I sat down with Sandberg and her co-author (and friend) Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, at The Atlantic’s offices in Washington, D.C., to talk about death, grieving, and resilience. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Rebecca J. Rosen: This is a book about loss and grieving, the hardest times we face. But it’s also a deeply optimistic book, framed around the question, what’s next? How do you come to that forward-looking optimism after suffering a terrible loss?
Sheryl Sandberg: Well, I didn’t come to it naturally, and I still don’t come to it every day. It’s work. It’s work. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Joy is a discipline.” I thought I would feel the way I felt in the beginning forever. Every minute. I wrote in my 30-day Facebook post that I would never feel another moment of pure joy again.
Adam Grant: I hated that line.
Sandberg: He argued with me—
Grant: Take it out!
Sandberg: But I was like, nope, this is true; I’m publishing it. And, look, I don’t come to optimism every day. There are lots of hard days. Expected ones, like my anniversary last week, and unexpected ones. But I have to move forward.
Everyone asks, “How do you do it?” I’ve got two kids. I have to get out of bed. They have to go to school, and I want to go to work, because I still love my job. I just met another woman who’s an artist and a widow, just like me—well, I’m not an artist, but I’m a widow. And someone asked her how she kept doing her work, and she said, “Because the rest of the parts of me didn’t die.” She said, “I’m a widow, but I’m still a mother, and I’m still an artist.”
Grant: One of the things I learned from Sheryl is that we really become resilient for other people, not for ourselves. I think the moment she really started to see the possibilities for hope and joy was when she said, “Look, if I don’t find a way to move forward, then my kids are going to have a harder time recovering.”
Sandberg: Adam kept saying that to me. He kept telling me, “If you don’t stop apologizing, and personalizing this, your kids can’t recover. If you can’t find moments of joy and let yourself be happy, your kids can’t be happy.”
Rosen: You write about post- and pre-traumatic growth, ideas that are going to be new for a lot of readers. Can you talk about what they mean?
Grant: When psychologists started studying resilience, they thought there were two paths. One was to be broken by tragedy or hardship, to walk away with post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating depression, and severe anxiety, and the other was to try and bounce back and return to the state you were at before the event.
They were really surprised to discover that many people end up with a third response, which is not just bouncing back but bouncing forward, and that’s about emerging with some positive change from a negative event. That’s not to say that the grief or sadness goes away, or that anyone is happy that it occurred. But alongside those negative emotions often come improvements in people’s lives, where they’re able to say, “I’m stronger. I lived through that, I can live through anything. I’m more grateful,” like Sheryl has talked about. “I have new relationships, or my relationships are deeper because people have helped me in ways that I never thought possible, and I’ve become closer to them because of that.”