Last Thursday, bestselling author, columnist and editor Arianna Huffington spoke about her latest book “Thrive” at a luncheon hosted by the Paul Merage School of Business’s Center for Investment and Wealth Management (CIWM) and Inspired Financial. Nearly 350 faculty, students and community members were in attendance at the Hilton Costa Mesa to hear Huffington talk about how to manage individual health and success in a world of money and power.
Huffington created the news website Huffington Post in 2005 that went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. She was also named as one of Forbes Most Powerful Women in 2013. However, as far as her name precedes her, many people are unfamiliar with her image outside of being a media mogul. She also advocates for balancing health and wellness in a competitive business world.
Huffington decided to write “Thrive” seven years ago after she collapsed from burnout exhaustion and sleep deprivation. When she collapsed, she hit her head on the corner of her desk, breaking her cheekbone and injuring her eye. She was in her home in Los Angeles when her sister walked in to see her and collapsed as well. Fortunately, her daughter walked in and called the ambulance.
“As I came to find myself in a pool of blood,” said Huffington. “I had to ask myself the question, is this what success is?”
Even though Huffington embodied all definitions of the word “success” in the business sector, she joked that by any sane definition, anyone who finds themselves collapsed in a pool of their own blood is unsuccessful.
Afterward, she went from doctor to doctor to find out what caused her collapse. “Doctor’s waiting rooms are very good places to contemplate life,” Huffington said. “But at the end of this long process I was given a diagnosis that was the equivalent of, you have civilization’s disease, or burnout, and there is nothing we can do for you. You have to do it for yourself.”
She went on to explain that through her journey, she met others in the business world who came forward and said they faced similar instances of collapse.
“This is a universal crisis,” said Huffington. “It is affecting individuals; it is affecting corporations and it is affecting decision-making among our leaders. I quote Bill Clinton in the book — [he] said the most important mistakes I made in my life, I made when I was tired.”
Huffington believes society is at a junction where several things are happening. First, modern science is validating ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep, renewal, mediation and having time to unplug. All these things until very recently were considered new age, or as she said, flaky Californian culture. Now, people who set aside time to recharge are seen as performance enhancers.
Huffington said she is optimistic because she saw 2013 as a tipping point when, one after the other, CEOs came out as being meditators. Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the biggest hedge funds in the world, Bridgewater, announced that he has been meditating for 45 years and he considers it the foundation of his success. Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has been mediating for 25 years. Steve Jobs famously said that his best ideas that lead to the most iconic Apple products came after periods of stillness and quiet.
“Meditation can be interchangeable with [words] like prayer, quiet time or even fly-fishing — whatever it is where you can be truly present with yourself without all the distractions of our smart phones and the noise of our universe.”
Huffington said she is also optimistic that millennials are at the forefront of redefining what success means. In the past, she would look around at her colleagues and realize that most of them forgot about the big questions that they used to ask in college, like what constitutes a good life.
“And we have shrunken what success is down to these two metrics of money and power. This is like trying to sit on a two-legged stool — sooner or later you will fall off. We need that third leg of the stool.”
She explained that once she went from four to five hours of sleep to seven to eight hours of sleep, her life was transformed. “My decision-making was transformed and my sense of joy was transformed and my creativity was transformed. When I gave my commencement to Smith [College], I told the graduates — listen, I have just one piece of advice for you — the best career advice I can give you is sleep your way to the top.”
In “Thrive,” she includes twelve steps to improving individual well-being. Each step is an easy task that anyone can take on, from waking up without an alarm, to getting 30 more minutes of sleep every night. She joked that you should get a sleep-sponsor or a thrive-buddy.
Huffington stated that multi-tasking prevents us from so much of the joy in life. She noted how people no longer walk for the sake of walking and instead talk or text on their phones. She urged the audience to make the choice to live in wonder, gratitude and giving. There are tangible markers that can be measured that show how giving affects our happiness. When people choose to make personal connections, they begin to feel empathy and compassion.
“So often in our culture, we celebrate go-getters but not go-givers. It is so important that we celebrate go-givers and bring out the better qualities of our [human] nature.”
She ended the event by talking about the fact that eulogies rarely include professional success. “Have you ever been to a eulogy where they say, you know, John was amazing, he increased market shares by fifty percent?” asked Huffington. “Our eulogies are about all of the other things — how we make people feel, what made us laugh, what mattered to us, so I think its really important to remember that when we look at how we spend our time and where we put out energy. All of us are at an incredible moment where we are abandoning the collective delusion that burnout is the inevitable price of success, where we are recognizing that it is in our heads to live our lives with less stress, more creativity, more joy and yes, more sleep.”