As glamourous as she is intellectual, Arianna Huffington has positioned herself perfectly in the eye of the new media storm. At the helm of the ever-popular Huffington Post, the online publication which she launched in 2005, and sold six years later to AOL for 315 million dollars, the Greek-born journalist, author, and entrepreneur continues to mastermind an international brand that speaks to people where they live: Far beyond the politics and news of the day, Huffington’s current passions have to do with wellness and the way we move through the world.
The 63-year-old dynamo was in town this week at a fund-raising dinner at the home of Chapter/Indigo chief Heather Reisman, where Huffington spoke as part of the Toronto-based Women’s Brain Health Initiative, a global movement to help combat women’s aging brain disorders through research. (womensbrainhealth.org) It’s a hot topic for Huffington. These past few months she’s been working on the theme of something she calls the “Third Metric”—redefining success beyond the first two metrics of money and power to include the third metric of well-being, wisdom, and giving. And with scientific data telling us that stress, hormones, exercise, and diet are connected to Alzheimer’s disease, especially when it comes to women, who are twice as likely to become victims of aging brain disorder, Huffington knows reducing stress in our lives is paramount to maintaining our mental health. I sat down with Arianna Huffington to talk about dealing with everyday pressures, fighting burnout, and what she tries to teach her daughters.
J: How do you deal with stresses in your personal life?
A: Well ever since I fainted from exhaustion in 2007 and broke my cheekbone and got four stitches on my right eye, I started looking at my life differently. I began prioritizing sleep, which is at the heart of everything, and meditating, doing yoga, and finding my own path to reduce stress in my life. And you know what? This doesn’t mean at all that I’m less productive! It means that I’m actually more productive, more effective, because very often when we are stressed, we become reactive; we miss the signs that could help us make better decisions. There is no trade off between doing what’s best for us and doing what’s best for our work.
J: Do you do think this next wave of young women coming up have it more under control? Do they have a better perspective?
A: I have two daughters, twenty-two and twenty-four, and they are definitely looking at their lives not just in terms of climbing some kind of ladder but in terms of wholeness, in terms of integrating everything they want including their own wellbeing. But at the same time this generation is the most stressed generation. If you look at what’s happening in colleges… addiction, insomnia, pain killers—legal painkillers used illegally. Binge drinking. There is a lot that’s happening in colleges right now that is a manifestation of a very stressed generation.
J: So what do you tell your kids? What do you hope to get through to them?
A: I tell them that failure is not the opposite of success. That they need to realize that very often they can try things, they may fail, but they can try something else. And as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Lean In, you shouldn’t think of our careers as a ladder that we are climbing but as a jungle gym. We can go from one thing to the other. We should be open to what life brings us that may be different than what we imagined.
J: There is a great pressure involved in what you do professionally based on the fact that image is such a big part of your work. How do you deal with that on a personal level, being a women who is so watched, so listened to—always having to look fantastic, always having to say the right thing?
A: I think what is important is really not to think about it, because if we live our lives constantly worrying about what is everybody going to say, how we are going to be perceived, we are never going to be at peace. My mother use to say opinions are like noses, everyone has one. And our goal can never be to just get everybody to approve of us as, like what we’re wearing or what we are saying. That’s where I think we have to be following our own North Star, living our own lives, and not somebody else’s life or idea of a successful good life. That’s the key to everything we do. That’s what I tell my daughters.
J: Pushing the envelope is something that you’ve always done with great aplomb. What is it that’s really driving you at the end of the day?
A: Right now the thing that I am most passionate about is spreading this idea of the Third Metric, and we talk about it a lot in the Huffington Post. We want to be able to reach as many people as possible, both women and men, and help them lead their lives with less stress, more creativity, more health. We feel that’s something the world needs. Burnout is a disease of civilization and if we can reduce that, I think we’re going to make better decisions as leaders whether in business, in media, in politics and also, we’ll be much healthier than we are.
J: Fearlessness is something that I know you’re very big on. But is there anything now that scares you?
A: I think what scares me has to do with my daughters. I think we are always vulnerable when it comes to our children and my oldest daughter in her last year at Yale got involved in drugs. She’s been public about it. She’s now been sober for a year and a half and she decided to go public to help other young women. So that was obviously very scary. But I’m very proud of her now both that she managed to really deal with something which can be very self-destructive but also that she wants to go out and help others.
J: And isn’t it the most wonderful thing when our kids end up inspiring us too?
A: Yes, absolutely.