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Shelf Life: Embracing Option B

Shelf Life: Embracing Option B

Building resilience in times of loss.

“Option B” is a modern take on grief and resilience. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” invites us behind the curtain to experience the tragic loss of her husband, David, and the process that she and her children went through following his death. Her friend and co-author, psychologist Adam Grant, assures Sheryl throughout that resilience is not a fixed thing — she can build up her strength and speed of response to adversity, and so can we.

Helping Ourselves

The lessons of resilience in the face of loss, disappointment, and grief are applicable to many areas of life where we find ourselves suddenly without our Option A. Whether it’s loss of a loved one, a marriage, a job, your health, a relationship, or some other painful void, the process of finding our own Option B can bring a sense of community and shared experience to the process of grief.

I lost my Option A at mid-life, and my grief was compounded by multiple losses at once — health, career, community, friendships. I felt adrift without my former bearings, and I had to pivot to my life as it is now, not what it was or what I planned for it to be. I needed an Option B.

Sheryl and Adam move from the basics, like how to survive and breathe when the loss is fresh, to talking about your feelings, seeking support and comfort, practicing self-compassion, and regaining self-confidence. The book then turns to post-traumatic growth and giving, as well as the essential steps of finding joy again, raising resilient kids, and building resilience together in community.

Helping Others

Perhaps one of the most practical applications of “Option B” is to equip the reader with tools for helping loved ones who are suffering. I must admit that I’m terrible at this — I think most of us are. Allowing ourselves or others to grieve and embrace pain is incredibly hard, and it can make people feel uncomfortable. It reminds us of our own failings, mortality, and loss.

Sheryl explains how hurtful it is when no one mentions your loss. I recognized that feeling — that’s how it was for me. Usually people are concerned about causing more pain by bringing up something painful, but by staying silent, we can unintentionally isolate family, friends, and co-workers. Instead, Sheryl tells us to talk to them about it.

At one point, she suggests that we stop asking the generic question “How are you?,” to which everyone feels pressure to respond positively, and replace it with “How are you today?” With this question, you’re acknowledging that every day is a different kind of hard, and you might even get a frank response: “I feel really sad today.”

Sheryl’s vulnerability with her story, and the invitation to sit with her, metaphorically, during a deeply private process, is a rare and generous gift. Sheryl and Adam are careful throughout the book to acknowledge how profoundly personal and unique each person’s loss is: they’re not offering perfect answers because there are none. Instead, Sheryl offers herself and her story as a testament of resilience and growth.

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