Review: Option B

I picked up Option B a while back, but never felt compelled to read the book. I knew it was about facing and overcoming adversity, largely prompted by the author—famous Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—and her own life experience as she dealt with the sudden loss of her spouse, and that felt too depressing a subject on most days.

Then I had to deal with a loss in my own extended family, and suddenly Option B became immediately and viscerally relevant.

It’s not an easy book to read, and I’d imagine an incredibly difficult book to write. As you’d expect, much of the writing is a window into Sheryl’s personal life and her relationship with her late husband; at times the detail and narrative feels almost voyeuristic, like I really shouldn’t intrude on the lives of private people1. Peppered throughout the book, though, is research and anecdotes and stories of others as they encounter and deal with tragedies and adversity in their lives, and these sections provide much-needed perspective on what it means to be resilient.

In that sense, Option B provides much-needed reassurance that in beyond the immediate trauma of a tragedy, with time and effort and grit, that people make it out on the other side. It’d be trite to suggest—as some do—that people are made better by going through horrible ordeals, but one of the reasons we as humans share these stories is to provide empathy and comfort and a sense of camaraderie through shared emotional experiences, even if it’s a scarring one.

If there is a flaw in the book, it’s probably that as Sheryl truthfully and honestly recounts her own experience through her difficult time, that it’s a set of privileged circumstances that the vast majority of the world cannot relate to. I can’t fault her for this—she can only tell her own story—but many of the activities, work experiences, and even the support network of friends and family she draws from probably are not available to most. This is unfortunately the same set of issues she ran into with Lean In; even if the message is positive, Sheryl’s credibility is hamstrung by her own positional authority and choice of personal anecdotes.

  1. Yes, the fact that in 2018, the irony of Facebook is undergoing a PR crisis around its privacy practices is not lost on me.

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