Option B

One of Mike Tyson’s most cited (and insightful) quotes often flies across Twitter: “Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the face.” Tyson knows a thing or two about rearranging other peoples’ plans or having his own plans dismantled. Plans are what make Type A people stay sane. Plans make us feel safe, because we can control their creation, we can write them down, we can print them out, and we can cross off things on our lists. “There, it’s done. See? I did it.”

For those of you who know the “Option B Life” all too well, you may also understand how Option B sometimes grows and mutates in ways you couldn’t imagine, over time making Option A seem no longer savory. Or, some times, Option A comes back to present itself only after we’ve started down the path of Option B, but the psychology of sunk costs kicks in, and all of a sudden, when faced with choice, the difficulty of letting go of Option B is greater than the desire we have for Option A. “Everybody has planned their Option A until they’ve been punched in the face and now stare at Option B.”

I was thinking about Option A vs Option B today after reading and re-reading the beautiful, powerful, masterful post of grief by Sheryl Sandberg. I read her post a few times today while walking in San Francisco. And, I felt a range of emotions. To be candid, I first felt guilty because I remember when Facebook stumbled after their IPO, at the same time that Lean In was on tour, and I thought it was strange that she, as COO, was promoting the book while the company’s mobile app was struggling. I didn’t know what was really going on at the company, but that was my gut reaction. Second, when people started reviewing her book and then saying she’d be President of the United States, I thought “Please, give me a break.” Nice idea, but no way. Again, not knowing things directly, my mind had an impulse and instinctively came to a conclusion, even though now I’m not proud of it.

Then, today, Sandberg’s words dripped on my phone, making my eyes water, making my mind wander. Lines like this: “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.” Whoa. And, then, this line, quoted from another: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” Sandberg ends her post by explaining how she yearns for Option A, but that now faced with what Tyson was talking about, she’s going to kick the shit out of Option B. In reading and re-reading this post, she seemed to transform right on my phone, in real-time, getting stronger and stronger.

The phrasing of “Option A vs B” struck a chord with me (though not on this level) because when asked about my career, I often talk about how my professional life has been one continuous chain of Option B after Option B after Option B. What I’m doing today? Option B. Tonight at dinner, someone correctly guessed that I wanted to attend Georgetown for college. I don’t know how they thought of this, but that was true. I applied early, I was not admitted. My goal was to work in international relations, specifically diplomacy. That dream subtly stuck in my brain all the way to graduate school, but all the major agencies I applied to (CIA, Foreign Service, etc.) rejected my applications. So, on to Plan B…again and again. I am not sure how after 35 years on Earth, I found a career via Option B. Like Tyson alluded to, I just assume I’ll be punched in the face, and there’s always an Option B even when it becomes Option A.

These professional matters of mine, however, are trivial compared to what I read today on Facebook. Her language was masterful. I am stunned she found the energy and clarity of mind to write something so beautiful given all the circumstances. Her Option B of being a daughter, a mom, a widow, a very public executive, succumbed by life to let others finally help her. And, I began to think how wrong my gut reactions were years ago, and how strong and insightful this individual is despite losing and grieving her beloved Option A. It makes me grateful to have an Option B (versus sad for losing Option A all the time), and it makes me want to root for her in her pursuit of her Option B, someone undoubtedly stronger than most of us could’ve imagined.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus