The Surprising Way Shonda Rhimes Avoids Burnout

Photo courtesy Bret Hartman/TED.
Shonda Rhimes calls herself a titan. And who's going to debate her? After all, as she pointed out Monday night during the opening session of the 2016 TED Talks in Vancouver, Rhimes oversees 70 hours of TV each season, juggling a multi-million dollar budget, with three — sometimes four — shows in production at a time. And she loves it. Rhimes refers to this rush as "the hum," and as she details the struggle of juggling so much responsibility, you can hear the passion and the pride in her voice. Her success is the result of an imprecise mix of genius, hard work, and a fear of failure. But, like so many titans — and regular people — Rhimes realized the hum was not sustainable. There's a problem when the dream job doesn't involve enough dreaming. One day, the hum just stopped.
For anyone who spends every Thursday night in Shondaland, the idea that Rhimes lost her inspiration seems impossible — and terrifying. We depend on this woman for 70 hours of quality TV each year. And maybe for some of us, watching those shows is a way to make sure our hum doesn't wane. Thankfully, it wasn't too hard to Rhimes to get humming again — while she was surprised by the source of her newfound drive, many people won't be. As the hum faded, Rhimes decided to spend a year saying "yes" to everything, even things that scared her (the experience inspired her book, The Year of Yes). And that included saying "yes" every time one of her three daughters asked her to play. It was in play that she discovered her true hum, and learned just how crucial it is for dream jobs to involve, well, a little dreaming.
"Work doesn't work without play," Rhimes explained to us. "I said 'yes' to less work and more play." And she encouraged the audience to try the same. You don't need to be a titan to require a little time and space to think and goof off and let your mind wander. And you don't even need to have kids to spend time playing. Working all the time might lead to your first big win — or your 10th — but it's ultimately not sustainable. So find your joy — and realize the hum is not about work, it's about love. Why not start taking the 15 minutes of play right now, and watch Rhimes' full talk right here?

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