Leaders Library: We All Have the Option to Bounce Back

When tragedy strikes, our most important question becomes “what do I do next?” It’s an overwhelming feeling, and one that I’m sure many of us can relate to, as most people experience tragedy at some point in their lives. The good news is that most of us do bounce back. Bouncing back is resilience.

This is the central theme of the book that I just finished reading, Option B. I stumbled upon it while listening to an HBR podcast where they were conducting an interview with co-authors Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – two of my favorites. Having lost both my parents at a young age, the discussion resonated with me so I picked up the book.

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The beginning of Option B references a quote that sums up how I felt after losing each of my parents (which has been the largest tragedy I have ever faced).  C.S. Lewis wrote in his book A Grief Observed: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” 

This is so true. It expresses perfectly the emotions I felt. It is a weird feeling. We worry that we’re being selfish by thinking about how we feel rather than whom we’ve lost. We may be overcome with uncertainty, and unsure about where to turn next. The fear becomes paralyzing.

But what you learn through this book is that a critical ingredient to resilience is self-awareness and self-compassion. 

Sheryl Sandberg had a life shattering event in 2015. She lost her husband suddenly while on vacation, leaving her to raise two children without their father. In the beginning she didn’t think she would ever bounce back. Through the book she documents her journey and shares many insights that can help all of us bounce back from any type of tragedy, not just the loss of a loved one.

You can’t change what happened – but you can change yourself

There are lessons shared in this book that really stood out for me.

We may be the biggest reason we do not recover. Famed psychologist and educator Martin Seligman determined there are “3 Ps” that can stunt recovery:

  • Personalization — the belief that we are at fault for the tragedy
  • Pervasiveness — the belief that the tragedy will affect all other areas of our life
  • Permanence — the belief that the aftershocks will last forever

So how do you combat this?

  • Show some self-compassion. Offer the same kindness to yourself as you would your friends.  Be an advocate FOR YOU. Maybe it’s through journaling or writing, maybe it’s through counseling or another outlet. I personally find writing rewarding and refreshing. As the authors say: “putting feelings into words gives us more power over the feelings.” It is a method to take back control. Find what works for you.
  • Focus on the future and not the past. The authors suggest setting future goals. Let go of the past traumas. Obviously this is easier said than done, and may take time, but it is necessary. It forces you to have a growth mindset. It forces you to have hope and get back to dreaming.  Additionally as you accomplish some of these goals, you build back your self-confidence. You begin to believe you can do this and you will make it.
  • Talk about your feelings. Identify the “elephant in the room.” Do not suppress your feelings, express them. To truly make this happen you need to create trust and space for people to feel comfortable opening up without judgement. If you are trying to identify a problem, say the authors, “blame actions but not character.” It’s the difference between feeling guilt versus shame – a very powerful observation.

All of the above removes the focus away from trying to “change the situation and puts the focus on changing ourselves.” Even after I finished it, this book has stayed with me. I hope you will consider reading this one. Whether or not you are working to overcome a tragic or particularly trying experience, you just may gain some much-needed inspiration.