Drawing from a recent personal tragedy, Sheryl Sandberg chronicles the impact of the devastating setback to her personal and professional life, and how, with the accessible support of her family, friends, coworkers, professional help, and other resources readily available to a person of her stature (and by extension her children), she was able able to start on the road of recovery, open herself up to the possibilities of an Option B, and even manage to grow in character. Option B is a metaphor, referring to the alternative in the face of the sudden, unexpected unavailability of Option A. Lending credence to her sobering learning is the expert contribution of noted psychologist, Wharton professor, and best-selling author, Adam Grant, who is the co-author.
This book intersperses the author’s own healing journey with stories of others’ tragedies and recoveries. Those of us who know enough of Sheryl Sandberg– a powerful female figure in the American business world, of her notable position at Facebook, of her bestselling book, “LeanIn”, that gave rise to a women empowering movement across the globe– are able to immediately feel the pain from her opening lines in this book, as she looks back on that fateful day when she last saw her husband alive, former Survey Monkey CEO, Dave Goldberg. I found myself in tears at different parts of this book as I think of the gravity of pain that she and her children must have felt in losing a really solid presence in their lives. At the same time, in varied measures, I come to know of different tragedies suffered by both known and ordinary individuals who have chosen to remain standing, to pick up the pieces, instead of spiraling down the staircase of despair, depression, and self-pity. Every tragedy is different but each deals a blow just the same, so agonizing, so heartbreaking, to the individuals affected. We cannot compare one with the other and make judgments. I am glad that Ms. Sandberg has learned from the blind spots of her first book, and humbly recognizes that, despite the bitterness of her own experience, there are others who have suffered more not because they had “bigger” tragedies, but because they do not have the access to support and resources that she had and continues to have. This is why she includes these tapestry of stories, not just to prove this point, but perhaps to honor them even more so for being able to exhibit resilience despite the lack thereof.
While the book tended to present related research as overkill, appearing to assure readers that the formula of her own process of healing is fact-based, overall, it gave me key insights that I am able to understand and use in my own struggle to “kick the sh**t” out of Option B. I especially liked the acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, well meaning yet insensitive reactions and comments, socially awkward situations, a general tendency to regard setbacks using the 3 P filters of personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence, second chances, finding and enabling moments of joy and humor, practicing self-compassion, and deciding to move on and forward in life without being weighed down by self- or society-imposed guilt.
Based on this insightful read, I learned that ultimately, resilience is possible with humility, compassion, and most of all, courage. Humility– to be humble enough to accept that there are absolutely things beyond our control and reach out to others who can love and support us. Compassion– to be kind to ourselves and allow us to grieve the tragedy without too much blame. Sheryl Sandberg, and the many others who shared their experiences in this book, are truly courageous. It is courage that empowers one to rise above adversity, loss– big and small, disadvantage– anything that rudely pulls the Option A rug from under our feet. It is courage that empowers us to kick the sh** out of Option B.