Option B

Two years ago when Sheryl Sandberg began to publicly share her grief over the death of her husband Dave Goldberg, I was struck by her incredible dignity and willingness to acknowledge that people live with unimaginable pain. People we interact with and work alongside every day endure a range of adversity, from the death of a loved one to long-term illness or poverty, professional setbacks, institutional injustice, natural disasters, and so much more. We develop resilience, get back on our feet and make our way through and out of the darkness. As Sheryl puts it, ‘we find ways to kick the shit out of Option B’.

Image from Virgin.com 

Sheryl and our friend Adam Grant have written a book called Option B that describes how Sheryl and her family suffered and moved forward with their lives, accepting that with the loss of their loving father and husband they had to make the most of option B. The book is deeply personal and moving, and it reminded me of a story.

“I found Echo Bay on a wet October day in 1984 while following a pod of whales. It is a small bay nestled in a remote archipelago in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada. Floating houses ringed the bay with woodsmoke curling out of the chimneys. My husband and I, with our little boy, made it our home. It was the perfect place to spend a lifetime studying whales.”

So begins independent biologist Alexandra Morton’s stirring blog about the recent developments of her life’s work advocating for a healthy ocean and its species. What is difficult for her to discuss is that her husband died in a tragic diving accident while filming killer whales in the wild.

For the young mother and child, suddenly alone in their remote corner of the world with no electricity nor roads to connect them to the outside world, what is Option B? Alexandra poured her heart into raising her son in this starkly inaccessible and beautiful place, making it their home while continuing her research. One day fish farms started to arrive. 

Image from Tavish Campbell 

Soon the local community of whales Alexandra and her husband came to study were displaced, wild salmon became infected with parasites and viruses, and the ecosystem – their home – was again disrupted.

Local fishermen came to Alexandra for help and she wrote thousands of letters to the government; she had the only word processor in town! She analysed disease records and tracked the effects of fish farms, publishing considerable research on the impact of farmed salmon on wild salmon. Her research has contributed to over 20 scientific papers and has been published in prestigious science journals, earning her an honorary doctorate.

In their book, Sheryl and Adam describe the feeling of loss of control when tragedy strikes. Alexandra said: “We don’t realise that we as individual human beings on this planet have the power.” Regaining a solid footing and finding purpose helps to build resilience beyond a personality trait into a lifelong project. She has won several lawsuits pressing for cleaner fish farm practices and continues to devote her life to research, advocacy for the ocean, wild salmon, and ultimately our well-being. While these farms have made salmon more affordable, Alexandra believes the cost to the ocean is too great and that exciting innovation in land based aquaculture could offer sustainable farmed salmon while allowing wild salmon to thrive. There is no planet B after our home planet Earth but Alexandra’s Option B teaches humanity that learning to co-exist with natural systems is essential to our survival. She chose a life project that demonstrates an unbounded love of and respect for our planet.

And what happened to the young boy from the Canadian outback? He grew up to be a rocket scientist. He lives in California with his family, working with passion and commitment as the head of our spaceship’s propulsion system. He leads a team of dedicated propulsion engineers and technicians, who collectively apply their ingenuity and resolve to ensure that Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts and I realise our dream of space access.

Image from Virgin Galactic 

Martin Luther King Jr said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Purposeful work that connects us more closely to each other and Earth, our one home planet, is surely a beautiful and brilliant Option B.

At some point, each of us has faced, accepted and even embraced option B. Tell us about how you embraced option B.