The 5 Commitments in Life to Focus On (Shonda Rhimes)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Year of Yes" by Shonda Rhimes. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the top five commitments in life to stick to? Why does Shonda Rhimes suggest these specific commitments?

If you’re struggling to live a productive and fulfilled life, Shonda Rhimes has you covered. In her book, Year of Yes, the television writer recommends five areas of life that you should stay committed to improving.

Let’s look at the areas of life you need to focus on in order to flourish.

From Fear to Love

Before the year of facing her fears began, Rhimes appeared to be on top of the world. She had an Ivy League education, a creative career she loved, fame, a beautiful home, and three wonderful daughters. She had worked hard to achieve success and recognition as the head showrunner for two wildly popular television shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and her production company, Shondaland, was working on a third. 

But behind the scenes, Rhimes was withering from the overwhelming and unnecessary commitments in life. She was overwhelmed by the demands of her career and coped by avoiding anything outside of work that pushed her out of her comfort zone. As a result, her life felt increasingly small and repetitive—she rarely socialized, and she stayed out of the public eye and hunkered down at home as much as possible. She refused every invitation to events, parties, award shows, and interview opportunities that came her way.

Additionally, Rhimes worked under immense pressure because the success of her company and television shows rode squarely on her back. As one of the first Black women to achieve such a high level of success and power in the entertainment industry, she felt she was working not only for personal success but also for the success of all Black women in the industry. As a result, she felt obligated to never make mistakes. 

(Shortform note: The pressure Rhimes felt as a Black woman—that her failures would reflect on Black women as a whole—is a common experience for members of marginalized groups that psychologists call stereotype threat. Research has shown that experiencing stereotype threats can be detrimental to people’s mental health, work performance, and motivation. It can also make members of marginalized groups feel a sense of responsibility to “break barriers” and pave the way for others in their community, as Rhimes felt.)

One day, with the help of her sister’s honest feedback, Rhimes realized that she wasn’t happy or satisfied. She was letting her introverted personality, career, societal pressures, social anxiety, and self-doubt rule her life. As a result, she never said “yes” to anything challenging or scary. This realization inspired her to experiment with a new way of living—she committed to facing her fears. This helped her realize five areas of life that she needed to commit to so that she could be happy and liberated.

(Shortform note: Because Rhimes was overwhelmed by the pressures of her career and lacked good coping skills for her stress and anxiety, she used a common but unhelpful tactic to feel better—avoidance. In The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal explains that avoiding stress, like refusing to do anything outside your comfort zone, can cause stress to snowball. For example, avoidance can lead to isolation and substance abuse, which lead to more stress and harm. Instead, Kelly recommends changing how you think about stress, as your mindset can make the difference whether or not a stressful situation impacts you positively or negatively.)

The Transformative Commitments

As Rhimes journeyed through her year-long experiment, embracing her difficulties instead of avoiding them, she discovered many areas of her life where she didn’t feel satisfied, engaged, empowered, or free. To improve these areas, she made five transformative, liberating, yet challenging commitments that can change your life, too. 

  • Commitment #1: Make yourself seen and heard.
  • Commitment #2: Re-examine your priorities.
  • Commitment #3: Get comfortable with conflict.
  • Commitment #4: Embrace your truth.
  • Commitment #5: Let go of unsupportive relationships. 
The 5 Commitments in Life to Focus On (Shonda Rhimes)

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shonda Rhimes's "Year of Yes" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Year of Yes summary:

  • The story of a woman who said "yes" to every opportunity for a year
  • How to go from surviving to full-hearted thriving
  • Why you shouldn't be uncomfortable with receiving praise

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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