As chief operating office of Facebook Inc., Sheryl Sandberg wrote 2013's Lean In about how women could shatter the glass ceiling at work. Two years ago, Ms. Sandberg's husband of 11 years, Silicon Valley executive Dave Goldberg, died from a cardiac arrhythmia while the couple was on vacation in Mexico. Now, Ms. Sandberg has released her latest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, on finding resilience in the face of tragedy.
The title of your book is based on something a friend said to you in wake of Dave's death about filling in for him on a father-child activity. You also included it in a Facebook post you wrote about a month after Dave's death. What is it about that phrase that resonates with you?
What he said to me was "Okay Dave can't be there. Option A is not available, we're going to [make the most] of Option B." Everyone is living some form of Option B. For some people it is the really big tragic stuff: For some people it's losing a job, losing a love. For some people it's a very big illness. For some people it's a knee they can't run on any more. Who knows what it is, but no one's life is perfect. And we are all living some form of Option B. That feels pretty universal.
Did you ever hesitate in sharing this personal experience so publicly?
Oh definitely. That 30-day post [on Facebook] was done really out of desperation. I just felt so isolated. No one would talk about it. I [used to] walk into work and people used to chit-chat. But when Dave died, no chit-chat. I've dropped my kids off at school and there wasn't the friendly hellos there was before. People were just so nervous they would say the wrong thing.
I went to bed the night before the shloshim, the Jewish [30-day] period of mourning, thinking there's no way I'm posting this. And I woke up the next morning and it was so bad, I thought to myself it's not getting any worse, it might get better. And I posted. And that experience is what led to the book, because by sharing personally it didn't bring Dave back, but it really made me feel less alone.
There's a quote in the book where you write: 'If your ankle gets shattered, people ask to hear the story. If your life gets shattered, they don't.' What was that isolation like for you?
I really realized that I got this wrong before. Before Dave died, I was afraid to remind anyone of their pain. So if someone was going through something, the first time I talked to them I would say: 'I'm so sorry.' But after that I wouldn't bring it up again. Losing Dave taught me how absolutely ludicrous that was. You can't remind me I lost Dave.
It's not that everyone wants to talk all the time, but when we bring it up, when we say I know you're hurting – you may or may not want to talk but I am here – it makes such a big difference.
You returned to work after 10 days. How did you know it was the right time for you?
The grief counsellors I was working with for my kids told me I should get my kids back to school as soon as possible. [By] getting back to school as soon as possible, they meant a few days – I extended it longer than that. But 10 days in, it was a Monday, it felt like the time. Look, it was both hard to go back to school for them and work for me. But I think being at home was worse. I've heard that from a lot of people. When I sit in my conference room as I'm doing right now, I'm not waiting for Dave to walk in. I still miss him. But it's not a place he used to just walk in and surprise me whereas, when I'm in my kitchen to this day there's a part of me that just wants him to come home.
You talk about losing your self-confidence after Dave died and likening it to watching a house that took years to build burning down overnight. How surprised were you when your confidence disappeared?
It really surprised me. I wrote Lean In. I wrote a whole book about how women should gain confidence and I had really built up my own in the process. I had read about grief, so I wasn't shocked by the anger, even though I was shocked by how much of it I had. And I wasn't shocked by the sadness. But my confidence crumbling was not something anyone had spoken to [me about].
Mark Zuckerberg, your boss, was one of those who helped rebuild your confidence by giving you time and space to grieve, but also reminding you when you were doing a good job at work.
Mark was the one who [said]: 'Hey you made a good point in that meeting.' I really thought I would never make another good point again. Mark really built me back up, and now when someone's going through something hard I both offer them time off and say we'll take that project off you. But if they want to be there, I'll also say do you want a project? Or you made a great point. Or I'm so glad you did that. Because even the basics of their job, they may worry they can't do it. It's just another way of being there to support people.
Not everyone has a boss that's as supportive as Mark Zuckerberg was for you. What is your advice for employees who don't have that kind of support at work?
I'm hoping their boss reads my book or looks at the public statements I've made on bereavement leave and how we bring our whole selves to work. So I'd like the structure to change for them, let's be clear. And I'm working pretty hard on that. I went to a CEO summit in the last couple weeks and I gave my whole speech on how we should have longer bereavement leave and how you should treat people when they're going through things and family medical leave. So I don't think it's only up to those individuals. I think we've got to work to change the system around them and I'm working hard on that and my foundation [the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation] is working hard on that.
When you posted on Facebook in the month after Dave's death you wrote, 'I know that I will never feel pure joy again.' But finding joy is a major theme in your book. How did you do it?
Probably the best suggestion anyone ever made to me, which is probably the best suggestion in the book, is write down three moments of joy every night. What it makes us do is focus on them. I didn't realize until I did that, that I went to bed every night worried about what I did wrong. But I did. And now that I'm writing down three moments of joy, I notice those moments of joy along the way. It makes a really big difference and is something I really strongly recommend.
Are you still doing that?
Every night. Every single night.