"Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy" by Sheryl Sandberg and
Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Sheryl Sandberg’s and Adam Grant's recent book, "Option B, Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy" is a moving account of Sandberg’s journey and recovery from the sudden and devastating loss of her husband Dave Goldberg. While it is a heavy topic, the style is conversational and the book is easy to read. It contains clear, well-reasoned and well-researched steps on how to recover from a life-shattering experience, and is illustrated by several concrete examples and poignant stories.
For those of you have a Facebook account but haven’t looked into its governance, and for others who may not have climbed out from under your respective rocks in recent years, Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. Her career has included employment at McKinsey, Google, and the US Treasury Department after her education at Harvard. Adam Grant is a psychologist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The author’s voice in the first person is that of Sheryl Sandberg. Grant is referred to in the third person. They show us how to deal with loss and build resilience, and interestingly, how one can also experience post-traumatic growth.
A wonderful early passage lays out the book’s thesis on loss and grief, and how to emerge from its depths.
We learn what impedes recovery: psychologist Martin Seligman, after researching how people deal with setbacks, found that “three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.”
Sandberg says all three Ps ganged up on her in her 20s after her first marriage ended in divorce. She did not know then what she knows now, and shares what she has learned in the aftermath of her recent loss.
In the face of this tragedy, Sandberg had to continue raising her children as a single parent, muster up the strength to just get up every morning let alone go to work, and reconfigure every aspect of a life that she thought she would share with her husband. She found solace in a powerful prayer: "Let me not die while I am still alive." In my own life, I have always found that writing can provide great comfort and insights. The authors tell us about the power of journaling. "Writing can be a powerful tool for learning self-compassion," and "turning feelings into words can help us process and overcome adversity. By putting feelings into words, we give ourselves more power over them." Journaling became a key part of Sandberg's recovery. The benefits of gratitude lists have been extolled before, but here the authors make a useful distinction: we learn that lists of the contributions we have made rather than things we are passively grateful for are actually more empowering. And of course, there is the healing power of music, which “transforms the darkness." This is evident in a memorable passage from the book in which Sandberg describes her children falling on the ground crying as they arrived for their father’s funeral. In tears herself, she held them and started singing to them, and others joined in. The song was Oseh Shalom, a prayer for peace. Sandberg did not know at the time why that song came to her at that moment, but later learned that it is the last line of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning.
Sandberg points out that she and her family have had access to many resources which others may not. She writes with compassion of those who are less fortunate, and also lays out what is required for corporations and governments to provide safety networks. To her credit, she acknowledges that in her book Lean In, while advising women that their choice of partner was the most crucial career-impacting decision they could make, she did not fully appreciate the challenges that single parents face.
This brilliant woman has searched within herself and in the world for ways to find joy again. She has not only actively sought and found the silver linings, but has shown us how we may find them too. This is one of her great gifts: her ability to share her experiences in a manner that fosters community, through her books and her non-profit organizations.
Sandberg’s children and my daughter attend school in the same school district. On more than one occasion, when I hurriedly (and at the last minute) went to open a parent volunteer sign-up sheet to take something for an end-of-school-year breakfast or some such event, I noted her name all over the sheet. A person of boundless energy and great heart. As active in her children’s classroom as in the boardroom. Thank you, Sheryl, for the large trays of strawberries, and for everything else. One of the poignant accounts was about Sandberg's mother, a person who just shone for me throughout this book. A rock: kind, loving, strong, and enveloping her child with her great love to help her bear the unbearable. “At the end of each endless day, my mom lay down next to me and held me until I cried myself to sleep. I never asked her to do it; she just did.” It’s what mothers do, I said to myself, for those of us lucky enough to have them. I had nightmares as a child, and when I would wake up, terrified, my mother would come and lie in bed next to me. Comforted, I would sleep. She has moved on from this world, but still visits on occasion, and is always with me in my times of greatest need. It’s what mothers do, in this life and beyond. Earlier this year, a dear friend mine lost her husband to a highly aggressive cancer, just a few weeks after his diagnosis. I went looking for a book that could be helpful to her, and the staff at Kepler’s unanimously recommended Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Didion, a writer, lost her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne to a sudden death by cardiac arrest. Her account of the months that followed is as enlightening as it is wrenching, her grief manifesting itself in unexpected and surprising ways. As Sandberg and Grant say, "Grief doesn't share its schedule with anyone; we all grieve differently and in our own time." I will recommend their book to my friend, who is forging a path she had not expected to be on by herself.
In Sandberg’s words, “We all live some form of Option B.” Earlier this year, my marriage ended in divorce. I have made my way through the darkness, with the love of friends and family, with music and with writing. This book is a candle lighting up the paths that can lead us out of the darkness. It brings hope that we can emerge, not just having survived and in one piece, but sometimes even stronger.