Shonda Rhimes: ‘Ditch the dream’

November 12, 2015

Clouds3So I was watching “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert a couple days ago and heard that Shonda Rhimes would be a guest. For those not familiar with the name, Shonda Rhimes is the whirlwind creative force behind ABC’s Thursday night television line-up…from Grey’s Anatomy to Scandal to How to Get Away with Murder.

Rhimes was promoting her new book, “Year of Yes.” And in her discussion with Stephen Colbert, she offered this advice from her book: “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.” I was intrigued. After all, our culture encourages people to dream…and dream big. It was an idea, she said, that she first shared in her commencement address at Dartmouth in 2014. Speaking in public was one of the things she feared…so in her “Year of Yes” she decided to do the things she feared. In her commencement address, Rhimes offered the newly minted graduates some very unconventional advice.

I thought there must be a YouTube video of Rhimes speaking at Dartmouth in 2014. Sure enough. Just click on the link in the previous sentence if you’d like to see and hear her address for yourself. Rhimes admitted that her dream was to be Toni Morrison, the award-winning writer. But while she was dreaming that dream, she was living in the basement of her sister’s house–until she decided to stop dreaming and start doing. I was so intrigued by her counter-cultural remarks that I transcribed the section of her speech that talks about dreamers. Here it is:

“I think a lot of people dream, and while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing. The dreamers, they stare at the sky and they make plans and they hope and they talk about it endlessly and they start a lot of sentences with: “I want to be” or “I wish.” “I want to be a writer.” “I wish I could travel around the world.” And they dream of it.

“The buttoned up ones meet for cocktails and they brag about their dreams. And the hippie ones have vision boards and they meditate about their dreams. And maybe you write in journals about your dreams or discuss it endlessly with your best friend or your girl friend or your mother and it feels really good. You’re talking about it and you’re planning it and you’re blue-skying your life. And that is what everyone says you should be doing.

“No. Dreams are lovely, but they are just dreams…fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change. So Lesson One is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you don’t know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what you passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know…you just have to keep moving forward. Just keep doing something, and seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new…even if it doesn’t fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life.

“Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just do. So you think, “I wish I could travel.” Great. Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to Bangkok and go, right now. I’m serious. If you’re gonna be a writer, a writer is someone who writes every day. So start writing. If you don’t have a job, get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for a magical opportunity. Who are you, Prince William? No. Get a job! Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”

What do YOU think of Rhimes’ advice?



  1. Anything that has ever been created or achieved begins with a “What if?” a thought, a dream. I agree with Rhimes that action needs to be taken, but w/o the dream, where do we go? Our dreams are the kindling that our action sets afire. So, no, I do not agree with her at all. Ditch the dream? No. Develop the dream? Absolutely

    • Hi, Debra. Glad you replied. Actually, I agree with you…I posted Rhimes’ opinion to “stir the pot” a bit. But I do think she makes a good point: We need more action and less navel-gazing. I think Thomas Edison had it right: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I think dreams are like seeds…necessary to start the process…then after that, the hard work must begin. My take on her remark is that we need to get into the stream of things sooner than later.

  2. Hi, again, Debra. There’s an article in today’s Huffington Post, titled: “Welders and Philosophers.” It’s a blog by author Tom Morris. He’s discussing the false dichotomy presented by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who favors training welders instead of philosophers because he believes welders are paid more in society. I recently read that that is NOT true. But beyond that point, Morris writes this gem, which I think applies well to Shonda Rhimes’ remarks. Morris says: “Life doesn’t offer us a stark choice between thinking and doing.”

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