Shonda Rhimes: “Playing With My Children Likely Saved My Career”

In a moving new TED talk, the TV titan reveals that her workaholic tendencies nearly undermined her–and it took her kids to save her.

Shonda Rhimes: “Playing With My Children Likely Saved My Career”

In a new TED talk, Shonda Rhimes admits what many parents won’t: She doesn’t like to play. As the creator behind some of the most popular shows on television including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Rhimes brings about 70 hours and $350 million worth of programming to the world each season. She is arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in TV, and she has no qualms admitting that she loves her work. She is her work. Taking time away from work to play or recharge was never of any interest to her. As she said on the TED stage, “I work a lot, very hard, and I love it. When I’m hard at work, when I’m deep in it, there is no other feeling.”

Rhimes describes the electrifying feeling she gets when she’s writing, working, and creating, as the “hum.” “The hum is more than writing,” she says. “It is action and activity. The hum is a drug. The hum is music. The hum is light and air. The hum is God’s whisper right in my ear. And when you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness at any cost. That’s called the hum. Or maybe it’s called being a workaholic.”

For years, the hum helped Rhimes create. But as work piled on, she became overworked and burned out. Then the hum stopped and she was left with silence. “I was no longer having any fun,” she says. “So what do you do when the thing you do, the work you love, starts to taste like dust?”

It was around this time that Rhimes started on her project that eventually led to her book, Year of Yes. She began saying yes to everything she was afraid of, from public speaking to acting. But it was saying yes to playing with her children that she says helped save her career. It was only when she started taking the time for uninterrupted play with her three kids that the “hum” started to return.

“Work doesn’t work without play,” she says. “It takes a little time but after a few months one day the floodgates open and there’s a rush and I find myself standing in my office filled with an unfamiliar melody, full on groove inside me and around me and it sends me spinning with ideas. … The more I play the freer my mind becomes. The more I play the better I work. The more I play the more i feel the hum.”

You can watch the entire inspiring speech here:

About the author

Jessica Hullinger is a London-based journalist who covers science, health, and innovation. She currently serves as a Senior Editor at



More Stories