Arianna Huffington forges a new path to success

Arianna Huffington | Photo: Alicia Canter/Guardian News & Media Ltd

In her own life’s journey, Huffington has gone from conservative commentator to liberal champion.

The queen of the blog is advocating a digital detox. It’s Arianna unplugged and with a refreshingly different take on hard work and success.

Early on an April morning in 2007, Arianna Huffington woke in a pool of her own blood.

It was a shocking experience that made Huffington, one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”, reassess her life and redefine her parameters for success.

“I was lying on the floor of my home office,” recalls the founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

“On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep.”

Huffington had plenty of time to think as she endured numerous MRIs, CAT scans and echocardiograms over the next few months to check if there were any underlying medical problems beyond exhaustion.

And after consulting psychologists, physiologists, sports and sleep specialists to garner the latest research, Huffington created her new mantra.

She realised that defining success through the two measures of money and power was akin to having a two-legged stool – it was always going to fall over.

"Leadership is about seeing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic." – Arianna Huffington

So Huffington proposed a “Third Metric”, a third measure of success that encompasses a person’s wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving. It was the missing leg of the stool, and one that brought stability.

She expands on this idea in Thrive, her 14th book in four decades, which debuted at number one on The New York Times’ bestseller list.

In it she lays out a 12-step process using meditation, mindfulness and “the power of unplugging” to help others bring balance to their lives.

“Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices – and gently escort them out of your bedroom,” she recommends as one of the first steps.

“Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition and creativity.”

Then every morning, before checking your smartphone, she suggests spending one minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, or set out an intention for the day.

She also encourages people to do a “life audit”, and to abandon unnecessary goals or ambitions.

In her personal life, Huffington gave up her dreams of learning German, how to cook and becoming a good skier, which were weighing her down.

“Most [of these aims] remained unfinished, and many were not even started. Yet these countless incomplete projects drained my energy and diffused my attention.

As soon as the file was opened, each one took a little bit of me away,” she says.

“It was very liberating to realise that I could ‘complete’ a project by simply dropping it – by eliminating it from my to-do list. Why carry around this unnecessary baggage?”

In a recent video interview with The Guardian, Hillary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State, declared she “fully endorses” Huffington’s book.

Clinton admitted that personally, she had reached a point when she was too tired and had to “get off the high wire of diplomacy” that she’d been straddling for two decades.

Clinton and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, now “walk the talk” of Huffington’s book.

They live in a renovated farmhouse in the countryside outside New York City, where they take their three dogs for long walks every day, spend time gardening in summer and enjoy yoga.

It’s a peaceful life that may change suddenly if Hillary Clinton decides to run for the US presidency.

The messages in Thrive also align with the premise of the B Team, a group of 16 high-powered leaders, including Huffington, which was initiated by Virgin’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, in late 2012.

The team takes corporate social responsibility to a new level, prioritising “people and planet beside profit”.

Huffington says she was “delighted to accept” Branson’s offer to join the heavyweight team, which is co-chaired by Branson and former Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz, and includes Dr Mo Ibrahim, the founder of Celtel, Guilherme Leal, co-founder of Natura, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata Group.

"I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work." – Arianna Huffington

B Team members have transformed their own company cultures using measures such as promoting more gender balance and diversity in senior management, launching wellbeing programs and putting environmental profit and loss accounts into place.

The team will formally launch its strategy for a better way of doing business in January 2015 at the Davos World Economic Forum. The hope is that other multinational companies will join them.

“At HuffPost we’re committed to using the power of our platform to amplify and share the B Team’s ideas, from promoting blog posts written by B Team leaders to using all our social channels to ask our readers what’s important to them when it comes to the future of business,” says Huffington.

She is also enhancing her own company’s culture by adding more wellbeing dimensions, such as meditation, yoga classes and nap rooms at the Huffington Post’s offices in the US and 11 other countries.

“Unlike in some workplaces, we don’t celebrate working around the clock – and we certainly don’t tolerate bragging about it!” Huffington asserts.

“There’s a desperate need to change our workplace culture so that working till all hours and walking around like zombies becomes stigmatised instead of lauded.”

Huffington happily admits that being part of the B Team, and working with a group of such experienced and formidable leaders has really inspired her.

“Leadership is about seeing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic. It’s about seeing what’s around the corner, whether you are inventing something or whether you are avoiding danger.”

Another of her role models is Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior. “In her previous role as Cisco’s head of engineering, she oversaw 22,000 employees, drawing on her meditation practice to improve her abilities as a manager,” relates Huffington.

“Now, as the company’s chief technology officer, she calls meditation ‘a reboot for your brain and your soul’. She meditates every night, vows to get seven hours of sleep each night and spends her Saturdays doing a digital detox.”

Huffington concedes she would have saved herself a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion if she had experienced her own “aha” moment earlier.

“I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work,” she says.

“I wish I could go back and tell myself, in my thick Greek accent: ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself’.”

Becoming Arianna

Arianna Huffington was born Arianna Stassinopoulus into a middle class Athens family on 15 July 1950.

When her parents divorced in her teens, Huffington moved with her mother and sister, Agapi, to London and was accepted into Cambridge University.

She graduated with a Master of Economics from Girton College, but also devoted a lot of energy to the university’s famous debating society, the Cambridge Union, and eventually became its president.

In her early twenties, the then Stassinopoulus established herself as a conservative political commentator when Random House published her first book, The Female Woman, a deliberate antithesis to Germaine Greer’s ground-breaking The Female Eunuch.

"As traditional outlets adopt the tools of digital journalists, new media will adopt the best practices of traditional journalism, including accuracy and fairness." – Arianna Huffington

Her book was a harsh critique of feminism, claiming controversially that the Women’s Liberation movement would benefit “only the lives of women with strong lesbian tendencies”.

At the same time, she started a relationship with broadcaster and journalist Bernard Levin, but after that relationship faltered she moved to New York in 1980.

In the ensuing years, she spent her time writing popular biographies of opera great Maria Callas and artist Pablo Picasso (although she was later accused of plagiarism) and became a fixture of East Side Manhattan society.

In 1986, she married wealthy oil magnate Michael Huffington, who was also an under-secretary in the US Department of Defence.

Between 1993 and 1995, he was elected as a Republican to the US House of Representatives, and Arianna backed his later campaign for the Senate, which he lost. The couple divorced in 1997.

But Arianna Huffington was now bitten by the political bug, too, and simultaneously her politics started to shift from right to centre.

In 2003 she moved to California with her two daughters and unsuccessfully ran as an independent, challenging Arnold Schwarzenegger for the post of governor.

Two years later, she launched The Huffington Post online as its editor-in-chief.

The site became known for its liberal commentary and influential bloggers, and was increasingly regarded as a rebuttal to the right-wing Drudge Report. By 2008, The Observer newspaper ranked it as the most powerful site in the world.

In 2011, Huffington sold The Huffington Post Media Group to AOL for more than US$300 million, but retained her position as chair, president and editor-in-chief.

Three years on, the 64-year-old is effervescent as ever, adding that Australia is on her shortlist for new offices as she expands the Huffington Post into international editions in 11 countries.

Gazing into a crystal ball, Huffington predicts the divisions between “old” and “new” media will become increasingly blurred.

“As traditional outlets adopt the tools of digital journalists – including speed, transparency and engagement – new media will adopt the best practices of traditional journalism, including accuracy and fairness,” she says.

This article is from the November 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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