Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

Sandberg and Grant Option BSheryl Sandberg[1] and Adam Grant.[2] 2017. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss. American society does not cope with grief adequately so we mask our grief with physical ailments.


In their book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore Sandberg’s journey with the loss of her husband Dave Goldberg early in 2014 during a vacation in Mexico. They write:

“This book is my and Adam’s attempt to share what we’ve learned about resilience. We wrote it together, but for simplicity and clarity the story is told by me (Sheryl) while Adam is referred to in the third person.” (11)

You might think, oy vey, another book about grief, but you would be wrong for two reasons. First, Sandberg and Grant really do explore the question of resilience, providing something other than another book outlying the stages of grief. Second, Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and Grant is a well-known psychologist at the Wharton School. This book is a deep dive into resilience (or self-care) with both personal and professional applications in view. Still, grief is normally the jumping off point for the resilience issues discussed.

Three Ps

An important insight that Sandberg and Grant return to throughout the book draws from the three Ps of Martin Seligman:

  1. “Personalization—the belief that we are at fault;
  2. Pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and
  3. Permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.” (16)

The three Ps are important because they amplify the losses that we suffer and we hammer them in our own heads through negative self-talk.

In the death of Sandberg’s husband, the three Ps each played an important role in deepening her experience of grief. She initially blamed herself for his death (personalization), felt that everything was horrible—especially for her kids (pervasive), and believed that the pain of grief would go on forever (permanence; 16-20). Her counselors worked hard to disavow each of these lies/half-truths that she had told herself, helping to ease her discomfort and accelerate her recovery.

Core Beliefs of Resilience

Sandberg and Grant see four core beliefs that aid resilience, especially in children:

  1. They have some control over their lives;
  2. can learn from failure;
  3. matter as human beings;
  4. have real strengths to rely on and share. (111)

What stands out from this list of beliefs is how extremely counter-cultural they appear. If anything, our culture reinforces just the opposite beliefs. In fact, Sandberg and Grant immediately cite a study showing that two-thirds of at-risk kids fail to develop such resilience and suffer serious consequences already in adolescence (111).


Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B, opens up the question of grief through the eyes of someone who has experienced it deeply. Christians often say that when God closes a door, he opens a window—Option B is that window. Sandberg and Grant walk their readers through that window with flair and grace.


Seligman, Martin E. P. 1991. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books.



[2] @AdamMGrant.

Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

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  1. This is a very engaging synopsis of this book about unresolved grief. Stephen, you are a very gifted writer and have drawn me to check out this book and to recommend it to others in the throes of loss.

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