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Making the best of Option B in times of grief

Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, Option B

Photo by World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons

“There was no escape. My grief felt like a deep, thick fog that constantly surrounded me.” On May 1 2015, Sheryl Sandberg – business leader, philanthropist and COO at Facebook – found her husband dead on the floor of the gym in their holiday villa in Mexico. An autopsy revealed that Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, had died suddenly of a cardiac arrhythmia, caused by coronary artery disease.

His death was a complete shock, and one that left Sheryl and Dave’s two children without a father. In the days and weeks that followed, Sandberg found herself wondering how she could go on and find the strength for herself and her children.

She got in touch with Adam Grant, a close friend who is a psychologist, professor and best-selling author. What he told her changed her perspective.

“I thought resilience was the capacity to endure pain, so I asked Adam how I could figure out how much I had,” says Sandberg. “He explained that our amount of resilience isn’t fixed, so I should be asking instead how I could become resilient.”

Revealing how to become resilient is the aim of their new co-authored book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

The title comes from a conversation Sandberg had with a close friend in the wake of Dave’s sudden death:

“Just weeks after losing Dave, I was talking to Phil about a father-child activity. We came up with a plan for someone to fill in for Dave. I cried to Phil, ‘But I want Dave.’ He put his arm around me and said, ‘Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the s**t out of Option B.’

“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the s**t out of it.”

If that sounds optimistic, make no mistake that Sandberg is brutally honest about the despair and unimaginable pain of bereavement. She makes no pretense that Option B is easy to master.

Throughout the book, her personal insights of facing adversity provide candid examples supporting Adam Grant’s professional insights. Part grief memoir, part self-help book, Option B explores her journey through bereavement with the expert guidance of psychological theory.

But Option B isn’t just about Sandberg’s grief. The types of adversity explored by her and Grant include serious illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters and war. From meeting Pakistani Nobel prize-winner Malala Yousafzai to discuss her recovery after being shot by the Taliban, to examining how survivors of the famous Andes flight disaster found the will to survive for 72 days, Grant and Sandberg tackle almost every form of adversity to show how people can overcome the worst.

It’s an ambitious book that attempts to look broadly at all forms of trauma and hardship, and find out what survivors of such hardship have in common.

Beyond the pages of the book, Grant and Sandberg have set up a complementary online resource, OptionB.org. Whether it’s you or someone close to you facing adversity, OptionB.org brings together useful resources to help. Sandberg has announced that all of her profits from the sale of Option B will help fund this non-profit initiative.

From personal stories to expert advice on coping with hardship, OptionB.org aims to help its users build resilience to cope with what life throws at them. It also helps connect people through Facebook groups, depending on the particular type of adversity they are facing, from grief and loss to divorce and family problems.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy is out now, published by Knopf, $25.95.