NEW YORK — Though perhaps best known as Facebook's No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg is also a mentor, a mother, a billionaire and an author. When her husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly in 2015 while they were vacationing in Mexico, she added "widow" to the list.
"The grief felt like a void, like it was sucking me in and pushing on me, pulling me in and I couldn't even see or breathe," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "People who have been through things like this told me it gets better. And I really didn't believe them.... I want other people going through things to believe it does get better."
Her new book — "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy," written with psychologist Adam Grant — chronicles the devastating loss, her grief and how she emerged from it with a new perspective on life. A humbled follow-up to her first book, "Lean In ," it's also a how-to, drawing from studies and the experiences of others to describe techniques for building strength and resilience and ways to support those going through hard times.
It quickly became the No. 1 best seller on Amazon on Monday, the day it was published.
Sandberg also uses the new book to address what she now sees as shortcomings in the career advice she offered women in "Lean In." Surveying the world as a wealthy corporate executive rendered her oblivious to the circumstances faced by less fortunate women, she acknowledged. Not everyone can lean in; not everyone wants to.
"I didn't get it," she wrote. "I didn't get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home."
THE FIRST MONTHS
The most affecting parts of the book recount not just Sandberg's grief, but that of her children. When she had to tell them that their father died. When, arriving at the cemetery for his funeral, they "got out of the car and fell to the ground, unable to take another step. I lay on the grass, holding them as they wailed," unable to protect them from their sorrow.
It did get better, though slowly. Sandberg returned to work at Facebook in a haze, unable to summon her previous self-confidence.
"I couldn't understand when friends didn't ask me how I was. I felt invisible, as if I was standing in front of them but they couldn't see me," she wrote, adding later, that by staying silent in such situations "we often isolate friends, family and co-workers."
At Facebook, Sandberg has long been an advocate of "bringing your whole self to work," meaning a willingness to share your personal life with co-workers. But this can get tricky when it comes to facing trauma. Sandberg found it difficult, and even considered carrying around a stuffed pachyderm to encourage co-workers and even friends to talk about the "elephant in the room."
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Then one day, about a month after Goldberg died, she decided to post on Facebook about her grief, her gratitude toward her friends, and her related tumultuous feelings — for instance, coming to believe she would never again feel real joy. She wrote it out, not planning to share it publicly. After some more thought, she decided it couldn't possibly make things worse.
The change was immediate. Friends, co-workers and strangers — many of whom had dealt with loss themselves — began reaching out. It helped, Sandberg wrote. The post has been shared more than 400,000 times and has some 74,000 comments. It opened up a conversation.
Excerpt from "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy"
A few weeks after her husband died, Sheryl Sandberg was talking with a friend about finding someone to fill in for a father-child activity. Crying, the No. 2 Facebook executive told the friend, "But I want Dave." He put his arm around her and said, "Option A is not available. So let's just kick the s--- out of Option B."
Sandberg's new book , "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy," chronicles her grief and road to recovery and resilience. Option B, or C, and so on, might not be what we choose. But Sandberg is a firm believer in pre-traumatic growth — that is, people's ability to build up resilience before something bad happens so that they are able to cope with it better.
Below are some excerpts from the book, which was written with psychologist Adam Grant and was published on Monday.
"I don't know anyone who has been handed only roses. We all encounter hardships. Some we see coming; others take us by surprise. It can be as tragic as the sudden death of a child, as heartbreaking as a relationship that unravels, or as disappointing as a dream that goes unfulfilled. The question is: When these things happen, what do we do next?"
"I got emails from friends asking me to fly to their cities to speak at events without acknowledging that travel might be more difficult for me now. Oh, it's just an overnight? Sure, I'll see if Dave can come back to life and put the kids to bed.
"I ran into friends at local parks who talked about the weather. Yes! The weather has been weird with all this rain and death."
AT A LOSS
"When a loved one dies, we expect to be sad. We expect to be angry. What we don't see coming — or at least I didn't — is that trauma can also lead to self-doubt in all aspects of our lives. This loss of confidence is another symptom of pervasiveness: we are struggling in one area and suddenly we stop believing in our capabilities in other areas."
ON SINGLE PARENTS
"I will never experience or fully understand the challenges many single moms face. Although odds are stacked against them, they do everything they can to raise incredible children. To try to make ends meet, many have more than one job — not including the job of being a mother. And high-quality child care is often prohibitively expensive."
TELLING THE KIDS
"My son immediately realized something was wrong. 'Why are you home?" he asked. "And where is Dad?" We all sat down on the couch with my parents and my sister. My heart was pounding so loudly that I could barely hear my own voice. With my father's strong arm around my shoulder, trying to protect me as he always has, I found the courage to speak: 'I have terrible news. Terrible. Daddy died.'
"The screaming and crying that followed haunt me to this day — primal screams and cries that echoed the ones in my heart. Nothing has come close to the pain of this moment."
LEARNING FROM FAILING
"When it's safe to talk about mistakes, people are more likely to report errors and less likely to make them. Yet typical work cultures showcase successes and hide failures. Just look at any resume; I have never seen one with a section called Things I Do Poorly."
ON HER HUSBAND
"At Dave's funeral, I said that if on the day I walked down the aisle with him, someone had told me that we would have just eleven years together, I would still have walked down that aisle. Eleven years of being Dave's wife and ten years of being a parent with him is perhaps more luck and more happiness than I could ever have imagined."
"Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy" is available at optionb.org.