As we celebrate commencement season and our graduates prepare to embark on the next chapter of their lives, it’s a perfect time for all of us—graduates and adults alike—to pause and reflect. The wisdom shared during these ceremonies often comes from humble and gifted individuals who offer valuable life lessons. One such remarkable speech is Sheryl Sandberg’s 2016 commencement address at the University of California, Berkeley. Her words, born from personal tragedy, offer timeless insights into resilience and the human spirit’s capacity to overcome adversity. Today, her message is as relevant as ever, reminding us that while the hard days are challenging, they don’t define us. It’s the hard days that determine who you are.

Learning Through Loss

In the days before AI was commercially available, Sandberg’s speech was rooted in the profound personal loss of her husband, Dave. His sudden death thrust her into a deep void of grief, a state she vividly describes. Despite the overwhelming sadness, she learned to “kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.” This metaphor for resilience underscores a universal truth: we have the capacity to find joy and meaning even in the darkest times.

The Three P’s of Resilience

Drawing from psychologist Martin Seligman’s work, Sandberg introduced the concept of the “three P’s” — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — as critical elements in building resilience:

  1. Personalization: Often, we blame ourselves for the negative events in our lives. Sandberg herself struggled with this after Dave’s death, questioning what she could have done to prevent it. However, understanding that not everything happens because of us is crucial. Accepting this allows us to move past self-blame and focus on recovery and growth.
  2. Pervasiveness: This refers to the belief that a single negative event will affect all areas of our lives. Sandberg learned to compartmentalize her grief, returning to work and routine, which helped her see that not everything was awful. This balance is essential in preventing one aspect of life from overshadowing all others.
  3. Permanence: The belief that the sorrow will last forever can be debilitating. Sandberg emphasizes that while grief and sadness are real, they do not last indefinitely. Accepting our emotions without letting them define our entire existence is key to healing.

Finding Gratitude

One of the most impactful moments in Sandberg’s speech is her discussion on gratitude. A friend’s suggestion to consider how things could be worse led her to feel overwhelming gratitude for her family’s safety. This shift in perspective highlights the importance of finding gratitude even in difficult times. Research supports that practicing gratitude can enhance our overall well-being, making us happier and healthier.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

In our journey towards resilience, it’s crucial to remember that comparison can undermine our progress. In the age of social media and constant connectivity, it’s easy to compare our struggles and successes to those of others. However, this comparison often leads to unnecessary stress and dissatisfaction. Instead, focus on your personal journey and growth. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may seem, and remember that everyone’s path is unique.

Relevance Today

In today’s fast-paced, often tumultuous world, Sandberg’s insights are more pertinent than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainties, and personal challenges continue to test our resilience. Her message reminds us that while we cannot control all events, we can control how we respond to them.

Applying These Lessons to Entrepreneurs

Many of us in the entrepreneurial community have faced significant hardships due to the economic downturns brought on by COVID-19. Businesses have closed, revenues have dropped, and the future often seems uncertain. Yet, Sandberg’s lessons on resilience offer a roadmap for navigating these challenges.

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Understand that the economic impact of the pandemic is not your fault. Many factors are beyond your control. Focus on what you can do to adapt and move forward.
  2. Maintain Routine and Structure: Establishing a daily routine can provide stability amidst chaos. Whether it’s sticking to a work schedule or setting aside time for self-care, routines help maintain a sense of normalcy.
  3. Seek Support and Build Community: Lean on your network of fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors. Sharing experiences and advice can provide emotional support and practical solutions.
  4. Cultivate Gratitude: Reflect on the aspects of your business and life that are going well, even if they seem small. This practice can boost morale and help you stay focused on the positive.
  5. Avoid Comparison: Focus on your journey and progress rather than comparing yourself to others. Each business and individual faces unique challenges and has their own pace of growth.
  6. Embrace Growth and Adaptability: View this period as an opportunity to innovate and pivot. Many successful businesses have emerged stronger after adapting to challenging circumstances. Use this time to explore new ideas and strategies.


As we stand in the midst of commencement season, let’s remember that the wisdom shared in these speeches is not just for graduates. We too, as adults and entrepreneurs, can benefit from taking a step back, listening, and incorporating the insights offered by these humble and gifted speakers. Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech is a powerful testament to the human spirit’s resilience. By internalizing her lessons on personalization, pervasiveness, permanence, gratitude, and avoiding comparison, we can navigate life’s inevitable challenges with strength and grace. As we continue to face new and unexpected hardships, her words remind us that it is indeed the hard days that determine who we are, but they do not define us.

By reflecting on Sandberg’s insights and applying them to our entrepreneurial journeys, we can build more resilient, adaptable, and successful businesses. How have you embraced resilience in your business? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

For more on Sheryl Sandberg’s speech, you can read the full text here: