When Option A Blows Up, Don't Discount the Hidden Gifts of Option B

Chances are during your life things have not gone as you planned. Your marriage ended, you lost a job, you’ve struggled with illness...It’s part of life. Almost none of us get to live our Option A forever.

I’ve been reading the new book, “Option B” by Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, and psychology professor, Adam Grant, and it’s gotten me thinking about all the times in my life I’ve experienced myself, and been witness to when things didn’t go as planned

I remember when my daughter graduated from college several years ago. She worked so hard to get into the school of her dreams - Wellesley, worked hard while she was there, and even had a job lined up by November of her senior year for after graduation. She had everything planned.

As an economics major from one of the best schools in the country, she had been snapped up by one of the country’s largest banking companies who moved her out to California soon after graduation. She didn’t love the job - a junior VP position in wealth management, but she planned to stick it out for the year long contract she’d signed. The only problem was this was 2008. A few months after taking the job the economy collapsed. By January they had scheduled layoffs as they shut down her entire division. At 22 her Option A had flown out the window.

She came home, regrouped, and decided to move to Korea for a year to teach English. As a Korean adoptee she was excited to have a chance to spend time in the country of her birth that she’s left at three-years-old when we adopted her.

Emma ended up spending two and a half years there, met the American man who has since become her husband, and they now own a Korean restaurant in Montana. Her Option B has turned out better than she ever could have imagined. Ends up she was an econ major who hated banking and needed a more creative career.

As I wrote previously, over the past year my life was turned upside down by health challenges. Four stays in the hospital and countless hours recouping on the couch gave me lots of time to be thinking about how to deal with this reality. I have had to face the fact that I’ve gone from someone who was always healthy, save the normal ills we all grapple with, to someone who was really sick. What would life with a now-chronic illness be like? I’ll be honest, I haven’t stepped gracefully into this new life, I’ve been sad, angry and scared. I’ve worried too much and been fearful. Reframing this challenge into an Option B has given me hope and helped me see, life isn’t over, it’s just...different. None of us goes into anything thinking, “Oh boy, I hope this doesn’t work out so I can live my Option B!” But chances are we will all be faced with many, many times where we will have to reframe, restart, and build our resilience muscles to start over.

I would never have wished for divorce, a family struggle with addiction, or ill health, but each of these challenges has indeed made me grow and strengthened me in ways I could never have imagined.

Living our Option A may look like the ultimate achievement to all of us, but Option B comes with a lot of benefits if we just allow ourselves to embrace it and give ourselves the chance to grieve the loss of what was, while stepping into what can now be.

If you’d like to just sample a bit of what Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant are talking about, check out one or both of these fantastic podcasts. This one, from On Being, or this interview they did with Katie Couric. I have a sneaking suspicion you will be glad you did.