“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shit out of it.”
A friend had recommended Option B to me– as he felt it would help me grieve the loss of my father. I had managed to get a copy from Kinokuniya Dubai and dove right in. Option B, in all honesty, started off very well for me, and a lot of what Sheryl Sandberg had to say, resonated with me on a very deep level. However, as the book progresses, I started to deviate from Sandberg’s point of view and found myself skimming over most parts- especially the chapter on kids and work.
(On a side note, I absolutely love the book cover– simple yet impactful– showing a red colored helium balloon lifting up a concrete building block!)
Before anything, it’s imperative to understand and realize that the book is more a personal book for Sandberg as she chronicles how she was able to bounce back to life after the death of her husband. The ideal candidate for this book are women who have lost their spouses and are looking for ways to recover and move on with life.
It’s also geared towards women living in privileged societies. So essentially, Option B will not speak to those living in otherwise-privileged societies. If you are rich, can afford to take extra days off work, can go on holidays with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife and live in a mansion in an affluent society in the US, then this book is for you!
So I will be focusing more on what I got out of the book, and less on what didn’t help me.
The book is split up into ten chapters, which follow a chronological order of how Sandberg dealt with the loss of her husband. With titles like Breathing Again, Self Compassion and Self Confidence, Taking Back Joy, Failing and Learning at Work and To Love and Laugh Again, Sandberg takes the readers on her own personal journey towards grief and coming out of it.
The major highlight for me personally was the part where she talks about grief.
Grief is a universal factor for everyone and as Sandberg says “we don’t experience time in equal increments,” which raises a serious point of how everyone deals with grief in their own ways, as “grief is a demanding companion.” No two persons will grieve in the same way– one might take a year, one might take a decade. In the introductory section, Sandberg says how the “book is about her and Adam’s [co-author of the book] attempt to share what we’ve learned about resilience” as well as about the “capacity of human spirit to persevere.” With grief, we develop some level of resilience- resilience is the “strength and speed of our response to adversity- and we can build it.”
Another major highlight, from the chapter Breathing Again, I thought was mind-opening was what psychologist Martin Seligman said about the three P’s that stunt our recovery. These three Ps are Personalization (the belief that we are at fault), Pervasiveness(the belief that an event will affect ALL areas of our life) and Permanence (that belief that the aftershocks of the event will stay with us forever). Sandberg basically covers these three P’s, and aims to enlighten the readers on ways to overcome them.
Sandberg goes on to talk about how she was able to recover from the loss of her husband by “respecting her feelings” (sadness, anger etc), by not “blaming herself” and then “acknowledging the blessings of her life.” It is when she was able to counter-attack the three Ps that she was able to move on with her life.
I reflected back on to my own life as I struggled to grieve my own father’s death, and thinking of these three Ps, I was able to work my way around battling the negativity.
In the second chapter Kicking The Elephant Out of the Room, I resonated a lot with Sandberg as she talked about her friends drifted apart and didn’t reach out to her for support. It helped me reframe my mindset as to why some people didn’t reach out to me to console the loss of my father. “Sometimes these friends are self-absorbed. Sometimes they’re just uncomfortable having an intimate conversation. People hesitate to ask questions out of concern that probing will dredge up trauma.” I started to realize how some people completely shied away, not because they weren’t concerned about me or anything, but rather that they themselves didn’t know how to approach me.
Secondly, Sandberg talks about how “silence can increase suffering.” This brings up an important point of how we need share our feelings, and to speak up, instead of staying silent.
Some further important points she raises are:
- Friends may turn away from approaching you, perhaps because the pain is real for them too, or simply because they feel helpless or overwhelmed. (page 49)
- When we see someone grieving, we need to treat them the way they want to be treated. Sometimes, just showing up as a friend is enough for the person grieving. (page 51)
- Self-compassion is very important. You need to take care of yourself, in mind, body, and spirit. “Writing can be a powerful tool for self-compassion.” (page 62) This is something that I can vouch for wholeheartedly.
- “Allowing ourselves to be happy- accepting that it is okay to push through the guilt and seek joy – is a triumph over permanence.”(page 99). She advocates for those in grief to take some time and do something that brings joy– whether it’s dancing, writing or simply an experience that reminds you of happy moments.
The two chapters on Kids and Work didn’t resonate very deeply with me on a personal level as she talks about dealing with children and helping them build resilience. She also talks about being in the workplace and struggling to reclaim her life– working with colleagues and friends to bounce back.
One of the key things Sandberg mentions is the fear she had- “Would I be alone for the rest of my life?” She carries out some research and according to psychologist Bella DePaulo, “Singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, and still live happily ever after.” (page 160). It actually turns out that people who choose to be single are very satisfied with their lives.
Option B is a very practical and a personal book, geared specifically for those who are dealing with the death of a loved one. It’s written with much compassion and love, and can surely help one overcome sadness and anger to achieve a life in which they can move on healthily and rediscover joy. The bottom line is how well Sandberg shows us ways to develop and build up our resilience– to help us all bravely battle our lives ahead of us.