I admit, I went into Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg’s new and second book, with a smidgen of bias. Sandberg’s first book, the mega-bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, had arrived at a time in my life when I’d leaned out: my children were in high school, my husband was thriving at his job (read: good income plus too busy to help much at home), and, after two decades of rushing around, I wanted to work a little less, do more for my community, and enjoy my kids’ final years at home.
The last thing I needed was a Harvard-educated Facebook COO seven years my junior, with a famously supportive husband (and surely tons of household help), telling me to “lean way in,” to “pick your field and ride it all the way to the top”—even if I agree with much of what she says in Lean In. (Of course, we need more women in positions of power.)
But Sandberg’s new book—decidedly not Lean In 2—promised a less aggressive, more seasoned author. This because of the sudden, tragic death of Sandberg’s beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, while the two vacationed in Mexico in 2015, throwing her into “a life I was completely unprepared for: The unimaginable.” And that’s what Option B is about.
When “Option A” Disappears
That, and how to recover from this grief and persevere when “Option A” disappears. “And so began the rest of my life,” Sandberg writes—a life that included single parenting, debilitating anxiety, and realizing that leaning in is not always best—or even possible—for everyone. “My confidence crumbled overnight,” she writes, and “my grief prevented me from thinking clearly. Lean in? I could barely stand up.”`My confidence crumbled overnight,’ she writes, and `my grief prevented me from thinking clearly. Lean in? I could barely stand up.’
Over time, helped by generous friends and family, a compassionate boss (yes, Mark Zuckerberg), and a partnership with her colleague and co-author Adam Grant, a psychologist and Wharton professor who studies “how people find motivation and meaning,” Sandberg was able to heal, grow, regain confidence, and even feel joy again. She created better bereavement policies at Facebook, started another nonprofit, and now hopes to teach others what she so painfully learned—including how to build resilience without experiencing tragedy.
Sheryl Sanberg’s Option B: Out of the Dark
I found myself inspired at times, as with her lesson that you can `fail by failing to try.’
Option B features gripping anecdotes about both Sandberg and others, mild politics (“We need…more family-friendly business practices to prevent tragedy from leading to more hardship”), relevant statistics (“After the death of a loved one, only 60 percent of private sector workers get paid time off—and usually just a few days”), and heartfelt advice. (Don’t avoid the subject with someone who’s suffered a loss—people often want to talk about it.)
The ideas can verge on obvious—“Tragedy often makes it harder to pursue new possibilities”—and the writing can be clichéd. (“I am only partway through my own journey.”). But Sandberg’s honest, heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful story combined with her earnest effort to share and educate make her a likeable, sympathetic narrator. And I found myself inspired at times, as with her lesson that you can “fail by failing to try”: The majority of regrets when people were asked to state theirs, she tells us, featured “failures to act, not actions that failed.”
In the end, the book made me think of lines from Stanley Kunitz’ poem “The Testing Tree”: “The heart breaks and breaks/and lives by breaking./ It is necessary to go/ through dark and deeper dark/ and not to turn.” Sandberg was thrown into dark and found her way back to light. Reading this book, we travel that road with her.