We all live some form of Option B. This book will help us make the most of it.
~ Blurb of ‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg
For this book review of Option B, I’m going to try a new format of writing a review post : a chapter by chapter review. This book is not only about the grief of losing someone you love, but also various other reasons why people are forced to reinvent themselves and choose Option B. And hence, I’m doing this review on a chapter-by-chapter basis.
Title: Option B : Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy
Author: Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Self-Help / Personal Development
Price: Hardcover Rs. 599, Paperback Rs. 299.
I read the: Paperback version, thanks to Penguin India’s giveaway!
The introduction to the book draws you into the book with a promise of helping you understand the background for Sheryl’s grief. The readers are introduced to her beloved, departed husband, Dave Goldberg, and to the last day she spent with him before he died. It also gives a brief overview of everything that happened afterwards: the funeral, meeting Adam Grant, and a sprinkling of anecdotes on her life as a widow. The last line of the introduction is one that we must tattoo onto our brains:
Chapter 1: Breathing Again
In this chapter, Sandberg shares anecdotes from her path to recovery from the grief of losing her husband. How she took up the courage to get back to work after the Jewish mourning period, shiva. How she managed to get her son and daughter back to their normal routine of school and other activities. It was tough for her to appear strong in front of others. Daily activities that seem normal to people untouched by grief could make her weep without a moment’s notice. with the help of this book, the readers can understand what exactly went on inside her mind, when all the people around her just saw a grieving widow in their midst. She also writes about the three Ps: personalization, pervasiveness and permanence.
Chapter 2: Kicking the Elephant out of the Room
This chapter is all about helping relatives and friends of the grieving person understand why to speak to the grieving person without using euphemisms of death and loss, what to say, what not to say, whether to say or not to say, understanding whether the grieving person wants to talk about the situation or not, how to share past personal incidents of grief with a friend who’s currently going through a tough time. Sandberg shares practical tips that she has implemented in her life, and also tips that she has learned from others.
Chapter 3: The Platinum Rule of Friendship
‘A friend in need is a friend indeed‘, right? This chapter is again aimed at the people surrounding the grieving person. It gives pointers to friends and relatives on how to assure the grieving person that you are there for them. The example of Owen Thomas, the co-author Adam Grant’s student, is a heartbreaking one. Sheryl has also explained more about the Kvetching Order concept. To put it briefly, this concept illustrates who must comfort whom and who must seek and receive support from whom in a crisis situation.
Chapter 4: Self-Compassion and Self-Confidence
This chapter assists the grieving person in building their self-confidence after a personal loss or tragedy. Sheryl writes about her attempt at journalling, which she commenced on the day of her husband’s funeral. Many more examples of resilient individuals, who bounced back after devastating loss and sadness are shared in this chapter.
Chapter 5: Bouncing Forward
“Every day, every hour, turn the pain into power“. These are a few lyrics from The Script’s song, “Superheroes“. The examples in this chapter will show the reader how people bounce forward from their personal rock bottom. While one parent lost a kid due to a rare form of epilepsy, a couple lost two children due to a murder committed by the children’s nanny. These real-life stories will shock you to the core and bring tears to your eyes. The story which made me close my eyes and the book for a few minutes was the one of Brooke and Meredith.
Chapter 6: Taking Back Joy
Losing a family member or someone close to you makes you grieve. You will find it hard to smile, laugh and be happy. And even when you do smile and laugh, your grin will turn into a frown and a cascade of tears. Why? Because you feel guilty about being happy for a brief second, when you’ve been sad for a long time. Sandberg urges the readers in this book to take up activities which make them happy, because every person deserves to be happy.
Chapter 7: Raising Resilient Kids
“Since the day Dave died, I have continued to talk about him. It’s not always easy to do and I’ve watched adults flinch, as if it’s too painful for them to be reminded. But I have a deep desire to keep Dave’s memory alive, and when I mention him he remains present. Because our children were so young, I realise – and this completely breaks my heart – that their memories of their father will fade, so it’s up to me to make sure they know him.”
~ An excerpt from Chapter 7, Option B
This chapter is all about helping kids grieve and understand that they are loved and cared for. It also teaches the important lesson that kids grieve in a different way than adults. Sandberg shares ways in which the parents or relatives or parents of the kid’s friends can support the kids when they need love and affection the most.
Chapter 8: Finding Strength Together
This chapter opens with the Andes catastrophe, which is an ultimate example about human resilience. I don’t want to summarise the catastrophe here, as I hope you read the story in its entirety in the book itself. This story brings out the need for support groups and communities, and how they impact the lives of its members.
Chapter 9: Failing and Learning At Work
This chapter does not tackle grief. It focuses on the ‘reinventing yourself’ aspect, which is applicable in any situation where feedback or criticism is given. It shows the reader how to accept feedback as well as criticism graciously and in a pro-active manner.
Chapter 10: To Love and Laugh Again
The final chapter in this book addressed the problem of dating for widows and widowers. ‘When is the right time to date? Should you pay heed to the questioning looks of society?’, etc.
Overall, I did find this book to be helpful. The personal stories of Sheryl Sandberg, whose name features in Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the World List (2012), helps the reader understand that grief permeates through every class, race, creed, gender of human beings. Grief is an emotion that can make or break us. Understanding more about grief by connecting with survivors of great emotional tragedies is the key to coping with grief when it strikes oneself. After all, not a single person on earth has never grieved. Be it the loss of a loved one, a pet, a job, physical disabilities, there is a cause for tears at least once in your lifetime. The curation of examples and cases from the lives of Sandberg and Grant’s friends and colleagues serve to break wide-spread illusions that many people have in their minds about grief.
If I do have to gripe about the book, here’s what I’d say: The book seemed a bit too unorganised. It seemed like a well-edited rant, which could have done with a bit more editing. In many chapters, the positioning of the paragraphs seemed haphazard. It’s almost as if the chapters were published directly from co-authors brain onto the paper, without any consideration of the fact that readers could find it difficult to follow the narrative. The chapters could also have been segregated into two different sections: one for the person suffering a loss, and two, for the relatives and friends who wish to comfort the person.
Here are some criticisms I found about the book online, and my thoughts on them:
- Name dropping: There are various instances in the book where Sandberg casually mentions the names of people we would never imagine we will meet. For example, the Mark mentioned in various chapters is THE Mark Zuckerberg. I must confess that I initially read the name Mark and assumed he was just another Mark in Sandberg’s life. But when I read the name Mark in conjunction with Priscilla, that’s when I had my Mentos moment. However, this and many other instances of supposed ‘name-dropping’ didn’t really make the book seem less relatable. Grief affects everyone, rich or poor. Whether you have the access to support groups, self-help books or not, mental resilience is something each and every one of us can work on. Hence, I did not feel that this criticism was valid.
- ‘She’s so rich, she doesn’t have to work, and can hence find time to grieve and cry. But that’s not true for us.’: When I read hints of this criticism in the online reviews, I actually burst out laughing. How can you just ASSUME that the COO OF FACEBOOK doesn’t have to work? How do you even think Facebook would continue to be the most popular social networking site if the C-suite didn’t work? While I do agree that the rich have access to nannies and maids and housekeepers, that’s not the point that Sandberg wishes to make via her book. ‘Option B’ is a guide which will help you make your mind resilient. It’s not a book on time management.
- The timing of the book: This book was published in 2017, and Sheryl lost her husband in 2015. Some readers found that this two year gap was not enough for Sandberg to give her opinion about grief and everything else under that umbrella. My thoughts on this, and I will use an analogy: When a blogger writes about a personal incident, and shares some experience that they have gathered from it, don’t you lap it up and accept it as a life lesson? In the blogging world, most personal posts are published almost immediately or within a week’s time. Isn’t this kind of content also advice / self help content? Life lessons are life lessons, whether you learn it in a day or over a decade.
I would recommend this book to every one of my readers who has recently suffered a loss, and every one of my readers who is related to or friends with someone going through a tough time. After reading this book, I do understand your need for love, support and a friendly word. It would be prudent for me to share with you this website OptionB.org and the Option B Community on Facebook. This is a non-profit initiative by Sheryl Sandberg to help people build resilience and find meaning in the face of adversity. Also, do feel free to leave a comment here, about your experience with grief, how you overcame it / are overcoming it / helping someone overcome it.
My rating for this book is 4 stars!
am also linking this post to The Era I Lived In’s #BookTalk.