On Friday morning, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke to the graduating class of Virginia Tech, sharing her message of resilience.
In the commencement speech, Sandberg spoke candidly about the death of her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly in 2015 from cardiac arrhythmia.
“I know – important day, it’s raining and I’m up here talking about death. But I promise you there’s a reason – and even one that’s not even sad,” Sandberg said. The reason Sandberg was speaking about her personal tragedy was to teach the graduates a lesson about the “strength to rely on others” because “there are times to lean in and there are times to lean on.”
(To hear the full speech, fast forward to 1:08:24 in this video)
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Posted by Virginia Tech on Friday, May 12, 2017
‘We are born with a certain amount of resilience’
Becoming a widow with two young children “fundamentally changed” how she saw the world, Sandberg said. She said her mother “stayed with me for the very first month, literally holding me as I cried myself to sleep. I had never felt weaker.”
But as she wondered how she and her children could ever move past this tragedy, she also “hit the books” with her friend, organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Their research led to Sandberg’s second book, Option B, on how people have recovered from hardship and loss.
Sandberg noted that her journey towards resilience is not unique, citing the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
“We are not born with a certain amount of resilience – it is a muscle and that means we can build it,” she said. “We build it together, as a community. That’s called ‘collective resilience,’ it’s an incredibly powerful force – and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and our ability to bring change into this world.”
A simple practice to remember your joy every day
Sandberg said we can strengthen our resilience “through shared experiences” and “through shared narratives.”
These actions do not have to be “huge” to be meaningful, she noted. They can be as small as “laugh[ing] together until your sides ache” or as big as “hold[ing] each other while you cry.”
For Sandberg, her husband’s death has made her “more grateful now than I was before –for my family and especially my children.”
Before bed, she now writes down three moments of personal joy, a practice she started last January. “I used to go to bed every night thinking about what I did wrong and what I was going to do wrong the next day. Now I go to sleep thinking of what went right.”