Monthly Archives: June 2014

6/23/14 – She believed she could, so she did

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“The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” – Fabienne  Fredrickson

“Make your choice, adventurous stranger, strike the bell and bide the danger, or wonder, till it drives you mad, what would have followed if you  had.” – C.S. Lewis

 I made a massive decision two and a half months ago that those very close to me have been made privy to. I kept it all pretty close to the cuff for personal and professional reasons but I’ve decided it’s time to share it now as it’s more real than ever this week. There comes a time in your life when you have to stop, analyze and redirect your path. I did just this and it was one of the most difficult whilst also being one of the easiest decisions of my life. As many of you know, I have two amazing jobs that happen to involve the same network of people (amazing, driven, beautiful people) but one of them is a little more personal for me, in a way that I don’t think I ever realized sort of defines me as a person. You know, it’s funny, I made it almost 32 years of my life not realizing my passion. I was living my passion daily, ever since I was a child, but it never showed itself in my reflection until recently.

I’ve always been a giver (heads out of the gutter some of you). When I was a child I asked my parents to use my allowance to support an adopted boy through Children International named Marvin, a humpback whale named Colt, a bottle nosed dolphin and the Free Willy Keiko Foundation. To me this was normal, I never thought twice. As the years went on I continued to give, not for any type of recognition, but because it completes me. Giving my time, my money (although many times I shouldn’t have haha), my resources, my love, my heart, etc. is what makes my soul shine. I don’t know how not to do this, it completes a part of my soul that is hard to explain. Some may argue that I give too much, and I challenge that many just don’t give enough.

Let’s get full circle here… Almost three years ago I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful man who I not only call my Boss, who is not only a friend and father figure to me, but also one of the founders of CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees, where I’m currently Executive Director). From that day forward I started to follow this passion inside of me that hadn’t yet shown its face. Halfway through working with CORE I met a “superhero” that truly saved my life. It was in his eyes that my passion showed its face and it starred back at me in a way I will never forget. I’ve looked into the eyes of many people and seen parts of myself I didn’t realize existed before, many eyes around this world have been beautiful mirrors for me, but it wasn’t until I looked into the eyes of Eddie Livingston that my soul felt more alive than it ever had. He unfortunately passed away last November and the impact that this loss had on my life is indescribable. It was then that I began to do more self-reflection than usual. After two and a half years of working with CORE while also working my other job I decided to do what I said above: stop, analyze and redirect my path.

So I sit here now after a long work week traveling for both jobs, at an airport, tears rolling down my face, listening to my headphones among total strangers, typing away my next steps for all who care to read them, in hopes that somewhere in my experiences someone learns a little something new about themselves.

On Wednesday I will pack up my home, drive it to storage in Nashville, Tennessee, then head to Atlanta for a month until I buy a new home in Nashville the first week of August. On August 23nd I will begin my studies towards a Masters of Education  in Non-Profit Leadership. This is where my heart is, this is what I’m supposed to do, this is my PASSION. There is no better feeling to me than giving back…and that’s what we do at CORE, we give back to our own! I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and excited to travel down this new path.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this move isn’t easy. I leave behind a city I’ve called home for 6 years, some of the best friends I have in this world and close a chapter that included my first Masters degree, my first two homes, the grieving grounds after the loss of my father and so many memories, good and bad. But this is what life is about, right? A book of chapters that tells our story, a puzzle with so many pieces from people, places and moments all around this world that creates who we are and the mark we leave on the world.

So, with this post, I begin to close this chapter and start a new one. One that I’m so excited to write! Closing a chapter doesn’t mean goodbyes, it means until we speak/meet again. No friendships end for me, I don’t care where you live, you don’t leave my puzzle and your role in my book cannot be erased. The city of Chicago is truly magical and will always hold a special part of my heart. I close this chapter full of gratitude and driven beyond what I thought was possible.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “Every calling is great when greatly pursued.” I’ve never heard anything call to me louder than this and this calling shakes my soul alive.

Until next time, Chicago! Here I grow! And to everyone out there reading this, “Believe with all of your heart that you will do what you were made to do.”- Orison Swett Marden. I believe that I can, so I am!

 

 

6/11/14 – Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just … do.

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“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.

So, Lesson One, I guess is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just … do. So you think, “I wish I could travel.” Great. Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to Bangkok, and go. Right now. I’m serious.

You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.” – Shonda Rhimes

There are many women in this world that have and/or continue to inspire me. Shonda Rhimes has always been one of them. Thank you Marcee Manglardi for KNOWING that this was a must watch, must read for me. At this exact moment in my life I’ve never felt more alive and more in tune with what she says here on June 8th. Preach it, Shonda! AMAZING!

You must watch or read this..MAKE THE TIME! Just…Do! And then DO something with the inspiration that I KNOW you will walk away with. My heart is racing, I can tell you that much!

Shonda Rhimes Commencement Address

(Click above to take you directly to the Dartmouth page)

June 8, 2014

 

President Hanlon, faculty, staff, honored guests, parents, students, families and friends—good morning and congratulations to the Dartmouth graduating class of 2014!

So.

This is weird.

Me giving a speech. In general, I do not like giving speeches. Giving a speech requires standing in front of large groups of people while they look at you and it also requires talking. I can do the standing part OK. But the you looking and the me talking … I am not a fan. I get this overwhelming feeling of fear. Terror, really. Dry mouth, heart beats superfast, everything gets a little bit slow motion. Like I might pass out. Or die. Or poop my pants or something. I mean, don’t worry. I’m not going to pass out or die or poop my pants. Mainly because just by telling you that it could happen, I have somehow neutralized it as an option. Like as if saying it out loud casts some kind of spell where now it cannot possibly happen now. Vomit. I could vomit. See. Vomiting is now also off the table. Neutralized it. We’re good.

Anyway, the point is. I do not like to give speeches. I’m a writer. I’m a TV writer. I like to write stuff for other people to say. I actually contemplated bringing Ellen Pompeo or Kerry Washington here to say my speech for me … but my lawyer pointed out that when you drag someone across state lines against their will, the FBI comes looking for you, so…

I don’t like giving speeches, in general, because of the fear and terror. But this speech? This speech, I really did not want to give.

A Dartmouth Commencement speech? Dry mouth. Heart beats so, so fast. Everything in slow motion. Pass out, die, poop.

Look, it would be fine if this were, 20 years ago. If it were back in the day when I graduated from Dartmouth. Twenty-three years ago, I was sitting right where you are now. And I was listening to Elizabeth Dole speak. And she was great. She was calm and she was confident. It was just … different. It felt like she was just talking to a group of people. Like a fireside chat with friends. Just Liddy Dole and like 9,000 of her closest friends. Because it was 20 years ago. And she was just talking to a group of people.

Now? Twenty years later? This is no fireside chat. It’s not just you and me. This speech is filmed and streamed and tweeted and uploaded. NPR has like, a whole site dedicated to Commencement speeches. A whole site just about commencement speeches. There are sites that rate them and mock them and dissect them. It’s weird. And stressful. And kind of vicious if you’re an introvert perfectionist writer who hates speaking in public in the first place.

When President Hanlon called me—and by the way, I would like to thank President Hanlon for asking me way back in January, thus giving me a full six months of terror and panic to enjoy. When President Hanlon called me, I almost said no. Almost.

Dry mouth. Heart beats so, so fast. Everything in slow motion. Pass out, die, poop.

But I’m here. I am gonna do it. I’m doing it. You know why?

Because I like a challenge. And because this year I made myself a promise that I was going to do the stuff that terrifies me. And because, 20-plus years ago when I was trudging uphill from the River Cluster through all that snow to get to the Hop for play rehearsal, I never imagined that I would one day be standing here, at the Old Pine lectern. Staring out at all of you. About to throw down on some wisdom in the Dartmouth Commencement address.

So, you know, yeah. Moments.

Also, I’m here because I really, really wanted some EBAs.

OK.

I want to say right now that every single time someone asked me what I was going to talk about in this speech, I would boldly and confidently tell them that I had all kinds wisdom to share. I was lying. I feel wildly unqualified to give you advice. There is no wisdom here. So all I can do is talk about some stuff that could maybe be useful to you, from one Dartmouth grad to another. Some stuff that won’t ever show up in a Meredith Grey voiceover or a Papa Pope monologue. Some stuff I probably shouldn’t be telling you here now because of the uploading and the streaming and the tweeting. But I am going to pretend that it is 20 years ago. That it’s just you and me. That we’re having a fireside chat. Screw the outside world and what they think. I’ve already said “poop” like five times already anyway … things are getting real up in here.

OK, wait. Before I talk to you. I want to talk to your parents. Because the other thing about it being 20 years later is that I’m a mother now. So I know some things, some very different things. I have three girls. I’ve been to the show. You don’t know what that means, but your parents do. You think this day is all about you. But your parents … the people who raised you … the people who endured you … they potty trained you, they taught you to read, they survived you as a teenager, they have suffered 21 years and not once did they kill you. This day … you call it your graduation day. But this day is not about you. This is their day. This is the day they take back their lives, this is the day they earn their freedom. This day is their Independence Day. So, parents, I salute you. And as I have an eight-month-old, I hope to join your ranks of freedom in 20 years!

OK. So here comes the real deal part of the speech, or you might call it, Some Random Stuff Some Random Alum Who Runs a TV Show Thinks I Should Know Before I Graduate:

You ready?

When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things. They have wisdom to impart. They have lessons to share. They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don’t stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true.

I think that’s crap.

I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.

The dreamers. They stare at the sky and they make plans and they hope and they talk about it endlessly. And they start a lot of sentences with “I want to be …” or “I wish.”

“I want to be a writer.” “I wish I could travel around the world.”

And they dream of it. The buttoned-up ones meet for cocktails and they brag about their dreams, and the hippie ones have vision boards and they meditate about their dreams. Maybe you write in journals about your dreams or discuss it endlessly with your best friend or your girlfriend or your mother. And it feels really good. You’re talking about it, and you’re planning it. Kind of. You are blue-skying your life. And that is what everyone says you should be doing. Right? I mean, that’s what Oprah and Bill Gates did to get successful, right?

No.

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.

So, Lesson One, I guess is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just … do. So you think, “I wish I could travel.” Great. Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to Bangkok, and go. Right now. I’m serious.

You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.

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. Anyway, there I was in that basement, and I was dreaming of being Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. And guess what? I couldn’t be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, because Toni Morrison already had that job and she wasn’t interested in giving it up. 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.

At film school, I discovered an entirely new way of telling stories. A way that suited me. A way that brought me joy. A way that flipped this switch in my brain and changed the way I saw the world. Years later, I had dinner with Toni Morrison. All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.

Lesson Two. Lesson two is that tomorrow is going to be the worst day ever for you.

When I graduated from Dartmouth that day in 1991, when I was sitting right where you are and I was staring up at Elizabeth Dole speaking, I will admit that I have no idea what she was saying. Couldn’t even listen to her. Not because I was overwhelmed or emotional or any of that. But because I had a serious hangover. Like, an epic painful hangover because (and here is where I apologize to President Hanlon because I know that you are trying to build a better and more responsible Dartmouth and I applaud you and I admire you and it is very necessary) but I was really freaking drunk the night before. And the reason I’d been so drunk the night before, the reason I’d done upside down margarita shots at Bones Gate was because I knew that after graduation, I was going to take off my cap and gown, my parents were going to pack my stuff in the car and I was going to go home and probably never come back to Hanover again. And even if I did come back, it wouldn’t matter because it wouldn’t be the same because I didn’t live here anymore.

On my graduation day, I was grieving.

My friends were celebrating. They were partying. They were excited. So happy. No more school, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks. And I was like, are you freaking kidding me? You get all the fro‑yo you want here! The gym is free. The apartments in Manhattan are smaller than my suite in North Mass. Who cared if there was no place to get my hair done? All my friends are here. I have a theatre company here. I was grieving. I knew enough about how the world works, enough about how adulthood plays out, to be grieving.

Here’s where I am going to embarrass myself and make you all feel maybe a little bit better about yourselves. I literally lay down on the floor of my dorm room and cried while my mother packed up my room. I refused to help her. Like, hell no I won’t go. I nonviolent-protested leaving here. Like, went limp like a protestor, only without the chanting—it was really pathetic. If none of you lie down on a dirty hardwood floor and cry today while your mommy packs up your dorm room, you are already starting your careers out ahead of me. You are winning.

But here’s the thing. The thing I really felt like I knew was that the real world sucks. And it is scary. College is awesome. You’re special here. You’re in the Ivy League, you are at the pinnacle of your life’s goals at this point—your entire life up until now has been about getting into some great college and then graduating from that college. And now, today, you have done it. The moment you get out of college, you think you are going to take the world by storm. All doors will be opened to you. It’s going to be laughter and diamonds and soirees left and right.

What really happens is that, to the rest of the world, you are now at the bottom of the heap. Maybe you’re an intern, possibly a low-paid assistant. And it is awful. The real world, it sucked so badly for me. I felt like a loser all of the time. And more than a loser? I felt lost.

Which brings me to clarify lesson number two.

Tomorrow is going to be the worst day ever for you. But don’t be an asshole.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it is hard out there. But hard is relative. I come from a middle-class family, my parents are academics, I was born after the civil rights movement, I was a toddler during the women’s movement, I live in the United States of America, all of which means I’m allowed to own my freedom, my rights, my voice, and my uterus; and I went to Dartmouth and I earned an Ivy League degree.

The lint in my navel that accumulated while I gazed at it as I suffered from feeling lost about how hard it was to not feel special after graduation … that navel lint was embarrassed for me.

Elsewhere in the world, girls are harmed simply because they want to get an education. Slavery still exists. Children still die from malnutrition. In this country, we lose more people to handgun violence than any other nation in the world. Sexual assault against women in America is pervasive and disturbing and continues at an alarming rate.

So yes, tomorrow may suck for you—as it did for me. But as you stare at the lint in your navel, have some perspective. We are incredibly lucky. We have been given a gift. An incredible education has been placed before us. We ate all the fro-yo we could get our hands on. We skied. We had EBAs at 1 a.m. We built bonfires and got frostbite and had all the free treadmills. We beer-ponged our asses off. Now it’s time to pay it forward.

Find a cause you love. It’s OK to pick just one. You are going to need to spend a lot of time out in the real world trying to figure out how to stop feeling like a lost loser, so one cause is good. Devote some time every week to it.

Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.

Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it’s good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. Don’t be an asshole.

Lesson number three.

So you’re out there, and you’re giving back and you’re doing, and it’s working. And life is good. You are making it. You’re a success. And it’s exciting and it’s great. At least it is for me. I love my life. I have three TV shows at work and I have three daughters at home. And it’s all amazing, and I am truly happy. And people are constantly asking me, how do you do it?

And usually, they have this sort of admiring and amazed tone.

Shonda, how do you do it all?

Like I’m full of magical magic and special wisdom-ness or something.

How do you do it all?

And I usually just smile and say like, “I’m really organized.” Or if I’m feeling slightly kindly, I say, “I have a lot of help.”

And those things are true. But they also are not true.

And this is the thing that I really want to say. To all of you. Not just to the women out there. Although this will matter to you women a great deal as you enter the work force and try to figure out how to juggle work and family. But it will also matter to the men, who I think increasingly are also trying to figure out how to juggle work and family. And frankly, if you aren’t trying to figure it out, men of Dartmouth, you should be. Fatherhood is being redefined at a lightning-fast rate. You do not want to be a dinosaur.

So women and men of Dartmouth: As you try to figure out the impossible task of juggling work and family and you hear over and over and over again that you just need a lot of help or you just need to be organized or you just need to try just a little bit harder … as a very successful woman, a single mother of three, who constantly gets asked the question “How do you do it all?” For once I am going to answer that question with 100 percent honesty here for you now. Because it’s just us. Because it’s our fireside chat. Because somebody has to tell you the truth.

Shonda, how do you do it all?

The answer is this: I don’t.

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.

And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. 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 run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, 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 didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing.

Lesson Number Three is that anyone who tells you they are doing it all perfectly is a liar.

OK.

I fear I’ve scared you or been a little bit bleak, and that was not my intention. It is my hope that you run out of here, excited, leaning forward, into the wind, ready to take the world by storm. That would be so very fabulous. For you to do what everyone expects of you. For you to just go be exactly the picture of hardcore Dartmouth awesome.

My point, I think, is that it is OK if you don’t. My point is that it can be scary to graduate. That you can lie on the hardwood floor of your dorm room and cry while your mom packs up your stuff. That you can have an impossible dream to be Toni Morrison that you have to let go of. That every day you can feel like you might be failing at work or at your home life. That the real world is hard.

And yet, you can still wake up every single morning and go, “I have three amazing kids and I have created work I am proud of, and I absolutely love my life and I would not trade it for anyone else’s life ever.”

You can still wake up one day and find yourself living a life you never even imagined dreaming of.

My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination. So my dreams? Can suck it.

You can wake up one day and find that you are interesting and powerful and engaged. You can wake up one day and find that you are a doer.

You can be sitting right where you are now. Looking up at me. Probably—hopefully, I pray for you—hung over. And then 20 years from now, you can wake up and find yourself in the Hanover Inn full of fear and terror because you are going to give the Commencement speech. Dry mouth. Heart beats so, so fast. Everything in slow motion. Pass out, die, poop.

Which one of you will it be? Which member of the 2014 class is going to find themselves standing up here? Because I checked and it is pretty rare for an alum to speak here. It’s pretty much just me and Robert Frost and Mr. Rogers, which is crazy awesome.

Which one of you is going to make it up here? I really hope that it’s one of you. Seriously.

When it happens, you’ll know what this feels like.

Dry mouth. Heart beats so, so fast. Everything moves in slow motion.

Graduates, every single one of you, be proud of your accomplishments. Make good on your diplomas.

You are no longer students. You are no longer works in progress. You are now citizens of the real world. You have a responsibility to become a person worthy of joining and contributing to society. Because who you are today … that’s who you are.

So be brave.

Be amazing.

Be worthy.

And every single time you get a chance?

Stand up in front of people.

Let them see you. Speak. Be heard.

Go ahead and have the dry mouth.

Let your heart beat so, so fast.

Watch everything move in slow motion.

So what?

You what?

You pass out, you die, you poop?

No.

And this is really the only lesson you’ll ever need to know …

You take it in.

You breathe this rare air.

You feel alive.

You be yourself.

You truly finally always be yourself.

Thank you. Good luck.