On Coping With Loss

Lately I’ve been thinking about loss. How do we keep going in the face of death, broken dreams, or heartbreak? Why do some people persevere and even thrive after loss, while others fall into darkness? How can we harness loss to be our best selves?

Embracing loss and struggle is the subject of Sheryl Sandberg’s and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B, reviewed in The New York Times last week with a poignant conclusion: “Grief is the final act of love, and recovery from it is the necessary betrayal on which the future depends. There is only this one life, and we are the ones who are here to live it.”

It’s a cathartic read, particularly for those familiar with Sandberg’s career, a dazzling journey from one elite institution to another (Harvard, Google, Facebook) that tempts one to exceptionalize her. Loss is the universal leveler, and in some way it binds us. What’s more, loss can be educational if we train ourselves to embrace and experience painful feelings rather than pushing them to the margins of our consciousness.

The subject of loss and how we recover from it fascinates me. I shared some personal losses with Adam Bryant in his New York Times corner office series last Sunday, because too much coverage of entrepreneurs conveys their journey through rose-colored glasses.

Most great leaders I know experienced some kind of transformational trauma in their early days. An increasing body of evidence suggests that loss builds resilience, which in turn forges great leaders.

Maybe resilience is a competitive advantage in a world of creature comforts. As I shared with Adam, nothing great has ever come out of a lot of easy days. We forget that only through struggle is our character really tested.

Our bodies seem to respond to struggle, too — recent studies on cold exposure and extreme weather conditioning (covered expertly in my friend Scott Carney’s excellent book, What Doesn’t Kill Us) seem to suggest that putting our bodies through unpleasant physical challenges has a range of benefits, stimulating the immune system and improving mental health.

So if you’re dealing with loss or a major personal struggle, think of it as a rite of passage. Embrace your Option B. And watch Sheryl’s advice here to be inspired.