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How Shonda Rhimes Answered My Biggest Life Question

It probably started in the 4th grade, when we moved from New York City to the quaint Connecticut town of Westport. We relocated in the middle of the school year, and it was clear right away that these girls knew things I didn't. Like how to pin their straight, honey colored hair back with pink headbands, how to line up outside the classroom waiting for the bell to ring to start the day and how to ski. Everyone I met those first few months in Connecticut compared notes on ski conditions in New England the way me and my friends talked about where to get the best "slice" (pizza) on the East Side.

These suburban dolls knew where the bathrooms were, who the right girls were to whisper secrets to and, by the sixth grade, the best part of Compo Beach to lie out with your tanning reflector in the summer.

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I, on the other hand, knew almost nothing about this life. Even though I eventually figured out my way around a cul de sac, I've never fully excised the suspicion that, while some women were given the playbook for life, I was in the bathroom putting on bubblegum lip gloss.

You might be surprised to read this if you know me, since I'm good at acting like I have it together. I have a somewhat deep voice, and I make direct eye contact with people even if I have very little idea what I'm talking about. I also do a lot of active listening. I nod my head a lot and interject with words like, "Really?" and "That's fantastic!" I've discovered that when you appear interested in other people, it signals to them that you have your shit together. How much of a mess can you be if you have the space in your brain to take in other ideas, right? Or at least act like you are.

The challenge of this feigned confidence technique, though, is that on one of those days when I am sure you have the answers and I don't, like whenever I walk in to a conversation between moms about the far superior developmental education versus the public school education my boys are getting, or how it's possible to juggle work and motherhood as long as you have a lot of help, or how they can eat whatever they want because of their naturally fast metabolism, despite looking cool in the moment, I almost always crumble on my steering wheel driving away. Part of the problem is that I think everything women tell me is the truth.

Why would a sistah lie to me? We're women, we're in this together, right?

"Wrong," my husband reminds me regularly. "You have to stop believing every single thing that women tell you. That's why you have this whole 'everyone got the playbook but me theory.' No one gets the playbook, everyone is making it up, everyone is doing exactly what you are doing to greater or lesser effect in their lives. They may talk a better game and do more research than you on education or nutrition or nitrate-free sippy cups or whatever, but, basically, everyone is throwing stuff against the wall, in this case their kids, and hoping the good stuff sticks."

It's times like these when I feel blessed to be married to such a wise man. I make sure to write them down in a notebook for the times when I hate him.

And I absolutely took great comfort in my husband's theory that no one has any more information than I do about how to live life to the fullest and that we are all just showing up everyday hoping for the best until I started working on a project celebrating the work of TV writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, reading interview after interview of this television superstar.

I need to report back to my husband that, other than the area of dating, which she admits she is not good at, Shonda Rhimes definitely got the playbook for how to live a productive and, although I have yet to hang out with her personally, seemingly happy life.

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The most succinct breakdown of the Shondaland (not a joke, this is the name of her production company) principles can be found in an article by Alexandra Cavallo at the website Mic. Cavallo organizes her defining principals in to 13 axioms, all of them words to live by, but a few that keep your attention on yourself so you don't even have time or interest to fantasize about what other people are doing.

My favorites are: Screw the Haters, Don't Underestimate the Power of Positive Thinking, Perspective is Everything. In case you still have children so young you can't take your eyes off them for even a few minutes, Shonda's message can be boiled down to work hard, and don't waste even a second caring what other people think of you. Here's her paean to putting your nose to the grindstone, "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because it's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

And here's how the Shondabrain processes what people think of her. "I never, ever pay attention to the ratings. I stopped paying attention to the ratings somewhere around season two or three of Grey's. It's something I have no control over, so I don't even pay attention," she told Vulture e-zine in 2013.

I didn't find a specific Shonda adage to address my thinking other people have the answers, but I think it's safe to assume what her feelings about this might be. If you think someone else has the answers, you're not asking yourself the right question, which, above all else is, why the hell are you comparing your life to your very limited understanding of someone else's?

Keep your attention on your own life and keep writing your own playbook. It's really the only one that matters.

Image via RexUSA

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