[image-2]Somehow this little throwaway line on Sheryl Sandberg’s Wikipedia page — buried under the ooh-ah titles (COO Facebook, former VP at Google) and impressive bio bits (consistently named a Forbes “most powerful woman in business”, net worth an estimated $1 billion, etc., etc.) — is the most endearing, and telling, of all: “Sandberg taught aerobics in the 1980s while in high school.”
Now there’s a woman I can relate to.
I will never be a tech exec, nor a billionaire, nor do I ever hope to be on a book tour talking about surviving grief after a traumatic loss, but an ’80s aerobics class? Been there, done that — and I know a good teacher when I see one. The self-confidence, the upbeat “you got this” tone, the cheering others on while also calling their bluff, and the willingness to sweat it out, step up, kick it out, feel the burn, lean in — all vintage aerobics teacher qualities — remain fundamental to Sandberg’s shtick. The sell-out crowd of (mostly) women who came to hear Sandberg at the Charleston Music Hall last Wednesday got a good workout in the power of “showing up for each other” in times of grief and in the everyday workplace.
Sandberg, who most know from her 2013 buzz-stirring book Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead is on tour this time for Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This book and the personal lessons she shares about grief and resiliency are framed around the sudden death of her 47-year old husband Dave Goldberg, but her message is far from woe-is-me. “We hear a lot about post traumatic stress, but who’s ever heard about post traumatic growth? What I’ve discovered is there is deeper meaning in both joy and grief in our lives,” she said. “It’s not the kind of growth I ever wanted to have, but it’s real. I wrote the book because there’s not enough written about post traumatic growth.”
Sandberg shared the stage with Michele Norris of NPR-fame, a goddess in her own right, who kept the conversation going with questions and insights of her own. “I lost my best friend this year,” Norris offered, speaking of her PBS colleague Gwen Ifill, who came to Charleston post-Emanuel to host the special “America After Charleston.” “I know from personal experience that when we say ‘I got this’ we may think we’re saying it with an exclamation point at the end, but it’s really a question mark.”
Sandberg’s Lean In fans were not disappointed. When she admitted that despite having spent the last three years empowering women and rallying 33,000 “lean-in circles” around the globe, she was so gob-smacked by grief that she couldn’t put herself to bed at night for three months, there was a palpable hush in the audience. That hush then roused to the loudest applause of the evening when Sandberg peppered in comments like: “I’m still leaning-in, and I still believe the world’s been run by men for a really long time … and I’m not sure it’s going too well.”
Charleston was her eighth stop, and the smallest city she’s visited, but one that held particular emotional punch for her. Having spent part of her day visiting Mother Emanuel AME Church, she knew her Charleston audience was well acquainted with trauma, grief, and the need for resiliency. “We all have challenges, we all have to live some form of Option B,” she said. “If Option A is no longer available, let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” An echo, maybe, from those aerobics classes — and an admonition that still serves us all well.