Make It New Grads

In speech to Virginia Tech grads, Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg gives 4 ways to get more resilient

After losing her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had to learn and practice resilience — the ability to recover from setbacks.

Speaking at Virginia Tech's Spring 2017 University Commencement Ceremony on Friday, Sandberg opened up about the loss of her husband and shared the importance of not only building resilience, but building it as a community.

After losing Goldberg, Sandberg retreated into books, working with Wharton Professor and psychologist Adam Grant to better understand the realities of resilience, recovery and trauma. Sandberg shares many of those insights in "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy," which she co-authored with Grant.

Sandberg concludes that resilience isn't a trait you either have or don't, but a skill you develop over time. "We don't have a set amount of resilience — it's a muscle that any of us can build," she tells the Virginia Tech Class of 2017.

Sheryl Sandberg and husband David Goldberg in 2013.
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Sheryl Sandberg and husband David Goldberg in 2013.

How can you start building resilience? Through collective experiences and shared narratives, Sandberg says.

"We build resilience in ourselves. We build it in the people we love. And we build it together, as a community — that's called collective resilience," she says.

In college, those experiences can range from sharing late-night pizza to pulling all-nighters in the library together. In the real world, it often means finding a community that understands and supports you.

"We all need our posses — especially when life puts obstacles in our path," Sandberg says.

Resilience isn't built alone, it's built collectively. Sandberg breaks down four ways that anyone can develop a close-knit community conducive to doing just that.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

"Before Dave died, I tried to bother people as little as possible — and 'bothering people' is how I thought of it," Sandberg explains. "Then I lost Dave, and suddenly I needed my family and friends more than ever."

Reaching out for help isn't a sign of defeat or weakness. "It takes strength to rely on others," Sandberg says.

Acknowledge everyone's struggles

Sandberg admits that she used to shy away from checking in and bringing up friends' struggles in fear of reminding them of their pain. But after she went through it herself, she realized the importance of remembering what's going on in other people's lives.

"Want to silence a room? Say you have cancer, your father went to jail, you just lost your job," the Facebook exec says.

"We often retreat into silence when we need each other the most. Of course, not everyone will want to talk about everything all the time. But saying to a friend, 'I know you are suffering and I am here to talk if you want to' can kick an ugly elephant right out of a room — and keep isolation from adding to your friend's pain."

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant
Noam Galai | Contributor | Getty Images
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant

Show up for others

Don't just ambiguously ask how you can help — show up.

"You don't have to do something huge," Sandberg says. "You don't have to wait until someone tells you exactly what they need. And you don't have to be someone's best friend from the first grade to show up."

Bringing food to someone in the hospital or being present when someone needs a shoulder to cry on is enough.

Share stories

Sharing our personal narratives helps us build a common understanding. Stories are how we relate to each other and bond. "They're how we explain our past and set expectations for our future," Sandberg says.

Not only that, but shared narratives can be catalysts for fighting injustice and creating social change. Sandberg shares the story of a group of unmarried women in China who are using LeanIn.org's "Lean In Circles" to band together and fight the stigma of being single past age 27.

"Building collective resilience also means trying to understand how the world looks to those who have experienced it differently — because they are a different race, come from a different country, have an economic background unlike yours," she says. "We each have our own story but we can write new ones together — and that means seeing the value in each other's points of view and looking for common ground."

Sandberg thinks resilience is crucial, and she also underscores the importance of building it into the fabric of everything we do, from influencing our friends and family to nurturing collective resilience in the companies where we work.

"Build resilient organizations," she says. "Speak up when you see injustice. Lend your time and passion to causes that matter."

Don't miss: 3 ways Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger can convince anyone to listen to them and, for more content related to the Class of 2017, follow #MakeItNewGrads on social media and check out our Advice to New Grads series.