Option B

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

After the unexpected death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg was sure she would never feel happiness again and was concerned that her children faced the same future. In hopes of reconnecting with others, reengaging with work, and reestablishing routines with her family, Sheryl reached out to others about her struggles. What she found helped lift the fog and see that she was not the only person in the world to experience profound and unexpected loss that changed everything about her life (she was not alone), but also that other people had already found ways to cope with overwhelming emotions in a way that helped bring new growth into life after terrible suffering. By seeking out old wisdom that was new to her, Sandberg was gradually able to process through her grief, discover new strategies for coping with all the emotions that hit her at the most inopportune times, and learn new habits and routines to maintain a sense of stability amidst chaos. A mix of Sandberg’s own story, the suffering of others, and astounding creativity and resilience of people who have already “been there, done that,” this book offers concrete examples of personal tragedy and hope that things can and will change.

“Option B” is a joint effort by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, though it is narrated from Sheryl’s point of view (with a disclaimer in the first chapter explaining that decision). Grant is a professor of psychology, and he knew Sheryl before her husband died and was one of many people in her life that were instrumental in helping her move through her grief. Throughout the book, Sandberg shares openly about her struggles with grief and how it interfered with her professional role, personal life, and ability to help her kids after loss. She mixes her own narrative with several other examples of personal loss, tragedy, and struggles, each one also demonstrating the ability to overcome unthinkable circumstances. The bite-sized chapters make it easy to move through the book, and offer insight into the experience of tragedy and concrete strategies for overcoming it. Sandberg and Grant have done thorough research into the ways people develop resilience, and each chapter shares information on people, organizations and communities that have come up with effective methods to bounce back, and sometimes even bounce forward, after adversity.

This book is an excellent tool for anyone looking to strengthen their healthy coping mechanism and find strategies for strengthening and protecting their mental and emotional well-being. I learned so much from the innovative resilience strategies discussed in this book, and plan to incorporate some of them into my future volunteer training sessions at work. If nothing else, this book offers ample inspiration about the indomitable human spirit and the will to survive, thrive, and continue engaging in life. I was amazed at the creative solutions people have developed to cope with struggles, and also that one of the community programs that sounded like it had been developed in the past 5 years has actually been in existence for almost 40 years! Well worth the read.


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It Depends: A Peace Corps Guide

by Kelly Branyik

Serving 27 months (or longer) as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) demands a significant commitment, so it makes sense that there is an equally large up front demand of training and preparation, followed by continuous growth and learning during service. Each step of the process alone can be enough to prevent someone from making the choice to serve as a PCV, but when looking at the big picture of the whole Peace Corps experience, it can be completely overwhelming. Which is exactly what prompted this book. Each chapter discusses one aspect of the Peace Corps experience, all the way from first making the decision to join Peace Corps to what happens after service ends and PCVs become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV). Chapters cover topics like working with local community partners on primary and secondary projects, learning the language and culture, the difference between pre-service training and in-service training, and more.  Most chapters also have guided exercises for reflecting on reasons for joining Peace Corps, identifying positive aspects of the experience when everything seems bad, and getting the most of the whole experience. Interspersed throughout are stories from RPCVs to give some idea of what life may be like while in Peace Corps, even though everyone has a unique experience and it depends on your specific circumstances.

“It Depends: A Peace Corps Guide” by Kelly Branyik is a thoughtful, encouraging book that breaks the overarching Peace Corps experience down into bite-sized components to help demystify the process and simplify each step. The categories are specific enough to address a variety of concerns individually, and also broad enough to cover most aspects of Peace Corps life. The book is written with a combination of “how-to” or “what to expect” along with anecdotes and stories to illustrate the larger topics with personal examples, understandably with greater emphasis on the “how-to” because so much is involved there. Branyik shares some of her own experience as an RPCV who served in China, and also incorporates stories from other RPCVs to demonstrate the variety of projects, struggles, and victories that may be part of Peace Corps. Branyik strategically brings in these examples to emphasize the title of the book, that the individual experience of Peace Corps depends on your own circumstances. She offers a broad overview of what to expect while reiterating that no guide can tell you exactly what to expect from Peace Corps because the experiences are so unique and different.

This book bills itself as a Peace Corps guide, and I think it fits the bill in several aspects (wow, the application process has changed significantly since I went through it!). However, the guidance becomes a bit muddied at times with the author’s personal reflections. Combining a guide with a memoir contradicts the main point of the book, the title, that “it depends.” She brings in a variety of RPCV stories to demonstrate the different experiences, but by also incorporating so much of her own experience, the singular focus and examples she provides tell one story rather than a variety of stories. Main complaint aside, this book offers a lot of practical guidance for getting through the Peace Corps experience and coming out the other side with positive things to say about it. Certainly worth reading for anyone who has ever even remotely considered joining Peace Corps.

(Bonus, my story is in the book as well! It’s worth reading just to hear about my life without running water).

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