Book Review: When Your “Option A” Doesn’t Work Out

Author: Cheryl Kreutter

Option B Book CoverIn the bestselling book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” co-authors Sheryl Sandberg, wife, mother and businesswoman, and Adam Grant, renowned psychologist at the Wharton School, explore the complexity of grief and consider lessons learned through sharing stories and research. In the text, Sandberg narrates her grief journey after her husband Dave’s sudden death. She considers her story in light of the experiences of others who also have experienced traumatic events such as the death of a child or spouse or who have been victims of violence. Well-written and well-researched, the text offers those who are grieving and those who are supporting thoughtful advice on not only how to survive but also how to take back joy. 

Chapters begin with stories that draw the reader in and provide background for understanding the research that helps explain how grief impacts us physically as well as emotionally. In Chapter 1: “Breathing Again,” Sandburg introduces the importance of resilience and describes the “three P’s” that psychologist Martin Seligman argue are obstacles to resilience:  They are 1) personalization – the belief that we are at fault; 2) pervasiveness – the belief that the event will affect all areas of our life; and 3) permanence – the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. Sandburg refers to the three P’s throughout the text as she invites the reader to consider how these may be getting in their way of pursuing Option B. 

In Chapter 2, “Kicking the Elephant out of the Room,” Sandberg faces the “elephant” of “avoiding the subject.” She discovered that people avoided talking about her husband because they feared bringing his name up would cause her distress. She recounts stories of others who also have experienced the “elephant” and how, they, too, often felt isolated and as if “nobody cared.” In the final paragraph she writes, “Until we acknowledge it, the elephant is always there. By ignoring it, those who are grieving isolate themselves, and those who could offer comfort create distance instead.” She advises both sides to reach out for support. She explores the topic of support further in the third chapter, “The Platinum Rule of Friendship.” 

In Chapter 4, “Self-compassion and Self-confidence,” Sandberg explains how she came to understand ways others’ compassion could help her develop her own self-compassion and rebuild her self-confidence. Citing the work of Adam Grant and his colleague Jane Dutton, Sandberg argues for writing “contribution lists” as well as “gratitude lists.” “Contribution lists” are lists about things that we did well. Unlike “gratitude lists” written to make visible our blessings, “contribution lists” foster confidence “by reminding us that we can make a difference.” This confidence, in turn, encourages our renewing commitments to the work we are passionate about as well as relationships with family and friends.   

Chapter 5, “Bouncing Forward: The One I Become Will Catch Me” describes how post-traumatic stress can trigger a variety of responses. Some people develop debilitating depression and anxiety whereas others are more resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. To encourage “bouncing forward,” co-author, Adam Grant, introduced Sandberg to the possibility of post-traumatic growth, or PTG. PGT can take different forms: “finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.” Sandberg discovered that those who make a concerted effort to take things back may also find ways to move forward.   

Sandberg took the advice of a friend who had lost his wife of 48 years as she pursued the goal she writes of in Chapter 6: “Taking Back Joy.” She, too, fought despair by making a concerted effort to seek out new activities and shake up routine. Sandberg began playing the piano again and teaching her children to play the card game Hearts. Additionally, she established the habit of writing down three moments of joy every day. She acknowledges that finding joy takes effort but insists we are worthy of it: “Whether you see joy as a discipline, an act of defiance, a luxury, or a necessity, it is something everyone deserves.” 

Sandberg argues that “we owe all children safety, support, opportunity, and help finding a way forward, especially in the most tragic situations.” In Chapter 7: “Raising Resilient Kids,” she describes ways adults can help children build core beliefs by teaching them: 1) they have control over their life; 2) they can learn from failure; 3) they matter as human beings; and 4) they have real strengths to rely on and share.  Throughout the chapter, she provides examples of how adults can model and encourage children to build resilience. 

Finding strength through building community and sharing responsibility are deliberated in Chapter 8, “Finding Strength Together,” and Chapter 9, “Failing and Learning at Work.” Sandberg states that just as bonding within one’s inner circle is important, building relationships with wider communities, including work, can build resilience.

In the final chapter, “To Laugh and Love Again,” Sandberg implores survivors to consider the stories of resilience she has shared throughout the book and look for ways to build our strength individually and with others. Moreover, she asserts, “We can still love…and we can still find joy.” 

“Option B” is worth reading, rereading and reflecting upon. “Option B” is not a quick nor easy read, but, then, facing adversity, building resilience and re-discovering joy after traumatic experiences is neither quick nor easy. All require work but are well worth the effort. The encouragement offered and lessons to learn make this powerful text a worthy addition to your library.

From the pen of…
Cheryl Kreutter, Ph.D., holds her degree in Reading/Literacy and is on the faculty of SUNY Geneseo in Upstate New York. Through her teaching and research, she advocates journaling and book discussion to gain insights about oneself and others. She is the surviving parent of Navy Lt. Jason P. Kreutter.