Frankly Speaking With Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington.
Arianna Huffington.

Arianna Huffington.

Jackie: What prompted you to write this latest book?

Arianna: My own wake-up call in 2007 when I collapsed from exhaustion. I blacked out and hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone, gashed my eye and found myself on the floor of my office in a pool of blood. That was the beginning of the journey that led to this book. Going to a doctor’s office to see if there was anything medically wrong with me, I kind of had a lot of time to ask myself some of these questions, like, “What is a good life? Is this really what success is?”

Jackie: Can you explain this idea in your book of a “third metric”? Of redefining success beyond the usual metrics of money and power?
Arianna: The third metric is what ultimately makes life worthwhile, because it includes our own health and wellbeing, our capacity to connect with our own inner wisdom and intuition, and also the ability to find joy and wonder in life. The final pillar, which completes everything, is giving.

The most important thing is for people to take small steps and not to feel so overwhelmed by what they want to change that they don’t actually change anything; they just mentally agree.

Often it starts with one simple change. For me, it was about sleep – going from getting four to five hours a night, to seven to eight hours. That began to change everything.

Jackie: You talk about “sleeping your way to the top”, which most people would see as having a negative connotation; although, of course, you turn it on its head and mean it differently.
Arianna: Women have to lead the way in getting us away from this macho idea that sleep is for people who are not sufficiently engaged in life. We need to recognise the importance of sleep in helping us live lives where we are really thriving.

Jackie: Do you really think the measure of success is changing?
Arianna: Yes, I do. We are at the tipping point where we have two different worlds coexisting. We have the world of burnout and exhaustion and macho sleep deprivation that is fuelling the workplace. But we also have a new world being born, where a lot of companies are realising that if they care for the wellbeing and health of their employees, it actually is going to have a beneficial impact on the bottom line as well.

Jackie: How have you introduced those ideas into your workplace?
Arianna: We have instituted email rules where people know that they are not expected to answer emails or remain plugged in after work or over the weekends. We have also regular meditation and breathing classes, yoga classes, healthy snacks everywhere. Two nap rooms. We give [employees] free time for volunteering [for good causes]. We have a gym and we participate in a program where people can be rewarded for healthy behaviour.

Jackie: Some people might say, “Oh, the idea of a measure of success beyond money and power is OK for Arianna. She’s got her money, got power, had a busy career, raised her children.” What would your response be?
Arianna: Well, I can understand that and what I would say is that when I look back on my life, I could have achieved everything I achieved with less stress, less anxiety, more joy and less of a negative impact on my health and relationships.

Jackie: What about young people still forging careers, where long hours are so much part of the culture? How can they take on this advice?
Arianna: First of all, by realising that we are the most important capital. Human capital is the most important capital and we need to be nurturing that, even as we are working on our goals. We need to recognise we are bigger than our careers and our goals.

When we do realise that, suddenly we are connected with our own abundance, not just focusing on luck and the next thing. That’s why I’m such a big believer in giving, however little we have. When we give of our time, our skills, even if we have nomoney to give, we are operating from the recognition that we have an overflow.

Jackie: You’ve written about how the internet, social media and so on give us the illusion we’re connected, but that it’s not always a really true connection. Isn’t that a little bizarre considering The Huffington Post is like the epicentre of the internet? You talk about “unplugging”, recharging, disconnecting, and yet your business is 24/7 news delivery. How do you reconcile that?
Arianna: Most of us now are permanently plugged in and that’s why we need to make it a real priority to learn to disconnect. At The Huffington Post, we have our own ground rules and while it’s a 24/7 operation, nobody is expected to be plugged in 24/7.

Jackie: Don’t you think people feel the pressure to ... I know when I wake up in the morning, I put my arm out and I don’t say good morning to my husband – I pick up my phone and look at it!
Arianna: OK, so, but you’re never going to do that again, right? (laughs). I don’t want to hear of you doing that anymore because this is an absolutely critical step – never, ever, ever sleeping with your devices by your bed. It is critical for two reasons: one, because, as you said, you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is go to your device. The other is if you wake up in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, you’re going to be tempted to look at your data.

Jackie: Yes, exactly.
Arianna: And that immediately interrupts your night’s sleep with your day life and interrupts the cycle of renewal.

Jackie: Yes, yes. You’re absolutely correct.
Arianna: But I don’t want to be absolutely correct; I want you to stop doing it! (laughing).

Jackie: Sheryl Sandberg is telling women to “lean in” and not pull out of their careers when they have family, etc. You’re basically saying “lean back”. Are you advocating both?
Arianna: I think there is no contradiction because what Sheryl is saying is, don’t let your own fear and anxieties interrupt your dreams. I’m saying, don’t let your obnoxious roommate get in the way, but also approach your life in a way where you are thriving and not just succeeding by somebody else’s definition of success.

Women need to realise that our goal is not just to get to the top of a particular field but to actually change the way the workplace is run, change the world. The world has been designed by men and it’s not working.

Jackie: What do you think we need right now in terms of leadership?
Arianna: Clearly, it needs more of the female quality. In the world of work, we need more teamwork, flexibility, collaboration and that’s what women can bring forward.

Jackie: What about those well-known structural obstacles facing women? Like losing their place on the corporate ladder when they have children. How would you deal with those?
Arianna: That’s why I say we have had two women’s revolutions. The first was the vote, the second was women gaining access to everything at the top of every field. The third one, the one that I want us to institute, is this one of changing the workplace. There’s data that shows women have a 40 per cent greater incidence of heart disease, 60 per cent greater incidence of diabetes, when they are in stressful jobs. Obviously, that’s not sustainable.

Jackie: You’ve had personal pain in your life that a lot of women would identify with. You know, different struggles with your daughters [now 25 and 23, both have had eating disorders], a marriage breakdown, things like that. What were your coping mechanisms?
Arianna: My coping mechanisms have a lot to do with the lessons from my mother, about trusting that the pain and suffering and everything we go through in our lives has a meaning. That they are not pointless [experiences] and that we learn from everything, getting closer to the essence of who we are.

Jackie: Are you religious?
Arianna: Yes, I’m definitely a believer. I believe in God. I believe there is a higher power and a purpose in our lives, and I don’t believe things happen by accident. And I really believe life is like a big classroom. We are constantly learning every day.

Jackie: What do you think your children would say about you – or what would you like them to be saying?
Arianna: I talk a lot with my children about all these lessons, especially how we can live life more in the moment – even if there are things we want now that we can’t have – instead of always either judging things we did in the past or worrying about the future.

Jackie: You’ve never remarried. Was that a conscious choice? You must have had many offers.
Arianna: No, there was never a conscious choice, it’s just what happened. I love my work, love my children. There were other men in my life after my divorce, but I feel marriage for me had a lot to do with wanting to become a mother and once that happened, it was not anything that loomed very large.

Jackie: People see you as supremely confident and poised. Have you ever been afraid of anything?
Arianna: Oh, of course. I used to be terrified of [public] speaking! Now I love it. I was also terrified of whether I would know how to be a mother, whether I could take care of them.

Lots of little fears and big fears. But dealing with our fears and not giving them a lot of power is one of the great lessons we are learning.

Jackie: You talk about intuition and trusting it...
Arianna: I haven’t always been good about trusting my intuition. I think how often I have ignored those whisperings. It’s so easy to dismiss them or brush them aside, or get so busy and harried that you simply don’t take the time to listen.

Jackie: Besides your children and work, what makes you happy?
Arianna: Walking. When I was living in Los Angeles, I discovered I came up with many of my best ideas while hiking. And whenever I could, I would schedule hikes instead of sit-down meetings, with both my friends and HuffPost editors.

One of my favourite phrases is “Solvitur ambulando”: “It is solved by walking.” It refers to the fourth-century BC Greek philosopher Diogenes’s response to the question of whether motion is real. To answer, he got up and walked. As it turns out, there are many problems for which walking is the solution. In our culture of overwork and burnout, how do we tap into our creativity, our wisdom, our capacity for wonder? Solvitur ambulando.

Jackie: Outside of the issues you outline in Thrive, what are the personal and professional obstacles that you still have to tackle?
Arianna: It’s still a daily challenge for me to unplug and recharge in order to be present in the moment – a challenge that exists at the intersection of my personal and professional lives.

Jackie: You’ve spoken about resilience. Can you give me an example of how you developed your own?
Arianna: By failing many times. To name just one example, I watched HuffPost come alive to mixed reviews, including some very negative ones – like the reviewer who called the site “the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one”. She called the site a “failure that is simply unsurvivable”.
It’s an illustration of one of my deepest beliefs – which is we must dare to take risks and to fail as many times as it takes, along the way to success.

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