A Conversation with Sheryl Sandberg: Growing Amidst Grief

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, and President Pamela A. Eibeck during Advancing Women’s Leadership, September 12, 2017. PC: Jaslyn Gilbert

On September 12th, Pacific hosted its fourth annual Advancing Women Leadership (AWL) forum with speakers Jade Simmons, classical pianist who mixes hip-hop, rap and classical music, Janet W. Lamkin, Bank of America California’s President, and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and author, Sheryl Sandberg, all of whom took the stage to present their experiences as leading women in their fields.

Moderated by Pacific’s president, Pamela Eibeck, Sheryl Sandberg headlined the forum discussing not only her path to becoming the COO of Facebook and a leader in Silicon Valley’s tech industry, but also the challenges of suddenly losing her husband, Dave Goldberg (former CEO of SurveyMonkey). During a trip to Mexico two years ago, Sandberg found her late husband lying on the floor in the hotel gym near an elliptical machine.

The book she co-wrote with Adam Grant, a professor of Psychology and Management at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” is focused on not only her grief, but also how one grows from a tragic loss. Her personal anecdotes also touch base on a variety of topics, ranging from the disadvantages women of color face when widowed, to the little maternity and paternity leave employees receive from their employers.

“There were so many things I wasn’t able to cover in depth,” Sandberg told The Pacifican in an exclusive interview following the AWL forum. “So that’s why I formed Option B, where we can address topics that I couldn’t address in the book.”

Sandberg formed the organization Option B to connect people facing similar challenges (such as grief, incarceration and discrimination) and to give them tools to help overcome these challenges.

The book explored a very vulnerable and important time in her life. One of her loved ones, her niece, Maya Bodnick, found the book “beautiful.”

Also having experienced the tragedy, Bodnick said the book “brought many memories about Uncle Dave. It was a powerful read.”

Sandberg considers herself “very lucky” that Facebook’s company policy offers their employees paid leave following the death of a loved one, affording them time to grieve and recover from the loss. As a leader, Sandberg’s experiences also shaped how she worked in Facebook, ranging from how to contribute in meetings, to how she received constructive criticism. However, she still wanted change.

“Facebook’s policy was 10 days for immediate family [for grieving and recovering] but now it’s 20 days of paid leave,” Sandberg said. She has pushed for more companies to do the same.

Sandberg and Goldberg were married for eleven years with two children, a son and a daughter, who she mentions often in “Option B.” It is important to remember that she is not only handling her own grief, but her children’s as well.

As one would expect, Sandberg thinks of her husband often. While they do not officially have a song as a couple, Sandberg says that the song “One” by U2 always reminds her of her husband.

Although a traumatic loss, she experienced what she refers to as “traumatic growth,” essentially growing from trauma such as losing a loved one. In keeping with the growth mindset, Sandberg has grown as a leader, entrepreneur and a mother, and she hopes she can help other women grow from any adversities they may face in life.

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