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Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant [Book Summary, ePub and Audiobook]


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What is the book about?

This book is about living and growing after facing off with tragedy. It starts us out with the author’s shot of adversity, introducing us to Sheryl’s recent trauma of becoming a widow.

The book has both touching stories and practical advice. And Sheryl Sandberg opens it with: “Life is never perfect, we all live some form of option B”

Option B is about the struggles that Sandberg faced after her 47-year-old husband’s unexpected death in 2015.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl felt confident that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. It explores the stories of a broad range of people who have overcome challenges in their lives, identifies how we can best talk to and help others in crisis, and offers practical tips for creating resilient families, communities, and workplaces.

About the authors

Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and international best-selling author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Before Facebook, she was vice president of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She previously served as chief of staff for the United States Treasury Department and began her career as an economist with The World Bank.

Sheryl received a BA summa cum laude from Harvard University and an MBA with highest distinction from Harvard Business School.

Adam Grant is a psychologist and Wharton’s top-rated professor. As the New York Times best-selling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World and Give and Take.

As Wharton’s top-rated professor for five straight years, Adam is a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, and live more generous and creative lives.

He has been recognized as one of the world’s twenty-five most influential management thinkers and received distinguished scholarly achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and the National Science Foundation.

Summary of Option B
Free Summary of Option B

Book Summary of Option B

Sandberg and her husband, Dave Goldberg, were on vacation, celebrating a friend’s birthday in Mexico when he died. They had been married 11 years and had two young children.

At the time of his death, the kids were staying back with Sandberg’s parents in California. After Dave was missing for a few hours, Sandberg and two other people found him unresponsive. He couldn’t be resuscitated, and it was a 30-minute ambulance ride to the nearest hospital. Dave died, instantaneously as it turns out from a massive cardiac event, but Sandberg wouldn’t learn that until later.

Sandberg traveled back to California to give her kids the bad news, which was intensely upsetting for everyone. The funeral was incredibly hard too. Sandberg’s grief was almost unbearable, still, she was intrigued when Adam Grant, a family friend, and a psychologist, told her that resilience wasn’t an innate fixed trait, but something that people can cultivate in themselves.

She resolved to work with Grant to learn more about resilience and how she could use it to move forward.

One of the first and most important things that Sandberg learned was a concept called the 3 Ps.

The 3 Ps concept

When dealing with grief it is important to avoid these three unhelpful pitfalls. Psychologist Martin Seligman identified these as the three traits that prevent people from overcoming dramatic events like grief.

1. Personalization

Personalization is the belief that we are at fault. We could have done something different and the outcome would be different. But obviously, it’s not our fault. We were acting the way we would always have acted and we wouldn’t have done it any other way.

People who blame themselves for bad things that happen have a much more difficult time getting past them than those who believe it wasn’t their fault.

2. Pervasiveness

Pervasiveness refers to the assumption that a tragedy will touch every aspect of life.

Pervasiveness is the belief that this event will affect all the areas of our life. The idea that, because this sucks, that sucks and that other thing sucks. Your dog died and now you think your job is going nowhere, your kids don’t like you and your sports team is probably going to lose.

This is just a psychological slant though… not founded in reality. But avoid this way of thinking, one pillar won’t take down the whole castle.

3. Permanence

Permanence is the assumption that a bad situation will never get better. It is the belief that the aftershocks of the events will last forever.

The idea that the feeling we felt when our girlfriend or boyfriend first broke up with us and we couldn’t imagine being happy again. But of course, we don’t even remember that person’s name at this point. And the remnants of the shrine are buried under the rest of the junk in our closet. Time heals all wounds and strong feelings lose their strength.

Permanence may be a hard foe to combat, having to use time travel to do so, but it is necessary to remember and stay focused, to keep a healthy mindset.

“As we get older, we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness. Reverend Veronica Goines sums this up as, “Peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.” 

To build resilience. Sandberg understood that she had to avoid the three Ps. This was difficult, at least at first. Initially, she blamed herself for Dave’s death. Although she got past that when she learned he had died almost instantly.

Pervasiveness and permanence were trickier because it was difficult for Sandberg to imagine that she would ever feel anything other than abject misery. So in the meantime, Sandberg tried to focus on the positive. She tried to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, feeling thankful for all the good things in her life, especially her children.

“Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning into 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.”

– Sheryl Sandberg

Grant told her that psychological research supports the notion that people who express gratitude vociferously are happier than those who dwell on the negative. And he suggested exercises like writing down the things for which she felt grateful. Even when those things seemed small or inconsequential.

One thing that Sandberg found very difficult in the first months after her husband’s death was interacting with other people or at least some other people. It seemed like some people knew exactly what to say, whereas others ignored her tragedy entirely.

Dave’s death was the elephant in the room, especially at work. Sandberg knew that people were hesitant to bring it up because they didn’t want to make her sad, but she was already sad.

Her mother stayed with her for a month after Dave’s death. Her brother called her every day for six months. She felt loved even in her darkest moments as she grieved, Sandberg learned to show herself compassion and forgiveness.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned is how deeply you can keep loving someone after they die. You may not be able to hold them or talk to them, and you may even date or love someone else, but you can still love them every bit as much. Playwright Robert Woodruff Anderson captured it perfectly: “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.”  

Sheryl Sandberg

You would probably like a boost. At the end of the long day, you want something to look forward to. And there is a technique that gives you something to look forward to, while even providing psychological and therapeutic benefits. At the end of the day, pull out your journal and write out these four things:

1. List 3 small wins

They can be anything from, “I went through all of my emails today,” to “I washed a few dishes.” This orients you on your accomplishments of the day and further cements the notion that life isn’t over and you can still progress.

2. Journal a bit

Whatever about the day comes to mind. How you felt, when you felt it, what you did. This serves as not only a trip to the past when you read it over later, but it also has tons of therapeutic benefits.

3. Write out what you are grateful for

One small thing and one big thing. I’m grateful for my health and I’m grateful that I have a car to drive. Gratefulness always brings out a healthy perspective, making you thankful for what you do have and reminding you that things could be much worse.

4. Write out three moments of joy that you experienced

Did you laugh with your co-workers? Did your kids ask you a funny question? Did you step outside into a beautiful day? Write these moments down and you remind yourself that you can still enjoy the events in life. That you haven’t lost that. Plus it’s a good reminder of the fun times, especially when you go through the notebook later.

The Importance of Control

In classic experiments on stress, people performed tasks that required concentration, like solving 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. 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. But the surprising part is that none of the participants actually pushed the button. Stopping the noise didn’t make the difference, knowing they could stop the noise did. They were in control so they could endure the stress.

Having control has always been a factor in satisfaction. Having a button to push when things seem tough makes them more manageable.

Sheryl recommends that you know what mental health resources are available to you and have friends and family that you know you can talk to if need be. Repeat to yourself that if it gets to be too much that you’ve got to push the button, that you’ve always got Joe or Pam to go to and lean on.

To recap, when dealing with grief it is important to avoid personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. Give yourself a boost by writing out 3 small wins, 2 things you are grateful for, 3 moments of joy, and journaling.

Seek out and know that you have a button to push if the weight gets too heavy.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Grant and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania claim there are five forms of post-traumatic growth:

  1. Finding personal strength
  2. Gaining appreciation (joy looks different after trauma—a non-traumatic day is a great day)
  3. Forming deeper relationships (focusing on friends with substance) and
  4. Discovering more meaning in life and seeing new possibilities.

Sandberg says when she first heard Grant talk about this, she thought it was hype. Then Grant replayed her own advice back to her. “You often argue that people can’t be what they can’t see,” Grant said to her. “If you don’t see that growth is possible, you’re not going to find it.” She decided to look for it.

“Post-traumatic growth” makes it sound like something you might want; it’s not. It’s just making the best out of a bad situation, or as Sandberg says, kicking the shit out of option B.

“Tragedy breaks down your door and takes you prisoner. To escape takes effort and energy. Seeking joy after facing adversity is taking back what was stolen from you”

– Sheryl Sandberg

Getting it back can feel like a Herculean accomplishment.

How Children Build Resilience

Building resilience depends on the opportunities children have and the relationships they form with parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends. We can start by helping children develop four core beliefs:

  1. They have some control over their lives
  2. They can learn from failure
  3. They matter as human beings
  4. They have real strengths to rely on and share

Sandberg’s greatest gift on how to help children comes from the family rules she and her children created. They are a profoundly powerful set of guidelines for children who are grieving, and also those who are not. The chart they wrote gives them permission to feel the sadness, anger, and loss permeating their lives. It encourages self-compassion and forgiveness, and allows them happiness when it appears. Perhaps most importantly, it insists they ask for help when they need it.

Sandberg teaches us the power of “double sorries”—quickly saying sorry when rage gets the best of you, and then “mirroring”, or summarizing how the other person is feeling to make sure they feel acknowledged. This is something she learned when she took her daughter to a leadership camp. “We take it back” was a mantra the three of them developed as a way to not give up things that reminded them of Dave, but incorporate them into the fabric of their lives.

“Allowing ourselves to be happy—accepting that it is okay to push through the guilt and seek joy—is a triumph over permanence”

– Sheryl Sandberg

To learn the details, get the audiobook for FREE or get the book here.

What did you learn from the summary of Option B? What was your favorite takeaway? What do you disagree with? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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Option B summary
Summary of Option B

Adapted from Dong Lemus and Average Optimized YouTube channels, Quartz book review and Option B website.

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