if all else fails, it was an all-inclusive resort, get and stay drunk.

I was prepared for a weekend of me slowly retreating into myself and filled with self-criticism every time we changed bathing suits. That first morning, my roommate and I woke up a little hung over and went to work out, me on the beach, she to run. We met in the resort gym and didn’t speak to each other, just worked. For those reading this who know me, you know I rarely workout with people I know. To me, it is like getting caught with my pants down, and who likes that feeling? Not I, said the mountain troll. When we finally got back to the room, she commented that I did kill it on the bike (my thighs needed work after wobbling off the sand) and I pointed out that her mountain climbers were so sharp, she can cut glass with them. When we acknowledged each other’s fitness efforts we established our common ground (other than drinking, singlehood, and being smart alecky) and I put my guard down. She’s a sister in the foxhole. She works as hard as I do (probably harder, she is a distance runner) but the point is she works for it, just like I do. Nothing brings women closer together than trading war stories.  Ok so I was able to ‘let it all hang out’ so to speak on this trip, and when you are not expending  energy trying to be something you are not, you get all that energy to throw behind having a great time.

(2) Be present

Shonda talked a lot about cutting toxic people out of her life in this book, and recognizing those who stand in her corner. I went on vacation with a guy who did not like the amount of time I spent taking pictures. Not mad because I wasn’t paying him attention, mad because I was not living in the moment (since you know after you take a picture, you have to post it to social media). I don’t 100% agree with him, that taking pictures is a bad thing, and at the time I said that I was enjoying myself in the moment but I wanted to capture it and share it with everyone because I was enjoying it so much. I wanted to spread the joy. But I heard him, I was using my camera as a barrier between me and the moment and with him, and the constant checking for likes and comments did the same thing. And this time around, travelling with women who like to take pictures, was like travelling with my tribe. The scenery, group activities, inside jokes, our fashion, the fabulous food, were all memorialized for us on digital celluloid. Maybe the photos will act like a talisman to ward off future Monday blues or just sit in the photo cloud until I die, but I think I did a really good job only capturing meaningful moments or things that will evoke a day’s worth of memories. Because I wanted to be in the moment and present for all experiences, I even built in time alone to go take walks and snap as many pictures of things without having a camera (phone) in my face when talking to my friends. I’m going to term this adulting gone right. Listen to what others have to say, you may not be aware of how your habits affect others, and if you objectively think they are no problems, keep doing you. But if you are not having fun, or able to make memories, or get to know those around you, step back and see what your experiences are without doing the thing. Then find a nice compromise. If you want others to take your feelings into account, you need to take theirs into account. That is the social contract we all signed when we started building social lives. Be mindful. Be kind. Be present.

(3) Celebrate where you are in your journey

So we know where this is going: being in public wearing a bathing suit is terrifying. It is especially terrifying since the last time I was comfortable in a bathing suit, it had Kermit the Frog on it and my little sister had a matching one. I have a hashtag I created to detail all it takes to be comfortable in a bathing suit: #StupidBathingSuitSeason. Ugh. I hate my thighs the most out of everything on my body (but left-calf fat pocket comes very close). And when you wear a bathing suit, even if you are covered up, you know that people know you are covering up something you are not happy with. This was a test of my membership in the Body Positivity Movement. During her year of yes, Shonda lost over 120 pounds, she made it sound effortless and easy, and if I ever get a chance to corner her, I will snatch her food journal because I want to see for myself. My journey is helmed by Captain Struggles (that’s me) so it is not easy. And the 2.5 weeks before Cabo involved intense cardio sessions, a very calorie restrictive diet (If I never see another lean cuisine pizza again, I will be ok), and a lot of praying. A lot. And the end result was worth it. I would not say I flaunted it, but I didn’t run and hide. When I took pictures next to my fly and attractive girlfriends, I didn’t look like a circle next to their straight lines. I wasn’t hiding behind them, I was front and center, cellulite-covered thighs and all. And I didn’t care. I look the best I have in years, and I feel even better. I didn’t realize that I didn’t look monstrous by comparison until I saw the pictures. If you take a look at #StupidBathingSuitSeason on Instagram and peek at where I started to where I am, hell yes you would celebrate too. Why was I working so hard, if I wasn’t going to enjoy my moment in the sun? A LITERAL MOMENT IN THE SUN? My thighs that I hate so much have carried my body from sheer force of will when my brain says quit and have held me upright when I hated myself. My thighs that I don’t ever like to look at, are forces to be reckoned with (also, I named them “Thunder” and “Lightening”), and being ashamed of them is doing them a disservice. Being comfortable in your own skin is something I wish for everyone, it makes your life’s journeys more celebration than tribulation.

(4) Be appreciative your accomplishments

Be appreciative of your accomplishments is kind of like the other side of the coin for all of these lessons. How I differentiate it is by asking this question: was everyone given the same opportunity to do/go/achieve whatever it is I am enjoying/doing/seeing? And if it was, did I make it easier or harder for them to come behind me? Shonda writes very poignantly about accepting the Women in Entertainment Power 100 award in 2015 for what she felt was for being a Black Woman in Hollywood. She said she was able to run into an already cracked glass ceiling to start normalizing that powerful women come in call packages (I didn’t want to say ‘shapes and sizes’ because I’m not as happy with Shonda on the ‘you were a big girl, why was Bailey your only curvy character?’ issue). She paid homage to those who came before her and had hope for those who will come after her, that is appreciating your accomplishment. I think me taking a scalpel to my motives and my vacation to show you why and how it was different than vacations of the past was the accomplishment. So be thankful. Just kidding. I am a self-identified grump, it takes A LOT to get me excited, but only a little to get me disappointed [the start], I am telling you The Year of Yes is a relatable book that can get you to think about changing your life [bettering the path]. We are all on a journey towards happiness, we all have that opportunity in front of us every day, how much longer and harder do we make it by being ungrateful and hateful? Oh and the accomplishment I’m also appreciative of, I am one hell of a friend picker. No better people to walk towards happiness than the people in my circle.

Things keeping me sane this week: Last week I went to a lecture by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) and one of the things she talked about is finding your Ikigai. What is ikigai? It is the Japanese word for “reason to get up in the morning.” I do not know what my reason for living is yet. Right now I get up because Visa expects money and unfortunately sleeping does not generate any income (unless we can harness the power from my snoring, then maybe???). But I would like to think that I have turned the corner and at least recognize that I have an ikigai that involves more than just Visa (and Discover, and AmEx, le sigh). It should be fun finding out what it is right? What’s an adventure without a couple of side quests?

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