Sheryl Sandberg tells grads about overcoming fears | June 12, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Schools - June 12, 2013

Sheryl Sandberg tells grads about overcoming fears

This is an excerpt from prepared remarks by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, for the Sequoia High School commencement in Redwood City on June 7.

Given the spirit and drive you have, I decided what I wanted to tell you today is simple — to believe in yourselves. Don't let anyone put limits on you.

Earlier this year, I published a book called "Lean In," which argues that we need true equality in the world for women. In the book, I talk about the importance of self-confidence — how believing you can do something is the first step to doing it. Now, for some, self-confidence comes more naturally. When my brother and I were in high school, one day we both had dates — yes, I know, I'm so old that back then we scheduled actual dates. And, as it turned out, our dates canceled on both of us at the last minute.

I spent the rest of the weekend moping around the house worrying about all the things that were wrong with me that made the guy blow me off. My brother decided the girl had "missed out on a great thing" and went off to play basketball with his friends.

I joke with my brother to this day that I want to spend a few minutes as him — it must feel oh so good to be that confident. But in reality, even he has moments where he doubts himself. We all do.

Freshman year of college was a huge shock for me. First semester, I took a course on Greek mythology called Heroes. This course was the easiest way to fulfill the literature requirement — and it was nicknamed Heroes for Zeroes. The professor began the first lecture by asking which students had already read these books. Almost every single hand went up. Not mine. I whispered to my friend sitting next to me, "What books?" The professor then asked, "And who has read these books in the original?" "What original?" I asked my friend. "Greek," she replied. I asked her, "People actually speak Greek?" It seemed pretty clear that I was one of the zeroes.

This is where believing in yourself is so important. On that day, I felt so intimidated — I wondered if I had been accepted to college by accident, if I could keep up with my fellow classmates for even that one class. I had to believe that I was just as smart and capable as they were — and then I had to study harder than they had to in order to catch up.

Believing in yourself doesn't mean strolling into every situation confident that you have all the necessary knowledge and skills. It means that you believe you can acquire that knowledge and those skills.

This also holds true in the workforce. On my first day of my first job out of college, my boss asked me to calculate some numbers. I had no idea how to do it. He said, "Just put it into a spreadsheet." I told him that I didn't know how to do that. "Wow," he exclaimed. "I can't believe you got this job without knowing that." I went home in tears, convinced that I was going to get fired.

The next day, when I got into work, my boss sat me down. My heart was pounding. But instead of firing me, he taught me how to use the program. And he taught me something far more important as well. He taught me to ask for help when I needed it.

At Facebook, we have posters hung on walls all around our campus. They say things in big, bold red letters. One says "Fortune favors the bold." Another says "Done is better than perfect." My favorite says "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

So today, on this day of celebration, celebrate by asking yourself, "What would I do if I weren't afraid?" And then lean in and go do it.