Shonda Rhimes gave a powerful commencement speech at Dartmouth on Sunday, offering some advice to the dreamers of the world.
Rhimes, the creator of hit shows such as Scandal and Grey's Anatomy is a graduate of Dartmouth (Class of '91). During her commencement speech she told the audience she never dreamt of being a TV writer. "Never, not once when I was here in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, did I say to myself, "Self, I want to write TV." Instead, she said she dreamt of being Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. "That was my dream. I blue sky'ed it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed," she said. "And while I was dreaming, I was living in my sister's basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, FYI."
Then one day, she kind of realized that dreaming was sort of bullshit:
When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things. They have wisdom to impart. They have lessons to share. They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don't stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true.
I think that's crap.
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. Maybe you write in journals about your dreams or discuss it endlessly with your best friend or your girlfriend or your mother. And it feels really good. You're talking about it, and you're planning it. Kind of. You are blue-skying your life. And that is what everyone says you should be doing. Right? I mean, that's what Oprah and Bill Gates did to get successful, right?
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, I guess is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to 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.
She also offered some straight talk on hashtag activism:
Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething
Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It's a hashtag. It's you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it's Game of Thrones.
Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it's good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. Don't be an asshole.
Her entire speech can be found here.