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Option B by Sheryl Sandberg is a very personal yet universal look at being able to do what you need to despite setbacks that could be incapacitating.
Sheryl Sandberg had to take up her own quest to find an answer when she lost her husband – Dave Goldberg – in 2015. His tragic, untimely and sudden death left Sheryl, her two young children and the couple’s large network of extended family and friends devastated. Sheryl thought that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. She wanted her children to grow up to be happy, normal adults without any ill effects of the tragedy that struck them at a young age.
Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, became her pillar of support in taking concrete steps to recover and rebound. With his help, not only did she come back stronger emotionally, but also wrote this book – Option B – sharing her personal journey as well as larger ideas around how to cope.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook and Dave Goldberg, CEO at SurveyMonkey were a celebrated power couple of Silicon Valley. Sheryl became much more than just a highly successful corporate executive when she wrote Lean In in 2013. Sheryl and Leanin.org stood for women at the workplace, their struggles, overcoming the hurdles and leading. In the book, Sheryl spoke about forging an equal partnership at home with her husband and how that has been a crucial cog in her success at work.
Given this background, it was natural that there would be a great deal of public attention focused on how Sheryl managed the aftermath of the tragedy. By writing this book, Sheryl has once again candidly opened up to public scrutiny her struggles, vulnerability and honest effort to overcome crisis – even talking about the touchiest topic of dating again. For that, she deserves a big applause from anyone human.
To not break down, to emerge out of sorrow, to find joy purposefully are not easy achievements given the depth of her tragedy. In addition to all that, to put together her journey coherently and to make it useful for others, is another scale of effort altogether. And for that, one admires and respects her unconditionally.
The book has an introductory section where Sheryl speaks fondly about how she met Dave, her past, her marriage with Dave and the unfortunate event of his sudden death while vacationing with her. The first chapter then starts at a year after Dave’s demise. From there on, it moves between the immediate days of grief, going back to work, helping children cope and nurturing one’s own emotional well-being. The narration still stays coherent for the reader like me who has been following Sheryl’s Facebook posts and public speeches at least intermittently. Those who haven’t, might have to work a bit harder to understand the flow of happenings.
I found four recurring themes – almost common threads holding Sheryl’s narration together – Community, Communication, Research and scientific evidence, Religion and rituals. And to most of us, these as healers and support pillars don’t come as a surprise.
Sheryl mentions many times how supportive her own and Dave’s family has been. In addition to the family, she mentions several other friends from various stages of her life and how they all helped her a little in their own ways in finding her confidence, smiling and finding joy again, in coming back stronger. Moving out to another layer of community outside the immediate friend circle is her Facebook following.
She has been able to connect and converse meaningfully and honestly with a larger community on her efforts to cope up. The book reminds the reader of the tremendous role that family, friends and community play in one’s life, specially during trying times. And for the millennial generation hooked on to social media, this may be something worth paying a great deal of attention to!
Throughout the book, Sheryl has emphasized the role of open, honest communication about one’s emotions and issues in ensuring that those get addressed and sorted. Be it opening up at workplace, writing a journal, noting down moments of joy, letting children take cry breaks or sharing in social network communities, importance of communication and the strategies that Sheryl shares are a definite take-away for readers.
Emotional well-being and talking about intense emotional ups and downs (mostly downs) still remain off-limits in most conversations in our busy lives. The books does give one a strong reminder to get in touch with emotional quotient and check on it frequently. Another positive outcome of Sheryl opening up about all of this has been that emotions and their place in workplace is being put in a different – a little kinder and mellower light, or so one hopes at least!
The book liberally and generously quotes many researchers, psychologists and their findings on how human beings work. In fact the book comes with a 30+ pages long annexure of reference notes! Sheryl and her team have sifted through a lot and provided the readers the absolute gems of practical advice and implementable actions to help cope with crisis. The way Sheryl has been able to listen to hundreds of stories of fighters and survivors of all kinds around the world, empathize with them, narrate their stories in this book and offer the reader strategies that work, is outstanding.
Recurrence of this thread in the book came to me as a mild surprise, to be honest. Sheryl has elaborated on rituals around life’s major events – wedding, death, mourning – in Jewish faith. One gets a sense that she does find the rituals comforting. Anything that has survived for centuries in human civilization has to have a strong significance and meaning for many, and she has brought out the delicate grace of rituals such as wedding vows beautifully. Sheryl has this uncanny knack of connecting with every-woman and her dilemma with wedding ring will touch many a heart for sure.
To anyone who is willing to examine the touchy issues of loss, grief, trauma and recovery with a logical lens, Option B offers useful insight. The writing style is easy, stories very relatable and the overall mood of the book is serious yet not too heavy. Definitely not a pleasant beach read kind of book, but it surely is no weepy tale either. In self-help category, this stands out for its research and scientific framework based backbone – the advice offered is of substance and not merely a temporary word-balm.
To sum up, it is very difficult to view Option B merely as a book – it comes with so much of history and personality of the people involved, that it becomes more of a part of an ongoing public dialogue on building resilience. Sheryl has started a non-profit initiative called OptionB.org that is a beneficiary of all income from the book. OptionB.org aims to help people build resilience and find meaning in the face of adversity. More power to them.
Image source: flickr