Option B

"Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shit out of it."

- Option B, page 13

On May 1, 2015, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s life was shattered in a single instant. While on vacation abroad in Mexico, Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg (SurveyMonkey’s CEO) died suddenly and unexpectedly, sending her life into a tailspin.

In Option B, Sandberg and her co-author, Adam Grant (Originals), write with unvarnished candor about overcoming adversity by strengthening your resilience muscle. While, mercifully, not all of us will face the kind of devastating tragedy that Sandberg has endured, none of us are immune to setbacks in one form or another. “We all deal with loss: jobs lost, loves lost, lives lost,” the authors write. “The question is not whether these things will happen. They will, and we will have to face them.”

Sandberg and Grant give us the tools to do just that.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Avoiding the Three P’s

"Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t affect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them forever."
- Option B, page 16

To overcome adversity when it inevitably hits, it’s critical to be prepared for it. Think of it as a pre-emptive strike against whatever life may throw your way. Sandberg and Grant explain that we “plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.” They cite the work of Martin Seligman, who labored for decades trying to understand how some survive adversity while others are crushed under its weight, and identified three P’s that “stunt recovery”. They are:

  • Personalization – “the belief that we are at fault;”
  • Pervasiveness – “the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life;”
  • Permanence – “the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.”

Being conscious of these pitfalls is a great way to avoid them the next time adversity strikes. The Insights below offer two effective ways to strengthen your resilience muscle.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Turning feelings into words

"“…more than a hundred experiments have documented the therapeutic effect of journaling. It has helped medical students, patients with chronic pain, and women after child birth."
- Option B, page 62-63

As someone who has a passion for writing, I’m aware of how cathartic the process can be. However, until reading Option B, I had never realized the extent to which it can increase our self-compassion and self-confidence, and in turn strengthen our resilience against adversity.

The following experiment illustrates just how profoundly effective it can be:

“Decades ago, health psychologist Jamie Pennebaker had two groups of college students journal for fifteen minutes a day for just four days—some about nonemotional topics and others about the most traumatic experiences of their lives, which included rape, attempted suicide, and child abuse. After the first day of writing, the second group was less happy and had higher blood pressure. This made sense, since confronting trauma is painful. But when Pennebaker followed up six months later, the effects reversed and those who wrote about their traumas were significantly better off emotionally and physically.”

Journaling has some other surprising health benefits, including:

  • Higher T-cell counts
  • Improved liver function
  • Stronger antibody responses

As the authors remind us, journaling is something we can stop and start when we feel it’s appropriate. They also advocate other writing related exercises as well, including:

  • Recognize your small wins by jotting down three things you do well each day.
  • Think back to a failure or a humiliating event (no, this is not meant to be masochistic). Write a letter addressed to yourself “expressing the understanding [you] would offer to a friend in the same situation. Compared to a control group who wrote just about their positive attributes, those who were kind to themselves were 40 percent happier and 24 percent less angry.”

Go on, get writing!

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"The ability to listen to feedback is a sign of resilience, and some of those who do it best gained that strength in the hardest way possible."
- Option B, page 151

You might not necessarily think of feedback and resilience as being connected, but they are. Feedback is something that we all know is a key component to our growth, both personally and professionally, but how many of us are truly comfortable receiving it—and doling it out?

When you’re on the receiving end of criticism, it can often be hard to accept without taking it personally. The authors quote law professors Doug Stone and Sheila Heen, who provide an effective way for you to self-evaluate how you’re doing on that score: “After every low score you receive, give yourself a ‘second score’ based on how well you handle the first score. . . . Even when you get an F for the situation itself, you can still earn an A+ for how you deal with it.”

As for handing out negative feedback, its efficacy is all in how you frame it. “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them,” is how Sandberg often begins criticism.

As the authors remind us, “building resilient teams and organizations takes open and honest communication. When companies fail, it’s usually for reasons that almost everyone knows but almost no one has voiced. When someone isn’t making good decisions, few have the guts to tell that person, especially if that person is the boss.”

Sandberg is also a big proponent for having at least one hard conversation a month, and encourages each member of her team to do the same. It will probably make you a little uneasy at first, but if you keep at it up it the result can only be a more open and communicative organization with fewer setbacks.

Setbacks are inevitable. In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant equip us with the tools to face them with grace, humour and fortitude as they arise along life’s journey.

Go ahead. Kick the shit out of Option B.

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Andy Budgell

ABOUT Andy Budgell

Andy is the Managing Editor at Actionable Books. A graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Literature program, Andy brings a love of words to Actionable, and complements the team with his distinct writing ability, amazing customer service, and a passion for film.
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