Living with “Option B”: Sheryl Sandberg’s New Book

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With the rise of social media, everyone’s life on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. looks perfect. Everyone appears to be living an “Option A”, idyllic kind of life. But life is never perfect. “We all live in some form of Option B. This book [Option B] is to help us all kick the shit out of it.”

Option B triumphs where Lean In never did. Partly due to Sheryl Sandberg’s writing partner, the great Professor Adam Grant at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Where Lean In encouraged women to pursue their ambitions, and basically promised women that they too could have it all. Option B is a more nuanced and thoughtful book.

Option B has the depth that Lean In never did. A recognition that we are not all handed the same deck of cards, and not everyone can lean in all the time. Sometimes health problems, familial obligations, or deaths prevent us from doing so.

Following the death of Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, she was living through a nightmarish Option B. This was compounded by the fact that people weren’t sure how to react to her. Their discomfort was palpable.  People would greet her with the standard meaningless greeting of “how are you?”. She felt like responding, “My husband just died, how do you think I am?” But held back.

Sandberg and Grant write that “All over the world, there is cultural pressure to conceal negative emotions. In China and Japan, the ideal emotional state is calm and composed. In the United States, we like excitement (OMG!) and enthusiasm (LOL!).” American culture demands that we answer positively. We need to be awesome. “Admitting that you are having a rough time is almost inappropriate.”

To counteract this, they encourage us to practice self-compassion. “Self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human.”

In addition to practicing self-compassion, Sandberg and Grant recommend that we count our blessings. And That we count our contributions. And that we count our moments of joy.

For example, after the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg journaled every night. At first, she was skeptical because she was barely functioning. But she found journalling helpful in managing her grief. Originally she wrote down three things she was grateful for. She later turned to writing down three things she accomplished each day (like getting dressed, focussing in a meeting…). Eventually, she transitioned to writing down three moments of joy, which she continues to do to this very day.

Paying attention to moments of joy takes effort. This is because we are wired to focus on the negatives.

But by focussing on the joyful moments, we can become happier. Happiness is the frequency of small positive moments, and not the intensity.

To bounce back after negative events, we need to avoid three behaviours. (1) personalization – the belief that we are at fault. Sometimes it is not you, it is really them. (2) pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives. (3) permanence- the belief that the aftershocks will be forever. Studies have shown that we recover faster when we realize that hardships aren’t entirely our fault, don’t affect every aspect of our lives, and won’t follow us forever.

Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more.

I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

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