Arianna Huffington's personal wake-up call arrived on April 6, 2007, courtesy of a broken cheekbone. Exhausted, she collapsed in her home office, striking her head on her desk as she fell. In the waiting room at the doctor's office, she asked herself: Is this what success looks like?
As the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, Huffington had money and power but wasn't fulfilled. "If you come to in a pool of your own blood and no one's shot you, you aren't successful," she joked to an audience yesterday at a book signing sponsored by AlleyNYC, a co-working space for early-stage startups in New York City.
It was, as Oprah would put it, an "ah-ha" moment, causing her to search for a definition of success that lay beyond conventional markers such as wealth and prestige. In this pursuit, Huffington made changes in her own life –more sleep, yoga and meditation, less multitasking and gadget time – and then wrote about her discoveries in a new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder (Harmony, 2014).
"Our current definition of success is, as Thrive shows us, literally killing us," her book cover reads. "We need a new way forward."
What's radical about the book isn't Huffington's relatively tired message that we need more sleep, more time away from our devices and healthier habits (all of which enjoy near universal consensus), but instead, that we make these criteria prerequisites for our collective working definition of success.
According to her, we can have it all: money, power and wellbeing. "There's absolutely no trade-off," she said. "That's a collective delusion, that in order to climb the ladder we have to sacrifice. Not at all."
Huffington stated early on in her talk that you "don't have to burn out to build a startup," offering tips along the way such as saying no to unnecessary activities and swapping 30 minutes of TV for 30 minutes of sleep.
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The audience, comprised mostly of individuals in the throes of trying to get a business up and running, naturally had questions. One audience member asked why so many successful entrepreneurs are down to 1 percent of their battery life after starting a company. Another asked how she, as a young women, could climb the corporate latter while ensuring that she take time for her health and wellness. Huffington's advice was telling:
"What most employers value more than anything is good ideas, creativity, productivity and being really present on the job. I'm not saying there aren't some jerks who want you on all the time, but my advice is aim to change jobs and if you can't, to still make sure you take care of yourself. You can do it, because you can do the best job you can and then go to your boss and say 'I'm done for the week, I'm going to be off email, so if you need me here's my cell phone number.' That's perfectly respectful and it sets some boundaries about your need to also nurture yourself, so when you go back to work you are going to be fully present."
This, essentially, is the antithesis of Sheryl Sandberg's 'lean in' mantra: If your job isn't providing an environment that cultivates wellbeing, Huffington recommends looking for a new one. Amongst the simmering debate on whether or not women can "have it all" and the corresponding discussion about why more of us aren't entering STEM professions, it's a provocative message.
While Huffington encourages people to think big and dream big, she advises against those goals being turned into checklists. Life is short and life is meant to be enjoyed now, not later. "The things that ultimately matter at the end of life is small kindnesses, lifelong passions, things that made us laugh," Huffington said.