I stumbled upon Sheryl Sandberg’s Harvard Commencement speech last year in June. It resonated with me on many levels. I shared it widely. Well, as I widely as I could within my select network considering I’ve stayed comfortably away from Facebook & Twitter to date. This first talk over the past few months led me to some more of her TED talks and I learnt about the ‘Lean In’ movement. My interest in Sheryl’s talk had little to with her being the COO of Facebook or her being a champion for gender equity in the corporate world. What had me gripped was the incredible authenticity and honesty of all her talks and their relevance to today’s times.
I’m sharing here a talk she recently gave at UC Berkeley and some insightful lines from it. In this moving, powerful commencement speech, she speaks for the first time publicly about her husband’s sudden death over a year ago and the lessons she’s learnt from death. And I’ve listened to it about 6 times in the last two days. It is real, truthful, warm, inspiring and as always unfailingly honest.
“A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.” We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?”
“You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself. Some of you have already experienced the kind of tragedy and hardship that leave an indelible mark.
The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk about what happens next. About the things you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days— the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”
“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. But I am also aware that I am walking without pain. For the first time, I am grateful for each breath in and out—grateful for the gift of life itself.”
“My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude—not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will 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.”
“Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strikes, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.”
<And this last line, which wasn’t a part of the talk but was a part of the speech transcript>.
“You have the whole world in front of you. I can’t wait to see what you do with it“