Sheryl Sandberg, unarguably, stands as one of the most powerful women in business, today. Becoming the first woman to serve the board of social media behemoth Facebook in 2012, she has been in the news for all right reasons.
Being an incredibly successful female leader, time and again, through her work and speeches, she has proved her worth. Before she joined Facebook as its Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl assisted as Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She turned author in 2013 with Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Unleashing the power
Taking an excerpt from her book, we learn that of 197 heads of state, only 22 are women; of the top 500 companies by revenues, only 21 are headed by women; and in politics, women hold just 18 percent of congressional offices. Sheryl has not only left her mark in business but has also proved to be an ideal role model for many across the world.
We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted,
she wrote in her book, which later on inspired her to create a global community group – LeanIn.org, through which Sheryl supports women striving to reach their ambitions.
Recently, she delivered a powerful and emotionally stirring commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley. Through the speech, Sheryl recounted the unexpected death of her husband, and her experience coping with it.
One year and 13 days after her husband, Dave Goldberg’s, unexpected death, her speech at the university won a million hearts. Not only did she capture the reality about being a single mother, but also owned her mistakes. She said,
I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.
Lessons from beyond
When life throws you a curveball as debilitating as a relative’s unexpected death or a personal loss or tragedy, one has to dig deep and tap into a reservoir of courage to face each day. Sheryl urged people to realise how they would be defined not just by what they achieve, but by how they survive the roller-coaster of life. Her loss had changed her in profound ways, and made her realise every experience, even something as grievous as losing her spouse, presents opportunities to learn new things and face the world stronger and better than ever before.
The three Ps of life
Often, we tend to blame ourselves when things go wrong, even if we were not at fault. Sheryl borrowed psychologist Martin Seligman’s term “personalisation”, to explain the trait even in the best of us to take on the crushing guilt for every bad thing that happens in one’s life. Sometimes, things may just not be in your power and you should be accepting of that, and move on, rather than letting your past hamper your present.
Sheryl then cited ‘pervasiveness’ a belief that an event will affect all areas of your life and that there’s no place to run or hide from the all-consuming sadness. It important to move past this feeling, however strong it may be at the moment. Her husband’s passing had dealt a blow unlike anything before in her life, but Sheryl’s life did not come to a standstill either. While she still continues to grieve, she also had to ensure her children were looked after and her work and goals did not take a backseat. Her example proves that when something beats you down, be it sickness, death of loved ones or business loss, it is important to experience the associated pain but it equally critical to not let it consume you.
The last of the Ps that helped Sheryl in her dealing with the trauma after her husband’s passing was ‘permanence’. She had to let go of the belief that the sorrow would last forever. For months, no matter what she did, she felt like the crushing grief would always be there. But like anything in life, sorrow too is impermanent.
As I stand here today, a year after the worst day of my life, two things are true. I have a huge reservoir of sadness that is with me always — right here, where I can touch it. I never knew I could cry so often — or so much,
she said, but expressed her gratitude for the gift of life itself, emphasising on the goal of taking life as it comes. She passed on the gift of hope to the students, urging them to find gratitude not just on the good days, but on the hard ones, when they really need it.
And when the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.