Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

Episode 8: Book Summary

Episode 8. The Ocho.

“Here’s what I learned about grief. When I was grieving the loss of my wife, on a walk accompanied by my sorrow, I saw a 5-year-old boy sobbing as he stared at his lollipop, shattered on the sidewalk. I realized that his grief was no different than mine. We all experience loss in different ways at different times.” – the older gentleman sitting next to me at a coffee shop as I wrote this

The book, Option B, holds a special place in my heart. My college roommate, Henry, died in 2017. In the days following his death, I went to see one of my professors, Adam Grant, who had just published this book on grief. He gave me a copy and I consumed it in 24 hours. These are my personal notes from that time. (I consider it one of the lucky breaks of my life that I was in Adam’s class when this happened. Adam’s counsel helped me stay on track in college and progress forward in building my life.)

In the book, Sheryl Sandberg recounts the unexpected death of her husband. She shares her experience of his death and the months that followed with unfiltered emotion. It’s raw and it’s real. Adam layers on studies, stories, and tactical steps for engaging with grief. Lots could be said about what happens to the deceased after death, but this book is written for those of us who are left behind, who are left missing the person in their physical form. That said, the lessons & stories in the book extend well beyond grief. The book answers the question: “tragedy has struck & life has changed, what now?”

For example, the idea that I could “Bounce Forward” was an empowering perspective-shift that changed my relationship to Henry’s death. It reframed the grieving process as something I could engage with to change “for the better” rather than simply “get back to baseline.”

Henry’s death brought my own life into perspective. It served as a reminder of my own impermanence.
A call to action to direct my attention to the people and things that matter to me
To drop my attachments, anxieties, & insecurities
To pursue what I’m inspired
To say what I mean
To cherish my relationships
To love others every chance I get
To enjoy my life
Because this is it

The “Memento Mori” tattoo on my arm is a reminder to carry this perspective with me always.

I subscribe to the idea that experiencing death and hardship isn’t guaranteed to make life happier, but it does make it realer.

At the bottom of this email, I've included a few meditations / talks / letters that I consistently referenced during that time (and to this day).

In closing, consider this an open offer to be an ear for you whenever you’re experiencing hardship (which is certainly not limited to the loss of a loved one). I’ve had family, friends, and strangers show up for me in ways I could have never expected. I would welcome the chance to pay it forward. In its own self-fulfilling way, it gives purpose to my past pain. “The club that nobody wants to belong to is incredibly bonding.”

Happy Sunday & be well,

Chapter 1 - Breathing Again

  • 3 P's

    • Personalization - it's my fault this is awful

    • Pervasiveness - my whole life is awful

    • Permanence - it's always going to be this awful

  • Banish the word "I'm sorry"

    • I hadn't interrupted everyone's lives. Tragedy had.

  • Work helps deal with pervasiveness. It's a place to let you feel like yourself

  • Replace "never" and "always" with "sometimes" and "lately"

    • I will always feel this awful -> I will sometimes feel this awful

  • Lean in to the suck - instead of being surprised by negative feelings, expect them

  • Think about worst case scenarios. Then turn to gratitude to appreciate the current situation

2 - Kicking the Elephant Out of the Room

  • "Let me not die while I am still alive"

  • Choose meaning over emptiness

  • Response to "how are you?"

    • "I'm not okay, and I'm glad I can be honest with you about that"

    • "I acknowledge your pain. I'm here with you."

3 - The Platinum Rule of Friendship

  • Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated

    • Don't offer to do anything, just do something

  • Friendship is not only what you can give, but also what you can receive

  • "We are going to get through this."

  • "One day she woke up and understood we are all in this together."

4 - Self-Compassion and Self-Confidence

  • Self-compassion: offering the same kindness to ourselves as we would offer a friend

    • Respond to our own errors with concern and understanding rather than criticism and shame. It's not self-pity or self-indulgence. It's understanding.

    • This is the antidote to the cruelty we sometimes inflict on ourselves

  • Doing a bad thing doesn't make us a bad person

    • "If only I weren't" -> "if only I hadn't"

  • Guilt is feeling bad about an action. Shame is feeling small and worthless

    • The latter becomes an identity

  • Journaling can help you face your fear head on. It can help you construct a narrative of the trauma and draw insights from it

  • Turn self-limiting beliefs into self-freeing beliefs

    • "My worth isn't tied to my actions"

  • Self-confidence can be flattened after trauma. It's a symptom of "pervasiveness"

  • Journaling can help process the overwhelming feelings and regrets

    • Tip: write 3 things that went well each day and why (small wins)

  • "Counting our contributions" - builds confidence and the belief that we can make a difference

5 - Bouncing Forward

  • Bouncing forward - believing in post-traumatic growth

  • 5 forms:

    • Finding personal strength

    • Gaining appreciation

    • Forming deeper relationships

    • Discovering more meaning in life

    • Seeing new possibilities

  • Finding personal strength

    • I am more vulnerable than I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined

    • I lost my best friend… but I’m still here

  • Gaining appreciation

    • "He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW"

    • It is possible to experience tragedy and come out of it more grateful

    • Celebrate every day since that day. Celebrate every morning that I wake up. I'm lucky to be alive

  • Forming deeper relationships

    • Tragedy can fortify bonds between friends and family. In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity we know our friends

  • Finding greater meaning in life

    • "In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning"

    • "Finding God or a higher power reminds us that we are not the center of existence, and there is order and purpose to it anyway. It helps us feel that our suffering is not random or meaningless."

  • Seeing new possibilities

    • Don't waste emotional energy on wishing for your old life, instead look for new possibilities

    • "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

    • Create a co-destiny

      • "The awareness that I could add goodness to Henry's life by doing good in his name motivates me to this day."

  • Help others facing a similar situation

    • It gives our suffering purpose - help where I've been hurt so that my wounds aren't in vain

6 - Taking Back Joy

  • Survivor guilt - followed by gratitude that it wasn't me followed by shame for thinking we're a bad person for being grateful it wasn't me

  • “A life chasing pleasure without meaning is an aimless existence. Yet a meaningful life without joy is a depressing one."

    • "He would want you to be happy - even now. Don't take that away from him."

    • Reverse the roles and write Henry a letter as if it truly was me that died instead of him

  • Focusing on others’ happiness can be the motivator we need to jumpstart our own happiness

  • "I'll take it back"

    • Take back the things that Henry and I used to do. Or things that remind me of Henry. Find joy and connection in those activities

  • Joy

    • Joy is a triumph over permanence

    • It's a form of self-compassion

    • Seeking joy after facing adversity is taking back what was stolen from you.

    • Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.

    • Joy is dependent solely on me. Not my situation or circumstance or friends. I have to find it.

  • The frequency of happy interactions is more important than the intensity

    • "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives"

    • "Happiness is the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays"

    • Tip: pursue and record 3 moments of joy each day

    • "A day of joy is fifteen minutes. A day of pain is fifteen years. No one pretends this is easy, but the job of life is to make those fifteen minutes into fifteen years and those fifteen years into fifteen minutes."

  • Find flow.

7 - Raising Resilient Kids

  • Resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It's a lifelong project.

  • 4 core beliefs:

    • I have some control over my life

    • I can learn from failure

    • I matter as a human being

    • I have real strengths I can rely on and share

  • Transition from fixed to growth mindset

    • View ability as something that is developed

  • Double sorry

    • Say sorry to the person whose feelings you hurt and they say sorry to you

    • This enables you to forgive each other and yourself

  • Mirroring

    • Person who is upset says why they're upset. Then person who hurt feelings repeats that and apologizes

    • Shows acknowledgement of the other persons feelings and that they matter

  • Sleep is extremely important when dealing with adversity because we need that energy to feel joy and resilience

  • Asking for help is at the core of building resilience

    • It shows that I matter and people care about me

    • I exercise some level of control over my situation

    • I realize that my current state isn't permanent and can be improved

  • Tip: don't be afraid to talk about Henry. It keeps his memory and legacy alive

  • Tip: journal all aspects of Henry. It'll be something that I cherish for years to come. The memories and mannerisms of him will fade so I want to capture what they truly were from my perspective at this time

8 - Finding Strength Together

  • Change tragedy into a miracle, depression into hope

  • Grounded hope: the understanding that if you take action you can make things better

    • You aren't entirely reliant on divine intervention or someone else's aid

    • Your own actions can and will improve the situation

  • Collective resilience: resilience built together among individuals, fueled by shared experiences, shared narratives, shared power

  • Accept your identity, as someone who lost a best friend, sooner rather than later

    • It will open up new communities who can provide long term support

    • The club that nobody wants to belong to is incredibly bonding

  • Create a shared narrative

    • Gives you collective control over the past and reshapes it to your advantage.

  • Moral elevation: being uplifted by uncommon goodness. Brings out the better angels in all of us. Not being pulled down by hatred, but seeing the good in the situation and others

9 - Failing and Learning at Work

  • We learn more after BIG failures than small failures or successes. We scrutinize these more closely.

    • But to be resilient after failures, we must admit our mistakes to ourselves. We must open up rather than get defensive and shut down

  • The majority of regrets are about failures to act rather than actions that fail

  • Expected and intense debriefs after failures reframe the failure as a learning opportunity

    • Identify why the mistake happened in excruciating detail

  • For some, extreme compartmentalization is a superpower

    • If a failure occurs, I'm able to ask myself "is someone going to die?" If the worst isn't going to happen then I'm not afraid of failure

  • "You'd think sharing would slow you down, but it takes time and energy to hide things."

    • Being more open personally can help you be more open professionally

  • YGT: "you got this"

10 - To Love and Laugh Again

  • Humor can build resilience

    • Laughter breaks tension by making stressful situations less threatening

    • It signals that the situation is safe

  • You can still love them deeply even after they die

    • "Death ends a life but not a relationship"

  • Relationships that fail depend on how each responds to "bids for attention, affection, support, or laughter"

    • Depends on whether you "turn away" or "turn toward"

  • Resilient relationships depend on a capacity to carry intense emotions and withstand strain

  • 3 parties in a relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. The third is a meaningful entity that must be nurtured

  • During fights, humor can show that even though the two are fighting, they are ok

    • Argument is laced with humor and affection

  • Resilience in love means finding strength from within that you can share with others. Finding your own way to love when life doesn't work out as planned. Finding the hope to love and laugh again when love is cruelly taken from you. And finding a way to hang on to love when the person you love is gone

  • Resilience is often confused with closure

    • It's ok to continue to miss the person and not be "over it"

  • If on the day that I met Henry, someone told me that we would only get to spend 3 years together, I wouldn't have changed a thing

Tara Brach - River of Change Part 1

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3jJ1quJ5_g

  • There's a profound sorrow of missing the form. But also some deep truth that we're in this field of love together. That's the gift of opening to impermanence. It's realizing who we are beyond the forms that are changing.

  • What happens if you open to the dimensions of this loss with deep kindness. Really letting the river move through you

  • When we sense the realness of loss we start loving more fully. We sense what matters in our lives

  • "I'm going to die. You're going to die. All we have is these precious moments. When we open to the losses, we open to the love."

  • Poem - "Deepening Wonder"

  • "Death is a favor to us."

Tara Brach - River of Change Part 2

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njKUTH4E-y0

  • Meet our edge and soften

  • Let go into the pain of loss

  • Discover the tenderness amidst that fear

  • The key to waking up is a shift in identity - to a tender loving awareness that includes those waves but isn’t stuck behind them

  • And when the work of grief is done, the wound of loss will heal and you will have learned to ween your eyes from that gap in the air and be able to enter the place in your soul where your loved one has awaited your return all the time

"We Were Made for These Times” poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

  • https://www.awakin.org/v2/read/view.php?tid=2195

  • We are seaworthy vessels capable of navigating the stormy waters of these times. For years we’ve been in training for this exact plane of engagement

  • "When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for."

Tao of Seneca

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