Book Review : Option B by Sheryl Sandberg - FocusU

Book Review : Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

The ongoing Covid – 19 crisis has brought some important skills to the forefront; one of them being resilience – the ability to bounce back from an adversity and grow from the experience. Resilience as a concept and leadership skill has always intrigued me. In the light of pursuing a better understanding of the same, I recently picked up the book Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook and Adam Grant, a well-known professor from Wharton.

This book combines the insights of Sheryl’s own personal tragedy with research to give some actionable insights on dealing with adversity. Sheryl and Adam deep dive into the experiences of broad range of people who have gone through deep tragedies – such as loss of a child, sexual assault, illness, and even war violence to filter the key lessons that one could pick up on resilience. This blog is about a few actionable steps that any leader could pick up to develop their own and their team’s resilience!

The book talks about how on a holiday in Mexico, Sheryl’s husband passed away at the gym after a sudden onset of arrythmia. This unexpected tragedy left the 45 years old Sheryl and her two young kids – 5 and 9 years respectively, with a void that she felt, could never be filled. The book then goes on to describe how she used the 3P Framework, developed by Martin Seligman to explain the usual thought process of an individual when faced with a tragedy. They are as follows –

Personalisation :

Personalisation is the belief that “we are at fault.” It’s believing that there is something that one could have done differently to change the outcome.

In respect to Sheryl’s peril, she faced a similar set of heart wrenching questions –

“Was she to blame for Dave’s death?”

“Could she have reached the gym earlier?”

“Could she have ensured Dave led a healthier life?”


Pervasiveness refers to the assumption that a tragedy will touch every aspect of an individual’s life. Sheryl couldn’t imagine that her life would ever be the same. For a long time, nothing seemed to matter much beyond the void she felt in her life.

Permanence :

Permanence refers to the assumption that a tragedy will last forever. Shery felt that the void in her heart will remain forever and her two young kids would never experience the love of a father.

Option “B”

The 3Ps undermine our ability to think clearly in a situation and rightly so. However, with practice, we can learn to counter them with evidence that prove them wrong and help us to heal.

What is then our “Option B?”

Here is how Shery explained it –
Two weeks after the death of her husband, Sheryl was preparing for what would have been a father-child activity. She couldn’t control herself and she cried in front of a friend – “I want Dave!”

“I’m sorry Sheryl, but Option A is not available. But I promise you, I will help you make the most of Option B.” – replied her friend. This is important – because flexibility is the cornerstone of resilience. Ability to flex your thinking to look at a scenario with multiple perspectives. It is almost like a muscle – something that you can keep strengthening through practice.

The book goes on to share some important tips to remember if you are the one on the ‘giving’ side of resilience. If you are the one trying to stay strong for your friend or a team leader trying to keep your team strong during a tough time, here’s what you can consider doing :

Call out the elephant in the room :

Often, we choose to not discuss the difficulty a person is going through. We are worried we may not say the right words or it may be too painful to discuss for the other person. After Goldberg’s death, Sandberg was often shocked when colleagues did not ask how she was doing. She acknowledges with empathy that although most grieving people want to voice their feelings, people tend to avoid the subject of death. This is termed as the ‘mum effect’ by psychologists. You may want to express sympathy but do not know how.

Shery suggested that instead of asking someone – how are you, it’s better to ask how are you today – which indicates that you really care.

Do Something! Don’t just ask – What you can do!

Disappearing at the time of need is the worst thing. It could crack friendships forever. Whatever possible, however small, do it to show that you care. We are often taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated.

Be A Panic Button

In classic experiments on stress, people tried to solve puzzles while being blasted at random intervals with uncomfortably loud sounds. They started sweating and their heart rates and blood pressure climbed . They struggled to focus and made mistakes. Many got so frustrated that they gave up.

Searching for a way to reduce anxiety, researchers gave some of the participants an escape. If the noise became too unpleasant, they could press a button and make it stop. Sure enough, the button allowed them to stay calmer, make fewer mistakes, and show less irritation.

What was interesting is that – stopping the noise didn’t make the difference but knowing they could stop the noise did. The button gave them a sense of control and allowed to endure the stress. Just assuring the other person that you are there for them can help reduce their stress.

One of the most memorable sentences from the book is where Sheryl says –

Be Gentle With The Wound

When we think about resilience, we often picture adversity and having the toughness to deal with it. I get the picture of a rugged mountain in my head. But what we probably miss is the more beautiful aspect of resilience – the ability to grow from it, the perspective and appreciation that we gain, the feeling of gratitude for everything that we have. Rather than the rugged mountain, its probably like a gentle waterfall.

I was reminded of a poem I wrote back in the day –

Like a Waterfall :

If you have something to let go
Some pain, some void,
Or an air of melancholy…
Let it go like a waterfall
Flowing freely…

Let your heart settle, so that the mind is clear
Let the soul reflect the hues
The bright emeralds and the azure blues
And in no time,
You will walk past with gentle strides

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