×

Sheryl Sandberg explains how to help people who are hurting, including yourself

  • "If you don't know what to do, do something," says Sandberg.
  • Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, says co-author Adam Grant
  • "Every day is a gift."
Sheryl Sandberg speaks about overcoming grief and resilience at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.
Sheryl Sandberg speaks about overcoming grief and resilience at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and the co-author of her latest book spoke in San Francisco this week to deliver some practical advice to people who are hurting -- or know others who are.

"If you don't know what to do, do something," Sandberg told an audience of 1,400 people packed into the city's Castro Theater Thursday night, to hear her and Adam Grant share stories of grief and how to heal from it.

The gathering came two years after the sudden death of her husband, David Goldberg. She wrote a book with Grant about how she dealt with the loss, called "Option B," and was in San Francisco to promote it.

Sandberg's nudge toward action recalled a famous quotation from Winston Churchill, who struggled with depression and self-doubt in his storied life and once advised: "If you're going through hell, keep going."

As the chief operating officer of one of the world's most valuable companies and the author of a previous best-seller, Sandberg's bereavement has been far more public than most. The book, subtitled "Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy," was the top-selling title on Amazon the day it debuted last month, aided by Sandberg's notoriety and a lot of advance emotional work.

The book grew out of conversations that Grant and Sandberg had in the wake of her tragedy and was supported by a community that grew on Facebook after Sandberg began sharing details of her struggle.

For people who are either suffering from grief or supporting others who are, the pair offered up these other strategies:

How to help others

"You don't have to be someone's best friend to show up," said Sandberg, who talked about the isolation she felt after her Goldberg died while the family was on vacation with their children in Mexico. "We leave people alone when they need us most," often because we are unsure of what to do, she added.

Her advice: Ask other people how they're doing. Simple but effective.

"We all know people in our lives who are in pain, but we don't know they're in pain" unless we ask, said Grant.

Adam Grant speaks about "Option B," his new book written with Sheryl Sandberg, at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.
Adam Grant speaks about "Option B," his new book written with Sheryl Sandberg, at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.

Don't assume people are strong enough to handle grief.

"Don't let people go through it alone, because they may not make it," said Sandberg.

How to help yourself

Reach out at work and home. "It's OK to ask for help," said Grant. "It's a sign of strength, not weakness."

Sandberg: "Tell your manager, this is what's going on with me. You have to let yourself be who you are at work," even if you're struggling.

She credits her boss, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with helping her survive the tragedy.

When she fell asleep in a meeting, Zuckerberg told her people do it all the time at Facebook. In reality, "nobody does," Sandberg said.gol

"We tap into something when we're honest about what's going on in our lives," she said.

Focus on the positive. Grant told Sandberg to write down three things every day that brought her joy.

"I came out of this with a greater sense of gratitude," she said. "Every day is a gift."

Expect it to take a while. Lastly, keep working at it, because recovering from tragedy is a long journey.

"Monday (May 1) was two years" since Goldberg died, Sandberg said. "Monday was horrible."

Watch: Sandberg on equality in tech