Sheryl Sandberg’s new book is not an easy read. Well, in a sense, it is: The pages fly by. But the book is tough, full of the raw, painful emotions that followed the sudden loss of her husband Dave Goldberg when he was just 47 years old. What followed was, for Sandberg, a process of figuring out what life could look like when it wasn’t at all the life she had planned.
The book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, is somewhat framed as advice for people who are grieving. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, recommends avoiding what the psychologist Martin Seligman termed the “three P’s”—personalization (“this was my fault”), pervasiveness (“this affects everything”), and permanence (“nothing will ever be the same again”)—and finding support in community.
But it’s also a book for the friends and families of the bereaved—which is to say, nearly everyone—people who may not know what to say or do in the wake of a tragedy. “I got it all wrong before,” Sandberg told me, referring to her earlier efforts to comfort those who were grieving. “I used to say, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ I used to say, ‘How are you?,’ or not say anything. Every mistake that someone else made with me, I’ve made.”
I sat down with Sandberg and her co-author (and friend) Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, at The Atlantic’s offices in Washington, D.C. to talk about death, grieving, and resilience. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Rebecca J. Rosen: This is a book about loss and grieving, the hardest times we face. But it’s also a deeply optimistic book, framed around the question, what’s next? How do you come to that forward-looking optimism after suffering a terrible loss?
Sheryl Sandberg: Well, I didn’t come to it naturally, and I still don’t come to it every day. It’s work. It’s work. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Joy is a discipline.” I thought I would feel the way I felt in the beginning forever. Every minute. I wrote in my 30-day Facebook post that I would never feel another moment of pure joy again.
Adam Grant: I hated that line.
Sandberg: He argued with me—
Grant: Take it out!
Sandberg: But I was like, nope, this is true; I’m publishing it. And, look, I don’t come to optimism every day. There are lots of hard days. Expected ones, like my anniversary last week, and unexpected ones. But I have to move forward.
Everyone asks, “How do you do it?” I’ve got two kids. I have to get out of bed. They have to go to school, and I want to go to work, because I still love my job. I just met another woman who’s an artist and a widow, just like me—well, I’m not an artist, but I’m a widow. And someone asked her how she kept doing her work, and she said, “Because the rest of the parts of me didn’t die.” She said, “I’m a widow, but I’m still a mother, and I’m…