Arianna Huffington Thought 'HuffPost' Would Be Her 'Last Chapter.' Was She Ever Wrong.
An acute case of burnout, in 2007, convinced Huffington to switch gears and found the wellness site Thrive.
Editor’s note: Builders Series features no-holds-barred in-depth interviews with female leaders in different industries to offer insight into what successful women have done to push through feeling stuck, frustrated and uncreative in order to build incredible brands and businesses.
Arianna Huffington is someone I’ve long admired, for her ability to jump into something new, and for her passion for true wellness, or as she might put it, "thriving." She is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, founder of the Huffington Post -- now HuffPost -- and author of 15 books, including, most recently, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.
In a recent interview, Huffington took a deep dive into the risks she's taken and talked about how to overcome the naysayers. I especially appreciated her respect for the women who had come before (like her mother!) and her honesty in recounting the things in her life that haven’t always worked.
Huffington has been named to Time magazine's list of the world’s 100 most influential people and Forbes's Most Powerful Women list.
What have you built? What inspired you to build it?
Thrive Global. I was inspired by our mission to end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology. The pervasive belief that burnout is the price we must pay for success is a delusion, and I’m inspired to accelerate the culture shift that allows people to reclaim their lives and move from merely surviving to thriving.
Were you born a builder,or did you have to learn to be one?
One of the through-lines to my life has been my love of helping people connect and engage -- which Greeks usually do over food! And both of the companies I’ve built have been platforms for that.
Who was the first woman you looked up to? Why did you want to be like her?
My mother. She had the gift of living in a constant state of wonder at the world around her, and her favorite piece of advice to me was that failure isn’t the opposite of success, but a stepping-stone. That gave my sister and me the encouragement and license to try anything, secure in the knowledge that if we failed, she wouldn't love us any less.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Launching the Huffington Post. Though it was quickly successful, that was not at all a sure thing when we launched. In fact, I remember one reviewer who said the site was "the movie equivalent of [the failed movies] Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one." And a year later, when that same reviewer emailed me to ask about blogging for HuffPost, I happily said yes, since holding grudges is one of the most draining things you can do.
When have you broken down, personally or professionally? How did you break through?
I had a wake-up call in 2007 when I collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone on the way down. I was diagnosed with an acute case of burnout and made changes in my life, including renewing my estranged relationship with sleep and redefining my idea of success. That led to several breakthroughs, including my books Thrive and The Sleep Revolution, and, ultimately, my launch of Thrive Global.
What makes you doubt yourself? How do you manage it?
I've struggled with that voice of self-doubt, which I call "the obnoxious roommate living in our heads." It's the one that tells so many women we’re not good enough. But as [the 16th century French essayist] Michel de Montaigne said, "There were many terrible things in my life, and most of them never happened."
How do you know when to leave someone or something?
For me, leaving the Huffington Post to found Thrive Global was a tough decision, but as the mission of building a company that would help end the stress and burnout epidemic became more and more compelling for me, I knew I had to jump. And as soon as I had jumped, it was clear that it was the right decision.
What was your bravest moment?
I don’t know if I would call it brave, but I had long assumed the Huffington Post would be my last chapter. But as I became more passionate about the connection between well-being and performance, I felt the need to turn this passion into something that would help people change their daily lives. It was a call to action I just couldn’t ignore, so I founded Thrive Global.
Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?
Absolutely. There’s nothing more important and fulfilling to me than having an impact on people’s lives. And what’s also been rewarding about Thrive Global in particular is that part of our mission is to be a sustainable startup, proving that you can build a business, even a technology company, without being fueled by stress and burnout. So, I love the process of putting our principles into action.
What can you see yourself building next?
Thrive Global has an ambitious mission, and that’s going to be more than enough to keep me occupied for years to come, but we’ll be building Thrive Global’s expansion into many more parts of the world. Because the burnout epidemic is global, Thrive Global has been global from day one -- we’ve now launched Thrive in India and Greece and have given trainings in five continents. In a few years, we’ll be in even more countries.