Option b and your life

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 08, 2017 # Health

Unless you have been living under a proverbial rock, you are no doubt aware of the new, Amazon #1 bestseller, “Option B,” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and noted psychologist Adam Grant. Ms. Sandberg is almost a cultural icon via both her status as one of the most powerful businesswomen in America and her mass campaign to get more women in the position to run things, triggered by her mega-bestseller, “Lean In.” “Option B” is not about power and success. It is about grief and the often monumentally difficult task of surviving a terrible trauma in your life. In Ms. Sandberg’s case, this was the sudden, completely unexpected death of her 47-year-old husband, another tech luminary named David Goldberg.

Put this image in your mind: you go to the workout room to say hello to your spouse and find him sprawled on the floor next to the treadmill, blood coming out of his ear, dead from the combination of a cardiac arrhythmia and head trauma and blood loss from the fall.

For Sheryl Sandberg, living a dream existence, her life stopped on a dime. With many of us, that sudden tragedy is paralysis. As you read “Option B” or other investigations into life after trauma, you’ll see that there is a common thread running through many horrible events in life – losing a spouse, child, or parent, becoming disabled, rape, prison, divorce. That thread is devastating loss and the resilience necessary to transcend it and continue living a full life.

I have intimate knowledge of this book and its message because I am part of it. Ms. Sandberg read my own account of life after paralysis – “The Best Seat In The House: How I Woke Up One Tuesday and was Paralyzed For Life” – found common ground, and included bits of my story among those of other trauma-survivors in “Option B.” She also commissioned a short film of my wife and I talking about the fallout of my paralysis for her new web site, optionb.org.

I certainly learned more from Sheryl’s book than I contributed, and the main thing I came away with was a much better understanding of the idea of resilience. This is mainly the contribution of co-writer, Adam Grant, a bestselling author in his own right (“Originals”). Personally, I have long been convinced that resilience, like the talent to draw or sing, was something innate, perhaps even genetically coded. It seemed some people were fortunate to have it and others suffered the painful consequences of not having it, leading to all kinds of destructive life choices.

Mr. Grant turned me completely around on the subject. His point: resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It is more like a muscle. It can be developed, strengthened, and toned, as you will, by exercise and right thinking. And most of us have the capacity to do so. Or as I am fond of saying in talks: you have a lot more grit than you think you do.

Unfortunately, there is no CrossFit program for enhancing resilience, though, after the success of “Option B,” I see one coming. The best guidance we have are other peoples’ stories. In my own case, my post-paralytic growth turned on the word, “mastery.”

The day I became paralyzed, I was a mess. My career had stalled, my marriage was shaky, and I owed a humungous amount of money. I had lost almost total control of my life, even, with becoming paralyzed, the ability to sit up in bed. But, a funny thing happened: as I began to re-learn the simplest of physical functions – like moving from bed to chair – I began to feel a sense of achievement, or small-scale mastery. That led me slowly to the belief that maybe I could take a deep breath and learn to master other, bigger details of my life. Which is, twenty years later, pretty much what happened.

Using the same term in a slightly different way, mastering something you can do, and love to do, after a traumatic event is a great way of transcending its damage or your own tendency to be defined by it. It sounds simple enough but can have a profound effect in your life. If you are fully focused on something you can do repetitively and well, you may still be disabled, but you are no longer disabled in your mind.

And that’s big. That’s your own Option B.