Thanks, Sheryl Sandberg, for Reminding Us Facebook Is About More Than Just One-Upping Each Other

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was having an extraordinary string of success. Not only was she leading the way at one of the world’s most buzzed about companies, but her book, Lean In, became an instant bestseller upon publication in 2013. Lean In went on to inspire what has become a dynamic and ongoing dialogue of how women can find equality in the workplace and in life.

And then Sandberg’s life took a traumatic turn this year.

On May 1, her husband of 11 years, Dave Goldberg, 47, died suddenly after falling off a treadmill while on a family vacation in Mexico. When famous people aren’t working to forward a money-making venture, such as a business, film, TV show, or book, it’s that rare they choose to share much about their personal lives. Yet, that’s exactly what Sandberg did following Goldberg’s death.

Just nine days after the tragedy, Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page about how, at her daughter’s soccer game, she saw another woman who had also been widowed at a young age and “felt completely understood. She told me that she was reliving her loss through mine — and I did not even need to tell her how I felt.” 

There’s something universal about the ability to share and connect and say to someone else, ‘It gets better.’
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Of the countless expressions of condolences she received through social media, she said, “The pain and the joy of the human experience has never been more real to me.” This, all during “the darkest and saddest moments” of her life.

Following a month of mourning, Sandberg posted a deeply personal and poignant letter, saying “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.” She spoke of the lessons of resilience she was taught by a friend:

“Personalization — realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word ‘sorry.’ To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence — remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness — this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.”

On Dave’s birthday in early October, she publicly thanked her family and friends from “the bottom of my heart for carrying me and my children through these brutal months and for helping us keep his memory alive.”

And then just recently, Sandberg sat down for an interview on NBC’s Today to explain why she was so vocal following the loss of her husband.

“As I look to the new year, and my children and I have worked so hard to rebuild our lives and find happiness and joy and gratitude again, I think the support of strangers and our friends made a huge difference,” she said. “I always loved Facebook’s mission, but now I feel even closer to it in, I think, a much deeper and more profound way.”

There are plenty of people — including parents — who know all too well the danger of social media, and I don’t mean the Internet predators or the hackers trying to steal your personal information. No, sometimes you risk emotional injury by simply looking at the Pinterest-perfect photos of other people’s lives. The cherubic children, romantic getaways, and happy-as-clams lives in glamorous homes that some put out there for consumption can, by comparison, make others feel even worse about their own day-to-day existence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If, in some ways, we’re living more impersonally as screens take over, in other ways, the experience can still be eminently personal. While not every Facebook friend may actually be a friend, there are still those connected to you who will be there to listen and empathize if what you put out there is real.

“Because anything you experience, no matter how tragic or devastating … there are many people in the world who’ve experienced that,” Sandberg said. “There’s something universal about the ability to share and connect and say to someone else, ‘It gets better.'”

Leaning in isn’t just for women. Being honest about tough pregnancies, sleepless nights, and difficult children is one way to elicit help, empathy, and a break from isolation. Children are taught to share at an early age, and by doing so, they’re hardly demonstrating any kind of weakness, but rather strength in character and integrity. The same can be true for sharing as an adult. If we take a page from Sandberg’s book of experience, it’s that opening our mouths can lead to more open doors and hearts.

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