The success secret that Shonda Rhimes wishes she’d known earlier

It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.
It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.
Image: Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich
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To kick off its new video series “What I Wish Someone Told Me About . . .” the website for the television-production company Shondaland turned, naturally, to Shonda Rhimes, its founder and CEO.

In a video posted to the website last month (watch it here), the television writer and producer shared the thing she wishes someone had told her about adulthood before she set out into the world: “Nobody actually knows anything.”

Rhimes is a commercial and creative force whose shows have singlehandedly pulled in up to 40% of ABC’s audience for scripted dramas in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic; clearly, she knows something at this point. Wisdom and experience accumulate with years. But the feeling that one is sufficiently wise or experienced? That never comes, Rhimes confides.

“You don’t feel more knowledgeable or wiser when you’re 25 or when you’re 35 or when you’re 55,” she said. “You don’t feel like there’s any more wisdom. You just stop caring what people think.”

Wait for permission to pursue an ambitious goal, Rhimes suggested, and you will likely wait a very long time. And if you’re overly concerned with fulfilling the qualifications for someone else’s definition of success, you’ll miss the opportunity to redefine it on your own terms, as Rhimes did by negotiating an unprecedented contract with Netflix that gives her virtually limitless creative freedom (and an estimated $25 million per year.)

“You don’t have to keep waiting for some magical thing to happen, some license, to be you,” Rhimes said. “The credentials of life is just living your life. You just have the courage to do something. Knowledge never comes. That’s not a scary thing. That’s a good thing.”