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How Wharton’s Adam Grant Came To Work With Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg and Grant


Option B is the result of those kinds of conversations between Grant and Sandberg, an attempt to share what they both learned about resilience. The book’s earliest beginnings came out of the Facebook post written by Sandberg on June 3, 2015, exactly 30 days after her husband’s death and the end of the Jewish tradition of sheloshim or mourning. Sandberg says she went to bed after creating the post thinking there was ‘zero chance” she would ever post it. But she woke up the next day feeling awful and decided to hit the button. “It didn’t take away the grief at all,” says Sandberg, “but it did help with the isolation” she felt from colleagues and friends who didn’t know how to approach her or what to say to her after Dave’s death.

Grant had urged her not to post the message, specifically opposing the following line. “When people say to me, ‘You and your children will find happiness again,’ my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again.” Recalls Sandberg: “I believed it and meant it. Adam said, ‘Don’t post it. It’s not true.’  I posted it, and I was wrong. We want people to believe they will feel joy.”

The post acknowledged her pain and suffering as well as her determination to move forward. It was a conversation with a friend about a father-child activity that her husband was no longer here to do. “We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave,” wrote Sandberg in her Facebook post. “I cried to him, ‘But I want Dave. I want option A.’ He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.’

“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised,” Sandberg added, “I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A.”


Sandberg’s post drew a massive response from readers who acknowledged the courage she showed in being so candid and open. Ultimately, she came around to the idea of writing a book. It was Grant who persuaded Sandberg that resilience can be learned. The professor, she says, taught her that three things are critical to resilience and that she could work on all three.

“Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word ‘sorry.’ To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.”

As Grant notes, “People have a really hard time talking about adversity. Somebody has lost a spouse or has been diagnosed cancer, and nobody says a word about it. It’s like there is an elephant in the room. Psychologists years ago came up with a term for this. They call it the mum effect when nobody likes to pass along bad news. Some people are afraid the messenger will be shot. But in other cases, people just don’t want to remind others of something painful. One way to overcome the mum effect is to open up and say this is what I am going through.


The most emotionally wrought sections of the book are already generating the most resonance, with many critics expressing surprise that Sandberg would allow herself to be as vulnerable as she is, even recreating the moment she discovered her husband’s body on the floor of the Mexico hotel gym where he had suffered his fatal heart attack or when she had to tell her children that their father had died.

“When we sat down, Sheryl didn’t want it to be about her,” recalls Grant in the podcast. “I remember a little bit of dragging, kicking and screaming. She realized that this really meant something to people when she was able to open up and be so vulnerable.”

“The parts of the book that are personal were really written for my children,” explains Sandberg. “It was working with Adam to figure out what I would share and what I could share.”

The book, the pair say, is the result of a great deal go revisions. Grant usually wrote the first draft of the research. Sandberg did first drafts of her own story, the most compelling part of the book. And the two of them took turns working on the writing of other stories. They say each chapter averaged more than 200 versions of rewrites and edits.

At first, the pair tried to write the book as two authors but ultimately decided that it had to be in Sandberg’s voice. “We tried to write it with we,” she says, “but  it was just hard to talk about we when it was Dave who died. So then we tried to write it in the first person and explain it was our work.”


The overriding lesson of Option B is that people can recover from major setbacks in their lives, even to the point of making those setbacks positive. “When people face traumatic events, early on many psychologists thought there were two possibilities,” explains Grant. “One was to be broken, to walk away with post-traumatic stress disorder or debilitating depression, or really have difficulty functioning. The other possibility was to bounce back. To return to the place that you were before. What psychologists learned through that research was that there’s a third possibility, that in some ways people are not just able to bounce back. They’re able to bounce forward, to grow from the most difficult experiences of their lives.

“We can bounce forward after experiencing loss or hardship. After September 11, applications to Teach for America tripled, and many of the people applying said they wanted to serve others. They realized how precious life is and they wanted to do something to help the next generation.

“When people go through hardship, they’re not just more motivated to help others in many situations. They often want to help people in exactly the way that they have been hurt. Helping people through the trauma that you’ve faced is not only something that gives your life meaning, it gives your suffering meaning.”


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