“The last thing I ever said to him was, “I’m falling asleep.”” Sheryl Sandberg recalls in the opening of her new book, Option B: Overcoming Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, “And so began the rest of my life.”
Just a week before the second anniversary of the death of her beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, Sheryl Sandberg along with Wharton professor Adam Grant, have released a book that started to change lives even before its release. Why? Because it opened the lid on so much hidden suffering that we all go through and often keep buried because of fear, shame, guilt, or simply because it feels so overwhelming that there seems no words to possibly express it, and no one who could possibly understand.
In Option B: Overcoming Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl and Adam put a name to the elephants in the room around loss, grief, trauma, illness, abuse, incarceration, family crisis and the adversity that we all confront at some point. In doing so, they have opened an arena of elephants that are now running free and wild in the Option B Facebook groups where thousands are sharing their stories — some telling their stories for the first time, and some helping others trying to find their Option B for the first time.
“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B.”
As Sheryl says, “Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B.” Sheryl shares her Rabbi’s advice to “Lean in to the suck” and expect it to be awful; she refers to Buddhist monk, Pema Chödrön’s encouragement that when we accept that all life involves suffering we can lesson our pain by “making friends with our own demons;” she tells of the new “family rules” she created with her children, and rule number one was “Respect our feelings — it’s okay to be angry.” Sheryl shares Adam Grant’s challenge of her — that it was a good idea to think about how much worse things could be, and his response to Sheryl’s, “Are you kidding?!” — “Dave could have had that same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children.” That small sense of gratitude overtook some of Sheryl’s grief, “Wow. The thought that I could have lost all three of them had never occurred to me.”
Option B is full of those kind of “wows” and “ahas” from all that Sheryl shares of her journey over the past two years, to all of Adam’s insights and guidance to move through adversity, to the stories that are shared of others who have overcome adversity. Option B helps not only those who have experienced loss, but also the friends, family and work colleagues who find themselves in the “awkward” spaces of trying to find the right offerings of support without offending.
“There’s no one way to grieve and there’s no one way to comfort.”
The elephants in the room that Sheryl names are some that you may have met, and may be meeting now, in helping loved ones through grief — how do you ask someone, “How are you?” when they have just experienced the heartbreak of “losing” their most beloved? How do you say, “Sorry for your loss,” when they are not lost, they died? How do you offer help without offending or minimizing? Do you say something or not say something in those “everyday” encounters? Do you make eye contact or avoid eye contact? What’s asking too much or too little? What’s the “right thing” or the “wrong thing” to say and do to offer help and support?
Sheryl shares, “If your ankle gets shattered, people ask to hear the story. If your life gets shattered, they don’t.” Sheryl offers insights through her journey, “There’s no one way to grieve and there’s no one way to comfort,” and gives some tangible suggestions, “Instead of offering ‘anything,’ just do something.” “Instead of asking, “How are you?” ask, “How are you, today?””
Sheryl explains the simple and daily things that helped her, moment by moment, to breathe again, from journalling and writing the three things she did well each day, to writing the three things for which she was grateful each day — no matter how “small.” She recalls her mother’s skiing encouragement to “just take one turn at a time” when she was paralyzed with fear facing a downhill ski run on her fourth day on skis at the age of sixteen. That encouragement now challenged her to dig deep as she helped herself and her children move through the death of their father — focusing on small steps was easier, “I did not have to take even ten turns. I just had to help them take one turn at a time.”
“We don’t pretend that hope will win out over pain every day. It won’t… There are no perfect answers…”
Throughout the book, Sheryl and Adam provide learning and insights about overcoming adversity, building resilience and finding joy that can help each of us every day. They take a “real and raw” approach, as they say, “We don’t pretend that hope will win out over pain every day. It won’t… There are no perfect answers… .” Option B reaches into “the void” as Sheryl describes it, “…a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe,” — and offers help to emerge beyond “the suck of it,” and into the joy beyond it.
Sheryl explains the three “P’s” that helped her climb out of the void. Psychologist, Martin Seligman, after decades of studying how people deal with setbacks, found that three “P’s” can prevent people from overcoming adversity: (1) Personalization (that it’s our fault), (2) Pervasiveness (that all areas of our lives will be affected), and (3) Permanence (that the effects will last forever).
The hardest of the three “P’s” for Sheryl was permanence, that “…the debilitating anguish would always be there.” She recounts, “Every time I tried to tell myself things would get better, a louder voice inside my head insisted they would not. It seemed clear that my children and I would never have another moment of pure joy again. Never.” So Sheryl replaced words like “never” and “always” with “sometimes” and “lately.” She forced the words to change from “I will always feel this awful” to “I will sometimes feel this awful.” As she says, it was “not the most cheerful thought, but still an improvement.”
This is a key part of “kicking the sh*t out of Option B” — to kick small pieces of sh*t at a time, as slowly, gently, and frequently as you feel you can. One thing is certain, there is no right or wrong. There is no “perfect way” in a completely imperfect situation that tears the core of you apart, and tears at the threads of your family, your relationships, your work, and your world.
Option B is not just a read — it’s a door to communities of support and expert resources.
Option B is not just a read — it’s a door to communities of support and expert resources in areas of adversity that we and our loved ones have endured, and are all going to endure throughout our journeys. On the OptionB.Org web site, and on Option B Facebook communities, the “elephants in the room” are running wild and free as so many are sharing their stories of overcoming adversity, building resilience and finding joy, in areas including:
The OptionB.Org web site also invites people to lead groups in other areas, and there is information on how to submit information to create other groups.
“There is a light within each of us that will not be extinguished… We take it back!”
Through Option B and the OptionB.Org resources and communities, the light in each of us can be helped to shine a little brighter. “We take it back” — that is the mantra of Sheryl and her children to embrace everything about Dave and to not give up the things that reminded them of him each day. They could “push through the guilt and seek joy,” and allow themselves to be happy, as we each can, day by day. As Sheryl shares, “…we need to be kind to ourselves by enjoying life when we can,” and that, “Even when we’re in great distress, joy can still be found in moments we seize and moments we create. Cooking. Dancing. Hiking. Praying. Driving. Singing Billy Joel songs off-key.”
In Sheryl’s final reflections, she confronts the turbulent nature of the ongoing journey of overcoming adversity that can come like waves crashing into us. Yet, that we are left standing, stronger, able to live, and ultimately able to find joy.
“Writing this book and trying to find meaning have not replaced my sadness. Sometimes it hits me like a wave, crashing into my consciousness until I can feel nothing else… But just as grief crashes into us like a wave, it also rolls back like the tide. We are left not just standing, but in some ways stronger. Option B still gives us options. We can still live … and we can still find joy. … No one would ever choose to grow this way. But it happens — and we do… There is a light within each of us that will not be extinguished.”
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on April 24, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com