Thursday, 17 August 2017

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

How does one treat adversity? how does one address failure? in our day and age, when negative instances can have a major impact on our lives, we need to look for ways to handle these, survive, move on and eventually thrive.

In Option B, Sandberg looks into a topic that is not easily discussed and is best kept untouched. Taking inspiration from a major incident in her own life, the sudden death of her husband, she consults with Grant and other professionals and seeks to find ways to successfully get out of a black hole that can easily absorb anyone affected.

What I like about this book is the fact that adversity does not necessarily mean death.  While it would have been easy for Sandberg to base the whole book on her experience (and, granted, most of the situations referred to relate to her), she makes an effort to cover several facets of adversity that hit each of us in our daily lives.  Like anything, adversity lies in the eyes of the beholder - while some can cope with failure and see the opportunity to learn, others may have simply have invested too much to let go so easily.
While I was not interested in all of the examples mentioned in this book, I did find that some universal truths apply to all of us.  How do most react when challenged?  How refreshing to see this in writing - the three P's that can stunt recovery:
- personalisation - it's my fault
- pervasiveness - my whole life is affected
- permanence - it will last forever

From then on, Sandberg looks into specific instances and tries to list a series of steps one can take to conquer the above assumptions.  Again, nothing new but I did find it a well thought out exercise in organising and making certain the right tools are there to help and protect us in difficult times.

Personalisationtwo mantras spring to mind and which I also found in the book -- "believe in yourself" and "you're only human" (or something of this kind).  If the adversity is indeed a mistake on my part, it is my actions that have produced it, not my character.  Whew! it's as easy as that, people! Be ashamed of what I did, so that I make certain I improve instead of feeling guilty and small and worthless.  Also: be realistic, be hopeful, be true to yourself.  Granted, theory is much better than the practice, which is where the second motto comes in handy.  No one is perfect: recognize our imperfections as part of our human heritage, and we can build up our resilience and self-esteem.

Pervasiveness - a.k.a the power of networking.  And not the networking in order to get a promotion - here it is the support of family / friends / colleagues / society.  No man is an island, said John Donne and this is all the more true when adversity hits.  However optimistic / hopeful / resilient we are, we are human and we need the support of fellow humans to a. show/remind us the good side of life and b. to help us sustain injuries and gently show us the way back to a balanced life.  I found it interesting that Sandberg also makes a point about the support structures businesses and society must have for their members - something I thought (as a European, I admit) was not that much in high regard in the USA.  Pleasantly surprised, this is the only way forward.  Care for your employees/citizens, and they will care for you. 

As a side note, I also appreciated the "push" to talk about adversity - as Sandberg so nicely puts it 

If your ankle gets shattered, people ask to hear the story. If your life gets shattered, they don't

This is a very big note to myself not only towards colleagues, but also friends:  whenever I have bypassed my instinctive reluctance to ask about touchy subjects, I have witnessed how relieved my counterpart was to actually tell me the whole story - and how it improved our relationship... 

In prosperity our friends know us.  In adversity, we know our friends

Permanence:  the big black hole, ready to absorb all our energy...

On reading this book, I had several wake-up calls, and one is already in this part

(writing down 3 things I had done well each day) ... made me realise that for my entire life I had gone to bed thinking about what I had done wrong that day, how I'd messed up, what wasn't working  That is me - what a waste of time! Needless to say, I now religiously write down 3 happy moments that happened in the day (even if it is drinking an amazing cappuccino!)
Option B also talks about the more complex cases of refugees and children and how the same principles, albeit somewhat more elaborate, can be applied to build resilience. I admit I was intrigued so see these two categories included, but as I kept on reading, not only did I admire the thoroughness of the work carried out for this book but I now also look at them from a different perspective (see above, the power of networking - treat the others as they want to be treated).
And then there is another complex case - the case of a "stereotype threat". Let me count the ways: I am - woman, middle-aged, middle class, highly educated, no children ... I kept reading the book and I would make different noises of surprise and disgust as to the many, many faces of prejudice, affecting people around the globe, even in our day of globalisation, instant communication and access to a wealth of information. The danger of falling victim of prejudice is enormous, and I fully agree with the mantra expressed in the book:
I could fail by failing to try 

In the end, it is our society that will indicate whether we have the culture to acknowledge missteps and regrets.  In most cases, these regrets will be about failing to act, not actions that failed. What we need is to appreciate our ability to withstand and

If I were to find something of a downer (and I may be stretching it a bit) in this book, it would be the shameless promotion of Facebook as a great workplace and Mark Zuckerberg as a wonderful boss.  I'm not suggesting that this is not true, but I would be much happier if they were referred to once or twice instead of constantly...


  1. Welcome back �� Great post ! I had heard about this book and thought like you it would be a promotion for Facebook, but after reading your blog I am intrigued �� Patricia ��

  2. Yes, welcome back. This one sounds interesting but I too would be annoyed by the constant Zuckerberg/Facebook mentions.

    1. thank you! Yes, it's a shame because otherwise it's a really good book




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