The moment that set the stage for international media mogul Arianna Huffington’s career almost didn’t happen. In her senior year of college she was offered a book contract, and essentially said to the publisher, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ At the time, she says she didn’t know how to go about writing a book. But the persistent publisher asked her to meet for lunch, and she decided it was at least worth a train ride. By the end of that lunch, she signed the book contract and her life changed.
Huffington is now the author of fourteen bestselling books, and the co-founder of one of the biggest news sites on the internet–The Huffington Post. Through her journey of ups and downs, she’s found the secret to thriving not just in your career but in all areas of your life. The secret is something she learned the hard way. After working herself to the point of exhaustion in 2007 she had a bloody and painful wake up call forcing her to recognize she needed to make her health a priority in her life.
While the idea of thriving, unplugging, focusing on your health, and meditation may seem like a foreign luxury to ambitious working women still trying to prove themselves, Huffington shares with us ways that millennials can thrive in their lives without making career sacrifices.
Read on for more insights on career, overcoming doubts and ultimately creating a life of well-being in our interview with the inspiring Arianna Huffington:
Her Agenda: What’s your personal motto?
Arianna Huffington: “Don’t miss the moment.” This was one of my mother’s favorite sayings, which embodied the philosophy of her life.
Her Agenda: Whenever you feel doubt, in terms of your career, how do you overcome it?
Arianna Huffington: Learning to see the hidden blessing in everything and grow from all the challenges is the key to living a life where I feel I’m thriving. And it’s essential to have perspective and the ability to be more detached from the inevitable ups and downs of work life.
Her Agenda: What was your early defining career moment– that moment when it all clicked, and you knew you were on the right path?
Arianna Huffington: There wasn’t really a single moment when it all clicked. My career path makes sense to me as I look back, but it wasn’t always clear as it was unfolding. In college, I joined the Cambridge Union debate society. A British publisher, who had published Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, happened to see me on television debating the importance of women not throwing, so to speak, the baby out with the bathwater, and sent me a letter asking if I would be interested in writing a book on my views. I was in my last year at Cambridge and was planning to leave the next year to get a graduate degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. So I sent him a letter saying, Thank you, but I don’t know how to write a book. He wrote back: “Can you have lunch?” Thinking of all my friends wandering around looking for a home for their manuscript, I decided it was at least worth a train ride to London. By the end of lunch, Reg Davis-Poynter had offered me a contract and a modest advance. And that contract marked a new beginning in my life, setting me on a path — though I didn’t know it at the time — to writing more books and, many years later, co-founding the Huffington Post.
Her Agenda: Looking back on the early moments of your career, can you recall times when peers or mentors encouraged you to “thrive” but you were afraid to? Do you remember when the light bulb finally switched on, and you were no longer afraid to be your best self?
Arianna Huffington: My mother had been encouraging me to thrive my entire life! She was a towering example of the joys of thriving. While I had the sense every time I looked at my watch that it was later than I thought, she lived in a world where there were no impersonal encounters, and never a need to rush. She believed that rushing through life was a sure way to miss the gifts that come only when you give 100 percent of yourself to a task, a conversation, a dinner, a relationship, a moment. Which is why she despised multitasking. In fact, the last time my mother got angry with me before she died was when she saw me reading my email and talking to my children at the same time.
But the light bulb didn’t switch on until my painful wakeup call. On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. 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. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
Her Agenda: If millennials made a personal commitment making our health as equally as important as our jobs, we could end up changing work culture in America (or at least greatly aid in some of the changes we see taking place at some of the major companies, including Huffington Post). What do you think should be the expectation of young people in entry level positions in terms of their commitment to their jobs but also proving themselves–when does it go too far?
Arianna Huffington: It’s so important that young people in entry-level positions understand that not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance at work, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.
Young people starting out are most likely to buy into the myth that nothing succeeds like excess. That working eighty hours a week must be better than working forty. And being plugged in 24/7 is assumed to be a standard requirement of every job worth having today— which means that getting by on less sleep and constant multitasking is an express elevator to the top in today’s work world.
We know that it has gone too far when, according to a study commissioned by the American Psychological Association, nearly 40 percent of millennials said their stress had increased over the past year, compared to 33 percent for baby boomers and 29 percent for older Americans. Over half of millennials said that stress had kept them awake at night during the past month, compared to 37 percent for baby boomers and 25 percent for older Americans. And only 29 percent of millennials say they’re getting enough sleep.
Her Agenda: What are some steps you think millennials can specifically make, even if they come with potential career sacrifices, to be more well balanced and productive people?
Arianna Huffington: I have twelve steps I recommend in Thrive, and each one of us needs to pick the step that most resonates with us. Here are just three of the twelve that millennials can incorporate into their lives, without making any career sacrifices whatsoever:
-Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices— and gently escort them out of your bedroom. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition, and creativity. And when you wake up in the morning, don’t start your day by looking at your smartphone. Take one minute— trust me, you do have one minute— to breathe deeply, or be grateful, or set your intention for the day.
-Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day. Eventually, you can build up to fifteen or twenty minutes a day (or more), but even just a few minutes will open the door to creating a new habit— and all the many proven benefits it brings.
-Drop something that no longer serves you. I did a major “life audit” when I turned forty, and I realized how many projects I had committed to in my head— such as learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook. Most 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. It was very liberating to realize that I could “complete” a project by simply dropping it— by eliminating it from my to-do list. Why carry around this unnecessary baggage? That’s how I completed learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook and a host of other projects that now no longer have a claim on my attention.
Her Agenda: What’s been your biggest career sacrifice?
Arianna Huffington: The damage I did to myself leading up to my collapse from exhaustion, as I described was by far my biggest career sacrifice – it compromised not only my health, but my ability to make good decisions. I’m grateful every day that I had the opportunity to course-correct and keep doing what I love.
Her Agenda: What advice can you give millennial women who want to follow in your footsteps and become a publisher/digital media mogul?
Arianna Huffington: Experiment, take risks, and remember to look beyond your own personal passions and be part of something larger than yourself. All of these things will inform and improve your work – and enrich your life.
You can purchase a copy of Arianna’s newest book: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, by clicking here.
[Editor’s note: This article was published August 4, 2014]