How Shonda Rhimes’ Youngest Child Helped Her Rediscover Her Creative Spark

“Work doesn’t work without play,” the “Scandal” creator said.

ByABC News
February 18, 2016, 7:30 AM

— -- Shonda Rhimes has built an empire on creating some of the most compelling dramas on television.

Now, the woman behind “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” is revealing how she balances her passion for work and time with her three daughters, Harper, Becket and Emerson.

In a TED talk on Monday, Rhimes opened up about being an executive producer of television programming, saying most people would call it “a dream job.”

In reality, that job involves little dreaming, she said.

“It's all job, all work, all reality, all sweat, no tears. I work a lot and I love it,” she said, describing the passion for her work as akin to a kind of hum.

“The hum is music, the hum is light and air ... When you have a hum like that you can’t help but strive for greatness,” she said.

She recalled a time when that hum –- that motivating spark -– simply stopped.

“The hum of engine died, I didn't love work, I couldn't restart the engine ... I know somebody's out there thinking ‘Cry me a river, stupid writer titan lady,’” she said. “But you know, you do. If you make -- if you work, if love what you do, being a teacher, a banker, a mother, being Bill Gates, simply loving another person, if that gives you the hum, if you know what the hum feels like. When the hum stops, who are you?”

Emerson, her youngest child, helped her find the answer. Saying the toddler tended to refer to everyone as “honey” as though she were a “Southern waitress,” Rhimes revealed how Emerson helped her get back on track by asking whether she wanted to play.

“And I'm just about to say no when I realize ... my Southern waitress isn't calling me honey. She isn't calling anyone honey anymore. When did that happen?” Rhimes recalled. “Here she is changing right before my eyes. And so she says ‘Mama, wanna play?’ And I say ‘yes.’”

By spending more time playing instead of working, she rediscovered her hum.

“You're not Rihanna, and you're not a Muppet. Your child doesn't think you're that interesting. My kids only want to play with me for 15 minutes and then they're on to something else. It's just 15 minutes ... I can pull off 15 minutes of time on my worst day. Uninterrupted is the key,” she said.

It’s not just about playing with your children, she said. It’s about finding your own joy.

“My kids are my happy place. They're my world. But it doesn't have to be your kids, the fuel that feeds your home ... it's not about playing with your kids, it's about joy, it's about playing in general. Give yourself 15 minutes, figure out what makes you feel good and play in that arena,” she said, adding: “Work doesn’t work without play.”