The key to overcoming anything:
It is in our darkest times that we find our greatest strength. Yesterday, one year on from the worst day of her life, Sheryl Sandberg, billionaire COO of Facebook, shared publicly for the first time how she faced adversity, and how you can to.
At an emotional commencement speech at UC Berkeley, Sheryl had this advice: “When tragedy or disappointment strike, 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.”
A year ago, while she was on top of the world with the growth of Facebook, where she is No.2 next to Mark Zuckerberg, her 47 year old husband and CEO of SurveyMonkey, Dave Goldberg, suddenly died of a heart attack while exercising in a gym.
Sheryl said “We were at a friend’s fiftieth birthday party in Mexico. I took a nap. Dave went to work out. What followed was the unthinkable—walking into a gym to find him lying on the floor. Flying home to tell my children that their father was gone. Watching his casket being lowered into the ground.”
“Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss.”
“But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void – or in the face of any challenge – you can choose joy and meaning.”
Why was Sheryl telling young graduates about tragedy and loss? Because “The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk about what happens next.”
“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.”
How are you defining yourself when facing hard times?
What are the questions you ask yourself when fortune is not on your side?
In her moving speech, Sheryl shared a personal moment from several weeks ago: “Last month, eleven days before the anniversary of Dave’s death, I broke down crying to a friend of mine.”
“We were sitting – of all places – on a bathroom floor. I said: “Eleven days. One year ago, he had eleven days left. And we had no idea.” We looked at each other through tears, and asked how we would live if we knew we had eleven days left.
“As you graduate, can you ask yourselves to live as if you had eleven days left? I mean live with the understanding of how precious every single day would be. How precious every day actually is.”
Sheryl’s message: Resilience is the key to overcoming anything. And Gratitude is the key to resilience. Be grateful for every day you are alive, and make the most of every moment.
Sheryl’s advice echoes the words of another great entrepreneur, Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.
Life is precious. Live it fully.