Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Tools for Life and Work 

by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

This book caught my attention on several levels: Sheryl Sandberg had been publicly sharing her private struggles with being widowed after her husband died suddenly while on vacation at the age of 47, and I’m a big fan of Adam Grant. I loved his previous two books: Give and Take and Originals.  

I was also intrigued by this book’s subject, as I lost both my parents, rather unexpectedly, within one year. Additionally, I have a mentally handicapped brother, Chris, who is at the developmental level of a 9-year-old child. Option B has a big focus on how to help children find joy again. I hoped to find ideas to help me and Chris deal with the loss of our parents.

What I like best about this book is Sheryl’s utter honesty and complete vulnerability. She puts it all out there. She shares her heart with us through the very personal story of how her husband Dave died, how she felt about telling her children who were not there when it happened, and how she managed her grief and attempts to get back to work and live again.

She sought out Adam Grant (who she had met through her late husband). Adam is a professor at Wharton University, specializing in how people find motivation and meaning. The two started writing together a few years ago on the challenges women face, and have published numerous articles in the New York Times. Sheryl shares how she applies Adam’s wisdom to help her find joy again.

I am not the type of person who feels comfortable sharing my problems or crying in public. Being a private person, I believe there is a time and place to share sad or negative feelings. But now we’re in the Facebook era. Early in the book, Sheryl acknowledged that she was also too private to share her feelings on Facebook, but after a month she posted about her sadness–she thought it couldn’t get any worse. Much to her surprise, she was comforted with posts of support from around the world.

Sheryl’s story challenged my views. She and Adam provide compelling data—along with her personal experience—that opening up about traumatic events can improve mental and physical health. Sharing can help other people understand their own emotions and feel understood by others.

Reading this book transformed me, too. I was in the middle of facilitating a 12-month high potential women’s leadership program and I had not shared my grief with this group. After reading this book, I decided to “kick the elephant out of the room,” so I gave a  teary-eyed confession of how I lost both my parents and my 54-year-old cousin within a 15-month period.

This gave me peace and compassion for myself and others. Many of the women in the program teared up and shared that they thought I did a great job of inspiring and helping them grow. That was my central reason for “letting the elephant loose” as I felt I was doing a “B-level work” at best during the last year, yet these women came to a much more positive conclusion. Everyone is going to experience loss and tragedy in their lives and this book has helped me realize that everyone can by becoming more comfortable and opening up.

Sheryl’s journey resembled mine in grieving a significant loss. Adam encouraged her to write down her feelings, celebrate the small wins (such as you got through a day at work and didn’t break down and cry), and to practice gratitude for the little things in life. This included taking back joy. As U2’s lead singer, Bono, says, “Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.”

She shares how she started new habits—such as playing the piano—that brought her joy. She and her two children agreed on new operating behaviors, including: the importance of respecting feelings, getting enough sleep, forgiving each other, asking for help, and being team players. They posted these on their refrigerator.

This inspired me to help Chris and his roommate create a posterboard with new rules. I hope it helps Chris to feel more comfortable sharing his feelings, versus constantly thinking he needs to cry in the bathroom.

In Option B, Sheryl also shared practicing the growth mindset towards her children. This involves praising children for their efforts—versus results—which research demonstrates helps children work harder on challenging tests. This became her new mantra, to normalize the struggle of grief, and support her children’s small steps toward healing.

Her stories helped me focus on giving my handicapped brother Chris positive reinforcement at every little step he takes as he attempts to move on from losing his best friend—his father. Recently, Chris called me to tell me that he had made scrambled eggs all by himself—although he forgot to beat the eggs and used oil versus butter (he is pretty hard on himself). I praised him for attempting something new. And I continue to share my own struggles with grief and the little steps I am taking to move on.

This book is full of little gems that will inspire you, your family, and your colleagues to help each other along the journey of building resilience. Sheryl’s story inspired me to open up—which has provided me with greater peace, inspired many people, and helped me connect with and support my brother Chris “ride the elephant” to a happier life.

 

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