Books: Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant’s “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

You’ve probably heard of Sheryl Sandberg as the COO of Facebook and the bestselling author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Her latest offering, in collaboration with friend and psychologist, Adam Grant, is the newly released Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

As arguably one of the world’s most successful and influential women (she once appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the byline “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful”), you would be right to wonder what she would know about adversity and resilience. The reality is that no amount of professional or personal success can save any of us from the certainties of human existence, from life and death itself.

It was the unexpected and untimely death of her beloved husband, Dave Goldberg (former CEO of Yahoo and SurveyMonkey), while the two were vacationing in Mexico, that brought her world crashing to a halt. In an instant she went from being one half of a happily married power couple to a grief-stricken single mom.

The structure of the book loosely follows Cheryl and her children’s journey from denial, despair, and distress, to acceptance and recovery. The book is written in Cheryl’s voice; Adam’s research is referenced and included in the third person. Overall, I have a bit of a mixed opinion of the results. I really connected with the sections that detailed her sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes heart warming experiences as she navigates her life, post-Dave. I shed more than a few tears in solidarity with these memoir-like passages. She shared lots of useful trivia on recovering from loss and facing adversity, but I found myself glossing over some parts to where the “story” picked up again. I know Cheryl was criticized in Lean In for lack of intersectionality, and while she acknowledges other perspectives here, it felt a bit forced to me.

I’ll leave it up to you to read the story for the memoir. As far as the useful psychological bits go, here is a quick summary of those I found most valuable:

  • “…psychologist Martin Seligman 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.” Essentially, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.” If you find yourself in the trap of thinking that way, take some time to find the real truth in the situation.
  • The importance of “kicking the elephant out of the room”. When something traumatic happens, many aren’t sure what to say to the person impacted, so they offer platitudes or say nothing at all. Thus the elephant remains in the room. Instead, the authors offers that it is best to speak with empathy and honesty, even if it means saying something like, “I’m really sorry for your loss. I’m not really good at knowing what to say, but I want you to know that I care about you and am here for you in whatever way you need.”
  • There are WAY more people who experience post-traumatic growth (more than 50%!) after a traumatic event, compared with less than 15% who develop PTSD. (An inspiring example from the book is the website which was started by parents, Kevin and Marina, following the death of two of their children. Check out their website even if you only read their inspiring 10 Principles of Creativity.)
  • Children navigate adversity through storytelling and embracing ritual. “We take it back” was their family slogan for embracing things that reminded them of Dave. Instead of avoiding playing poker or Settlers of Catan (both family favourites) because it reminded them of life before their loss, they “took it back” and allowed themselves to have fun and make new memories in the same traditions.

Regardless of your loss, how you got there, or how dark and overwhelming it may feel, all readers can take solace in the fact that there are concrete, actionable steps that can be taken to heal your heart and find peace and happiness again after trauma and loss.

As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel is quoted in the book, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” I think this book (and her new non-profit by the same name) helped Cheryl find some meaning in her suffering. Will you look for your meaning too?

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.