book club, book reading, book recommendations, book review, tragedy

What If You Can’t Have Option A?

I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book called Option B.  I found it so moving (on my Kindle) that I immediately went and bought a paper edition that I hope to lend to a few friends who are struggling. Now, I understand that there are those who did not enjoy this book. They complain that Sheryl does not live a normal life and that, even though she went through a terrible tragedy, she has resources at her disposal that make her perseverance and recovery unparalleled to that of a normal person. Sandberg addresses this elephant in the room right away. Yes, she has unimaginable resources. But nothing is bringing her husband back and no resources can make up for that loss.

What I liked about this book was its accessibility. She wrote about her own pain and journey, but in collaborating with a Wharton professor who researches resilience, she offers the reader many avenues for recovery and hope. I haven’t been through the type of tragedy that Sheryl experienced (and certainly anyone who has experienced this type of pain may have their own opinions about the book’s ability to help). I found the book relevant, however, in so many ways. We all have setbacks to overcome and times when Option A in our lives doesn’t work or isn’t an option. Whether you’re dealing with a sick child, a divorce, a chronic illness or a death, Sandberg’s thoughts and Grant’s research can really make a difference.

Here are just three little gems from the book that I wanted to share:

  1. Escape buttons: Sandberg pointed to a fascinating piece of research on stress. During an experiment, people were asked to perform a task that required concentration while they were subjected to loud sounds at random times. After monitoring the stress that participants exhibited and the discomfort they felt, researchers then gave some of the participants an escape button. They were told that they could press it to make the noise stop as they felt they needed to. The button allowed for a significantly different experience for the participants. But here is what was amazing. The act of having the button in front of them was what changed their stress levels – not the act of actually pressing it! Sandberg continues in Chapter 3 to explain how this idea can be used in your own life.
  2. Is there anything I can do? While most people are well meaning when they ask if they can do something, they end up putting the obligation onto the person who is struggling by asking this question. As author Bruce Feiler explains in Sandberg’s book “Instead of offering ‘anything’ just do something.” Of course many people will say, “But I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to do something they don’t need.” Sandberg gave a great example of this. Rather than asking a family in need if they want dinner one night, just call up and say “What do you not want on your pizza?” This approach can be used for so many situations.
  3. Journaling: Sandberg wrote a lot about how journaling helped with her recovery and her ability to move forward. First she would just write about what she was feeling. Then, Grant had her start to write three things that she had done well each day. Then she switched to writing about three things she was grateful for and eventually she also wrote about three things that brought her joy. Any or all of these ideas are inspiring and lovely.

There is so much to take away from the book.

One more thing. At the very beginning of the book, she discusses how psychologist Martin Seligman found that there were three Ps that really stunt people’s abilities to get through struggles. They represent personalization (this is my fault), pervasiveness (this event will affect everything in my life) and permanence (this will last forever). This idea is a fascinating one and certainly worth considering. The researchers found that people recover far better when they come to understand that the incident or situation isn’t their fault, doesn’t affect every aspect of their lives all the time, and won’t follow them forever.

I welcome anyone’s opinion who has read the book. Certainly, if you’ve been through a personal tragedy or you’re going through one now, you may have an entirely different reaction. And it’s a great thing that there are so many books, help groups, online forums and other places to get the help you need. This is but one option – Option B – of many, and it’s one that really made me think.

May we share only good news in the road ahead and not need Option B too often.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *