3 Ways to Deal With a Setback Like a Boss, According to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg
We spend a lot of time talking about achievement in our culture — how to do it and how to have it all — but when it comes to dealing with setbacks, conversations that resonate and permeate as deeply are few and far between. There's still a sense that if you're just good enough, setbacks won't happen to you — and, should you encounter one, that it's a reflection on you and your "goodness," your worth.
But as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg knows, that's not always — or even mostly — the case. She gave the commencement speech at University of California, Berkeley, today and spoke publicly for the first time about her husband's sudden death just over a year ago. She had some serious wisdom to share with the grads about resilience and three ways to build it up to overcome challenges in work, life, and love.
"You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity," she said. "There's loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There's loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There's loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself."
And then she dropped this, which, to be honest, is a good reminder for all of us: "The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk about what happens next."
The Lean In author talked about work by a psychologist named Martin Seligman, who discovered that there are three P's that help us bounce back from hardship: personalization, pervasiveness and permanence.
"The first P is personalization — the belief that we are at fault," said Sandberg. "This is different from taking responsibility, which you should always do. This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us.
When Dave died, I had a very common reaction, which was to blame myself. He died in seconds from a cardiac arrhythmia. I poured over his medical records asking what I could have — or should have — done. It wasn’t until I learned about the three P’s that I accepted that I could not have prevented his death. His doctors had not identified his coronary artery disease. I was an economics major; how could I have?"
Sandberg added that studies have shown that when we don't take a setback personally, we don't just recover but go on to do even better on our next go.
"The second P is pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life," Sandberg said. "You know that song, 'Everything Is Awesome?' This is the flip: Everything is awful."
It affected her after Dave's death, before she and her kids began getting back into their normal routines. But it also affected her on her first day of work after college, when a boss found out that she didn't know how to use Lotus 1-2-3, a spreadsheet program.
"His mouth dropped open and he said, ‘I can’t believe you got this job without knowing that' — and then walked out of the room," she said. "I went home convinced that I was going to be fired. I thought I was terrible at everything — but it turns out I was only terrible at spreadsheets. Understanding pervasiveness would have saved me a lot of anxiety that week."
"The third P is permanence — the belief that the sorrow will last forever," she continued. "For months, no matter what I did, it felt like the crushing grief would always be there. We often project our current feelings out indefinitely — and experience what I think of as the second derivative of those feelings.
We feel anxious — and then we feel anxious that we’re anxious. We feel sad — and then we feel sad that we’re sad. Instead, we should accept our feelings — but recognize that they will not last forever."
She ended the commencement address by asking the students to build resilience not just in themselves but in their organizations, companies, and communities: "Lift each other up, help each other kick the shit out of option B — and celebrate each and every moment of joy."
Watch the whole thing here:
Pretty powerful, huh? Now who else is ready to conquer the world?
More From Glamour:
• Declare Your Major: How Sheryl Sandberg Is Supporting College Women in Computer Science and Engineering
• Banning Bossy: Why Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce Are So Over the B-Word (and You Should Be, Too!)
• A Year After Lean In : Work Advice Sheryl Sandberg Wants You to Know Now
• Facebook Launches TechPrep: A Resource Hub to Encourage Diversity in Technology
Photo Credit: Jennifer Leahy For Facebook