As many of you know, this last year has been quite a roller coaster for my family. My dad’s diagnosis and eventual move into a memory care facility has turned our world upside down. The last six months have consisted of auctioning off the family farm equipment, selling my parent’s home of 45 years, and getting my mom packed up and moved into a newly renovated house. I know my family and I are not the only ones out there dealing with significant life events such as death, loss of a job, divorce, a major illness, bankruptcy, etc. We have all been a part of or known circumstances in which bad things happen to good people.
I recently read a book that was extremely impactful in helping understand and sort through some of the feelings that come with such life-changing events. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, written by Sheryl Sandberg recounts the story after her husband tragically passed away when a friend offered to go to her children’s parent-teacher conference with her. Through her grief, she stated that she did not want her friend to go with her…at that moment she only wanted her husband. Her friend wisely said, “Well, Option A isn’t available, so we are going to kick the sh** out of Option B.”
We all want to live in a world in which we get to live Option A. It’s a magical world where everyone stays married, we are uber successful in a job we love, no one gets sick and no one dies tragically. Option B is more realistic and is comprised of a world in which the worst happens and we have to adapt and lean on our friends and family. None of us escape Option B at one time or another…and so, of course, much of what happens in our personal life then negatively impacts our professional life. That is why we set out to answer two questions in this blog: How can we, in our own life, handle those tough times in a more effective way? What can we do or say when our friends and co-workers are experiencing a significant loss or life-changing event?
Two years ago, Sheryl Sandberg was leading a good life. She was the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the legendary New York Times bestseller Lean In. She was a renowned business leader and a role model for women around the world. She was happily married to Dave Goldberg, the CEO of Survey Monkey, and they had two young children. Then the unthinkable happened. On a family vacation in Mexico, her husband, Dave, died unexpectedly of heart failure while exercising in the gym. He was 48.
Since that tragic event, Sandberg co-authored her new book with Wharton Business School professor, Adam Grant, chronicling her own progress from a state of overwhelming, paralyzing grief to being able to appreciate life in a new way. Grant was already an acquaintance of Sandberg and her family, and attended the shiva, the Jewish period of mourning, at Sandberg’s home. As the guests were leaving, Sandberg asked Grant to stay. “I was thinking, OK, he’s a psychologist…. I looked at him, I’m sure hysterical, I was like, ‘What do I do? How am I going to get my kids through this? Tell me what to do.’”
His response was something that might not have worked for everyone, she said, but for her was “incredibly comforting….He started summarizing research.” (Sandberg is a self-described “geek” who holds a B.A. in economics from Harvard) She said, “When anyone gives you any steps you can take — particularly for me, ones that social scientists had studied that they knew worked — that was a lifeline.”
What Sandberg learned, with the help of Grant, was that there are three myths people cling to that make it harder to spring back from adversity. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, bases the three myths on research. He is widely considered the founding father of the positive psychology movement. Seligman proposed that our ability to deal with setbacks is largely determined by three P’s: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence.
Keeping these three P’s in mind can have a positive impact when you do have to deal with your own Option B. But not only do we have to know how to survive these times ourselves, there will be people in our life that are dealing with negative events and knowing how to help those we care about can be significant. These are five tips that Sandberg suggests in order to acknowledge those difficult times:
Acknowledging our own and other’s struggles can be powerful. We hope some of these thoughts and ideas help you in some small way.