The Life-Changing Relationship Lesson I Learned from Ray Dalio and Sheryl Sandberg

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B some time ago. I enjoyed Lean In and I found her knowledge and optimism helpful. I’m not going to review her books here but there’s one thing I want to highlight about the reception of Option B.

If you go on Goodreads and look up this book, you will see many comments about the fact that it was published only two years after her husband’s death, implying that her raw pain had been exploited commercially while the time-lapse wasn’t long enough for her to fully grieve and give any real insight.

Some people also criticised her for how blind she was to her own privileges and how ignorant she was of the average majority who don’t have access to private nannies and 24/7 help from everyone else around.

I could totally see where those comments were coming from.

Especially, facing the loss of loved ones, most people would find it hard to even carry on with their daily life, let alone lead a company and publish a book, for simply one just wouldn’t have any energy left for such tasks (plus limited resources of all sorts).

But then I think — that’s why this woman is not most people. That’s why, among many other factors, she’s so successful. The actions she took didn’t seem intuitive to the majority because they weren’t supposed to be.

See, this book was not written by an average person.

It was written by someone who already stands out from the crowd, someone who clearly knows where to put her energy in and actually does it, someone who makes use of all her available resources to advance herself, someone who actively prioritises her well-being and happiness before all else.

And despite how easily it can be said, it’s not an easy thing to do.

People complained they didn’t actually learn about resilience from that book. Well, the existence of that book is resilience.

I don’t claim to be a Sheryl Sandberg’s fan and I wouldn’t disagree with the comments on her privileges, but I admire her for her mindset.

“I now know that it’s possible not just to bounce back but to grow. Would I trade this growth to have Dave (her husband) back? Of course. No one would ever choose to grow this way. But it happens — and we do.”

— Sheryl Sandberg, Option B

Experiencing such an unfortunate event and given that she couldn’t change the past, she focused on growth and showed it in action (e.g. by writing and getting that book published).

The message is clear.

If you want better out of life, you need to do what only a few would, and you need to commit to choosing and doing what’s good for you even when it’s hard.

This reminds me of the advice by Ray Dalio in his book Principles which also emphasised the importance of doing the hard things in achieving goals:

“By recognizing the higher-level consequences nature optimizes for, I’ve come to see that people who overweigh the first-order consequences of their decisions and ignore the effects of second- and subsequent-order consequences rarely reach their goals. […]

Quite often the first-order consequences are the temptations that cost us what we really want, and sometimes they are the barriers that stand in our way.”

— Ray Dalio, Principles

I read this book at the beginning of 2019. As a relationship writer, I immediately wrote an article showing how his thinking could be applied to romantic relationships:

“In a love connection that didn’t work out, the broken heart, while overwhelmingly numbing, was just the first-order consequence. The second-order consequence, importantly, was the growth.”

— Ellen Nguyen

Now, 18 months later and many more insights gained, I realise I’d missed an important point. It’s not about justifying getting into relationships that ultimately fail because of the growth it gives you.

It’s about decision-making.

Again, take romantic relationships as an example. Say, you’re in a relationship that doesn’t have a long-term future or simply doesn’t meet your needs.

By choosing to end the relationship, the first-order consequences are loss, pain, shame, intense withdrawal, loneliness — all the horrible stuff. The second-order consequences, in contrast, are your well-being, confidence, and the freedom to move on to a life that works for you.

Many people are consumed by the first-order consequences and end up staying in a bad relationship or involved with someone toxic for way longer than they ever should.

People like Sheryl Sandberg, on the other hand, focus on the second or subsequent-order consequences and choose the hard option instead.

They prioritise their well-being and happiness. They identify their end goal in every situation, take action to move forward towards that goal, and embrace the difficult emotions in the process.

Interestingly, while writing this article, I looked up Sheryl Sandberg and found out she’s currently engaged. Congratulations to her and I guess it’s safe to say my point is well supported.

The Key Takeaway

If you want more out of life, this is a lesson worth learning. It boils down to two steps:

  • Recognise what makes you happy and what grows you as a person

  • When faced with any challenging situation, always choose the option that would lead to your happiness and well-being — no dwelling or bargaining or time-wasting.

I acknowledge that this requires a high level of self-awareness and energy and deliberate detachment — which can be very, very painful at first and you might find yourself instinctively resisting it.

But it’s not impossible. These are the things you can get good at with enough time and practice.

Then you need to stop giving in to the easy options. Push through the pain and do the hard things for your own sake. Navigate towards goodness and choose growth.

One day, it will become your second nature. After all, it’s your best chance at living the best life you could.

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