Sheryl Sandberg opened her speech to the UC Berkeley Class of 2016 talking about the amazing accomplishments of previous Berkeley graduates. “And those are just the women,” she said to laughter.
While we might have half-expected Sandberg’s commencement address to focus on gender equality and the pay gap, it was refreshing and moving to hear her open up about her life, its hardships, and the power of resiliency for overcoming the really bad times.
The Facebook COO and Lean In author tells the class that although they may have been expecting her to tell them what she learned in life, she’s instead going to tell them what she learned in death—something which she says she has not spoken of publicly before.
She begins with the basic, raw details: She and her husband were in Mexico a little more than a year ago when she discovered him unconscious on the hotel’s gym floor, dead from cardiac arrhythmia. She flew home to deal with the aftermath—breaking the devastating news to their children, making funeral arrangements, carrying on—consumed with grief. She shares, “I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface, and breathe again.”
Throughout the talk, she makes adversity relatable. While she recognizes that some may have faced a huge tragedy like her own, she also acknowledges that getting a B instead of an A or not getting the internship you wanted are also obstacles. She doesn’t belittle or undermine dating woes or landing-the-job-you-want drama. To overcome these things and all manner of life’s challenges, Sandberg calls upon the importance of resilience. On good days, it’ll feel easy to be grateful for what you have and where you’re going; on bad days—maybe it’s as big as getting fired or as small as not being acknowledged for landing a client—finding joy and meaning will be essential to survival.
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