Book review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

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Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a hard book to read, in my opinion. Sure, maybe it is for people who have suffered a recent loss: a parent, a sibling, a son or daughter, a spouse. In that case, there are tons of insights that someone who needs a spirit guide, a confidante, could use.
Ms. Sandberg’s husband of eleven years, Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, dropped dead suddenly, during a vacation, leaving her with 2 young children and pieces of a shattered life. Option B is her way of coping, and describes the 2 years following that event. Her friend’s quote: “I know you want Dave back, but Option A is not available. Let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”

Ms. Sandberg, who is well known for her book Lean In, is Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is good friends with Mark Zuckerberg, with Mark Cuban, with Elon Musk, and with many others. At times her casual references to conversations with these folks, as well as contacts with those who responded to her posts on Facebook of her tragedy and her response to it in the following years, seems a bit entitled. How does one empathize with a widow and single mom who has access to all these resources?

And yet, she navigates these waters with grace. Her vulnerability, honesty, raw emotion, are channeled, over time, into productivity, into insight, into lessons learned for others following her path. She also learns from others and revels in their stories as well, as sources of healing.

Her chapter on resilience is particularly apt.

After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: 1. Personalization-belief that we are at fault; 2. Pervasiveness-belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and 3. Permanence- a belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

She speaks of ideas about self-compassion and self-confidence. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for, and write them down, EVERY night. This has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant medication for improving depression symptoms over time. For confidence, write down what you have done well: contributions. This can improve self-confidence over time, especially after major setbacks.

Bouncing forward: ideas about pre-traumatic growth (that is, not waiting until trauma, to grow your own mindset): on your friends’ birthdays, write notes to friends thanking them for their contributions to your life. Gratitude to others often benefits the giver as much as the receiver.

Taking back joy: ‘playing music at the edge of our capabilities is what the psychologists call a “just manageable difficulty.” This level requires all of our attention, giving us no room to think about anything else. Many of us remember being happiest in flow-the state of total absorption in a task.’

Raising resident kids depends on 4 core beliefs:
1. They have some control over their lives.
2. They can learn from failure
3. They matter as human beings
4. They have real strengths to rely on and share

She cites Carol Dweck, the famous educator, on the concept of a Growth Mindset: ‘I am not yet as good as I am going to be.’ Learner’s mindsets can easily be influenced, based on the type of feedback they get from teachers and parents: move away from statements like: ‘you’re smart’ and toward: ‘you worked really hard on this.’ Value persistence and grit (a growth quality) over intelligence (perceived as a static quality: something you have or don’t have).

Asking for help is the heart of building resilience. Sometimes just being there is supportive and appreciated.

CMIO’s take? Resilience takes many forms. In human matters, it is an effective response to trauma. In recent years, to a CMIO, resilience is not just a personal reflection on the difficulty of the job. It is also a stepladder offered to colleagues suffering unprecedented levels of professional burnout related to electronic systems with as-yet inadequate coping systems, inadequate practice efficiencies and inadequate cultural wellness safety nets. A worthwhile read.

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, University of Colorado Health; Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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