‘Kicking the shit out of Option B’: A Review of Sheryl Sandberg’s Latest Book
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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead was a breakaway hit in 2013, inspiring millions of women around the world to heed the call and club together to tackle the glass ceilings of the business world. Offering a feminist approach to the boardroom, Sandberg implored women to ‘raise both the ceiling and the floor’. However, while Sandberg’s heart may have been in the right place, the inherent flaws of Lean In quickly became apparent – namely that it catered to a very specific audience of white, Western, upper middle-class women who had the backing of family and education to fall back on.
Additionally, Sandberg’s unquestioning commitment to a capitalist ethos that has historically worked with patriarchy and whiteness to privilege the few and punch down on the many has been thoroughly critiqued by socialist feminists such as Dawn Foster, whose Lean Out offers a stunning rebuke of Sandberg’s capitalism. ‘What are the other 99% supposed to do?’, asked Foster.
Sandberg herself has acknowledged the flaws of her debut book. In a post on her personal Facebook page, she stated ‘When I wrote Lean In, some people argued that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they don’t have a partner. They were right. I didn’t get it’. This self-reflection doesn’t undo Sandberg’s allegiance to capitalism or her ignorance as to her economic, racial and cis-gendered privilege, but it does illustrate her willingness to listen, reflect and learn – attributes that many male COO’s seem to lack.
It is this reflective nature that drives Sandberg’s second book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Co-written with psychologist and friend, Adam Grant, Option B documents Sandberg’s experience following the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg who died while on holiday with Sandberg and her two children. For Sandberg, the death of her husband propelled her on a journey to question the meaning of life, her attempts to rationalise death and to interrogate the bigger questions of human existence such as the experiences of young widowhood. Sandberg states in the book that she felt certain she would never experience joy again and writes very openly about her grief, pain, anger and resentment.
Growing out of her personal experience, the book then opens up into exploring the tragedies and coping strategies of other people who have experienced death, grief, trauma and depression in their lives. Importantly, Sandberg recognises that grieving and public displays of emotions are often frowned upon and in Option B she aims to dispel the taboo of grief:
‘As psychologist David Caruso observes, “American culture demands that the answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is not just ‘Good.’…We need to be ‘Awesome.’ ” Caruso adds, “There’s this relentless drive to mask the expression of our true underlying feelings.” Admitting that you’re having a rough time is “almost inappropriate’.
With this in mind, the sentence, ‘Option A is not available, so lets kick the shit out of Option B’ becomes the resonating tone of the book. By way of ‘kicking the shit’ of the new landscape she has been forced into, Sandberg suggests writing ‘gratitude lists’ at the end of every day, offers tips on how friends can help those bereaved and tries to make sense of the fragility of human experience.
Option B is somewhat of a departure for fans of Lean In but it must be said that like Lean In, Option B does focus on a particular audience. White, upper middle class people, without financial constraints, with solid family backing will get a lot from this book. For those people with marginalised identities however, the slack that Sandberg cuts herself is sometimes just not applicable. For example, not everyone can cry at work – those in positions of power may feel like they can, but lower-income earners are generally not afforded such generosity from employers.
That said, it would perhaps have been disingenuous of Sandberg to write from a standpoint that is not her own – she is very careful to state that Option B is reliant on her own experiences. What all audiences can get from the book is the documentation of a painful human experience, written with empathy and compassion. Ultimately the connections of our human spirit are what Sandberg believes will carry us through difficult times: ‘We find our humanity—our will to live and our ability to love—in our connections to one another’.
Option B is a moving and reflective book that those who are inquisitive, empathetic and compassionate will find illuminating. The book could easily sit alongside the following selection of works on death, dying and grief.