Producer extraordinaire and creator of ABC’s Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, released a book in 2015 called Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. The book is a reflection of Shonda’s life during a time in which she challenged herself to say “yes” to everything that scared her. Shonda, an introvert in its truest form, was often criticized by her family for never saying “yes” to anything. She took the criticism to heart and decided to use it as a wakeup call to not be afraid to live, accept she doesn’t have to be in control, and to open herself up to opportunities and risks that have the potential to take her personally and professionally to places unimagined and unexplored.
As we prepare to close out and move into a new calendar year, my challenge to you, and quite frankly to myself, is to make 2018 our year of “yes”, but more specifically, the year of saying “yes” to ourselves. I recall a few years ago when I was preparing to graduate from undergrad and was gearing up for graduate studies, I received a lesson in learning that I was not in control and that if I wanted the most for me, I needed to say “yes” to some things that were either scary or unknown. More specifically, I had been accepted to pursue graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 700 miles away from my home in Louisiana, and was considering declining the offer in order to continue working with the McNair Scholars program at my undergraduate institution, Southern University and A&M College. The irony is that I was a McNair Scholar, too, and the purpose of the program is to prepare promising first-generation, underrepresented students for doctoral studies. I was so focused on preparing “my” scholars for doctoral study that I had not given myself the attention I needed to get myself together. Further, I didn’t want to leave my friends, family, and culture. I was comfortable with life the way it was…even though I was broke! However, I soon learned that part of choosing “you” is growing comfortable with being uncomfortable. As such, with the support of my family, friends, and faculty mentors, I ultimately decided to choose me.
I packed whatever could fit in my car, printed out directions to Illinois via MapQuest, and rode into the sunset, or rather the cornfields. Honestly, I had never heard of the University of Illinois; I had only become familiar with the University months prior when a recruiter visited my undergraduate institution and encouraged me to apply. In addition, I had no relatives in the area, had never visited the state for vacation, and had never taken a 12-hour road trip alone. Who would have known though that during my time at Illinois I would make lifelong friends turned family; meet faculty and staff who didn’t know me but wanted to pour into me encouragement and wisdom; take on leadership roles on campus and within the broader community; receive multiple assistantship opportunities along the way; and develop a blossoming personality and genuine care and compassion for others, especially students…the ones everyone loved as well as the ones who everyone had given up on and didn’t think could succeed?
Professionally, I’ve continued to say “yes” to things and opportunities that scare me, like moving to Ohio and later, Virginia. However, I’ve realized that although I’ve become more open to saying “yes” to the things that scare me or the unknown, I’m not always as good at saying “yes” to me, or rather choosing me first. At times, I become consumed by this thought of choosing me first, and it often keeps me up at night or wakes me out of my sleep (By the way, it’s 4am and I’m writing a blog because this topic was consuming my thoughts and not allowing me to sleep). During the past summer, I remember arriving home from the office late one night, and I sat on the couch fully exhausted. This happens from time to time, given that I’m really an introvert who has learned to “perform” being an extrovert over the years, and it appears and “feels” normal. As such, at the end of the day, I’m usually drained from performing and need alone time (about a 1/2 hour) to recharge my internal battery. However, on this particular occasion, I remember sitting on the couch for several hours and my internal battery was still on 10%. Needless to say, I didn’t go into the office the following day, as I had nothing to give. My cup was empty. It is typically my goal to pour into others, particularly students and staff, as often as I possibly can. But, how can one pour into others if their cup is empty or only half full? This may seem like a “selfish” act; it is, and that is okay. Just as the flight attendant instructs passengers to put their oxygen mask on first so you can breathe before helping others, the same goes for making sure you have something in your cup before trying to pour into others.
With that being said, I’m excited for the next couple weeks. I need to recharge my internal battery and hydrate so I can continue to pour into others, especially students and staff. I encourage you to do the same this winter break, so you can be prepared to not only pour into others in the new year but to also get ready to say “yes” to experiences and opportunities that scare you, including saying “yes” to YOU because you are worth it.
Joyous holiday season to all.
Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.