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Shonda Rhimes Shares the Secret Behind How She Does It All

The single mom of three and acclaimed mind behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal shares her wisdom for being a better mother and better person.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published January 18, 2023
Shonda Rhimes attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Image: Rich Fury/VF20 | Getty Images

Few axioms inspire more anxiety and ambition in the modern-day mom than the phrase “you can have it all.” The idea that you can be a super successful career woman and an everpresent nurturing mother can be exciting and overwhelming.

In an effort to chart a path toward balance, many look towards well-known beacons of success to answer the question, “how can you have and do it all?” A single mother of three and the acclaimed mind behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes recently went viral for her honest answer to this question—and it’s not what you might think.

In a recently resurfaced video posted for her birthday— one that now has over 771,000 views on the @femalequotient Instagram page—Rhimes shares her beliefs around balance and happy living during her Dartmouth College commencement speech. The screenwriter begins by addressing the question, “Shonda, how do you do it all?”

“The answer is this: I don’t,” Rhimes simply states. “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.”

“If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am 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,” she shares.

In the uncut speech, Rhimes notes that this give and take is “the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.”

Despite this struggle, Rhimes says she continues on because she wants to set an example for her girls. “I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works…In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get to write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole.”

To Rhimes, the secret to having it all doesn’t lie in doing it all but rather in embracing the happiness that comes from doing what you need to, as you want to.

If you want more insight into cultivating your happiness as a working parent, consider these tips from working moms or tune into the new audiobook from New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose entitled Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood.

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