Option B Book Review

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

By Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and best-selling author of Lean In. Adam Grant is a world-famous organizational psychologist, podcast host, and best-selling author. The two have co-authored Option B: facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy which explores the current understanding of psychological resilience and post-traumatic growth. The book explains this scenario through the lens of Sandberg’s experience following the unexpected death of her husband at age 47.

Lean In was intended as a modern feminist manifesto to rally women to take on more risks and challenges in their careers. Indeed, many women found it inspirational and joined in person or online “Lean In Circles” to support each other in their careers. However, Lean In was widely criticized for being “tone deaf” because of the perception that Sandberg’s perspective was one of privilege. She is a billionaire executive at a high-profile company, at the time, married to another billionaire, and raised by wealthy, professional parents. The actions suggested in Lean In were almost impossible for single parents or those without access to support networks to achieve.

Following the death of her husband, Sandberg publicly acknowledged that she had no idea how difficult it was to parent alone when she wrote the book.

I read Option B thinking that perhaps she would have broadened her thinking to consider more diverse perspectives concerning the topic.

I was wrong.

Option B could more accurately be subtitled: “facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy for the ridiculously wealthy.”

Sandberg relates her personal experience to current research on such topics as:

  • How people reacted to her following her loss
  • How to support someone who is going through hard times
  • Developing resilience
  • Allowing herself to be happy and move on

While the psychological theory and strategies themselves are sound, Sandberg manages to make them feel irrelevant with her tone-deaf examples and anecdotes. Here are a few that stood out for me:

Cringe Moment One

I called Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at Wharton. Adam walked me through the data: after losing a parent, many children are surprisingly resilient. They go on to have happy childhoods and become well-adjusted adults.

Great advice if you happen to be friends with any psychologist, even one who is not world-famous. Many people cannot afford or do not have access to mental health services. Granted, this is not the most jarring example in the book, but it occurs in the introduction.

Cringe Moment Two

It was April 2016, and I was close to crossing the finish line on the Year of Firsts with three dreaded milestones still to go. My son’s first birthday without a father. My first wedding anniversary without a spouse. And a new unwelcome anniversary: the first anniversary of Dave’s death.

There were so many depressing firsts that I wanted to find a positive one for my kids, so I took them to Los Angeles to visit SpaceX’s headquarters.

That is what we all do to cheer our kids up.

Cringe Moment Three

When my friend Jeff Huber lost his wife to colon cancer, I passed along what many had told me: don’t make any big decisions in the early stages of acute grief. Fortunately, Jeff ignored my advice. He quit his job to become CEO of GRAIL, a company that aims to detect cancer in its earliest phases.

Sandberg gives multiple examples of acquaintances who have founded Non-Profits following a tragic event. While this is admirable, once again, it is an option that is only available to those with a certain level of financial security.

I do not want to diminish Sandberg’s grief or negate her experience. What happened to her was a tragedy. There is wisdom and learning to be found in this book. In my reading, however, I found that the frequent examples of billionaire experiences made it difficult to relate to the otherwise worthwhile content.


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