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Book Notes: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

I’d never heard of Shonda Rhimes before stumbling across Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. Apparently, she created some huge TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder). However, the title caught my eye and the preview sounded interesting:

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

After finishing the book, I can see why Rhimes is such a successful writer because she skillfully weaves complex human feelings into what feels like a casual conversation. Here are some quotes and my takeaways:

The most important thing is to take action.

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

Maybe you know exactly what 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.

You must do the things you think you cannot do. —ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

Things I agree with.

#StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU THEY ARE DOING IT ALL PERFECTLY IS A LIAR. […] If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite. If I’m accepting a prestigious award, I’m 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 trade-off.

Once I said Yes to difficult conversations, once I said Yes to saying No, I made an interesting discovery. That discovery was: happy, whole people are drawn to happy, whole people, but nothing makes a toxic person more miserable and destructive than a happy, whole person. Unhappy people do not like it when a fellow unhappy person becomes happy. I am absolutely sure that this is true.

Happiness.

Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be. Being traditional is not traditional anymore. It’s funny that we still think of it that way. Normalize your lives, people. You don’t want a baby? Don’t have one. I don’t want to get married? I won’t. You want to live alone? Enjoy it. You want to love someone? Love someone. Don’t apologize.

This is the real goal of financial independence, financial freedom, early retirement, whatever label you want to apply. You can do what you want, even it it doesn’t pay especially well. Most negative coverage of financial independence focuses on the idea of depriving yourself. We live in tiny houses, eat lentils and ketchup packets, and never have any fun. In other words, saying NO. However, I’ve always thought of it as the pursuit of being able to spend your time doing exactly what you want! It’s turning your inner desires from “maybe someday” (AKA never) into YES.

Bottom line. This book is another example that we all have our own hidden struggles, and all we can do is choose to face them and take action. Life isn’t fair. Your struggles are hard. Rhimes lost some toxic friends and made many new ones. I’ll repeat my favorite quote here – “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.”

Spending Diary: The Most Commonly Ignored Personal Finance Advice?

After finishing The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack, I found it to be a solid all-around personal finance book that joins others like If You Can by William Bernstein and The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason in the category of “recommended books about money that are short and easily digestible”. All good ideas for gifts for recent graduates.

They don’t shy away from what I think is the most commonly-ignored financial advice: TRACK YOUR SPENDING FOR THREE MONTHS. Even if you don’t track your budget closely after that, this initial spending diary can be eye-opening. Yes, it takes a bit of effort and can be rather uncomfortable psychologically. Here are some book highlights:

Track ALL of your spending…

For three months, keep track of everything you spend money on, no matter how small. That $1.50 bag of Cape Cod Waffle Cut Sea Salt potato chips? It counts, just as much as your four-figure mortgage or health insurance payment.

… for THREE MONTHS.

If you monitor only one month of spending, you won’t gain a full picture of where your money goes. Routine but sporadic expenses such as car repairs, doctor bills, and the emergency trip to the cat’s vet are more likely to occur over a several-month period.

Now, you can pick your “must keep or I’ll wither away” purchases and the things what won’t hurt as much to cut.

You need to determine what day-to-day spending is necessary and unavoidable, what is a luxury but helps you get through the day, and, finally, what is excess. Only then can you avoid falling prey to spending traps.

This allows you to make trade-offs: I’ll take advantage of the office coffee machine, but I’ll use the money I saved to travel to Italy next summer to attend my best friend’s wedding. I’ll drop my landline phone to pay for my gym membership or boost my child’s college savings.

Final tips. You can put everything on a single credit card or debit card, and then go through your purchases line-by-line. If you use cash, take a picture of your receipts and/or purchases on your phone. If you feel comfortable with it, link your account to Mint.com (or similar) and they will help you categorize things automatically. You’ll need to spend a few weeks teaching it (check in every few days), but it gets better over time.

If you can manage to track everything for three months to get an honest (if uncomfortable and scary!) view of your finances, you may find a big gap between what you think you spend vs. what you really spend. Where does your money go every month?

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