Arianna Huffington wants everyone to just relax. This may seem like a tall order coming from Huffington, the prolific author, frequent political commentator and editor-in-chief and president of the growing Huffington Post Media Group – a company that now includes ten international editions and two more, HuffPost India and HuffPost Arabi, in the works – but she believes that ambition and creativity can only flounder in the face of stress.
Her latest book is called Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. With her efforts, Huffington wants to help others evade that sinking, all-too-familiar feeling of burnout and find room to breathe.
We caught up with Huffington to talk about the health scare that helped her gain perspective, the importance of taking a minute to recharge and being a part of something greater than yourself.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
I wish I had known there would be no trade-offs between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work.
I wish I could go back and tell myself, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.’
That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.
What do you think would have happened if you had had this knowledge then?
I’m convinced I would have achieved all I have achieved with less stress, worry and anxiety. And I would have been far more able to be present in the moment and be more detached from the inevitable ups and downs of work life.
How did you learn this lesson?
It took a painful wake-up call to help me learn this lesson. 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.
I made many changes in the way I live my life, including adopting daily practices to keep me on track – and out of doctors’ waiting rooms. The result is a more fulfilling life, one that gives me breathing spaces and a deeper perspective.
How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight?
Young entrepreneurs especially have a great deal to gain from freeing themselves of our collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for accomplishment and success.
The Western workplace culture – exported to many other parts of the world – is practically fuelled by stress, sleep deprivation and burnout.
Even as stress undermines our health, the sleep deprivation so many of us experience in striving to get ahead at work is profoundly – and negatively – affecting our creativity, our productivity and our decision-making: The very things entrepreneurs need in order to succeed.
What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be willing to experiment, take risks and be part of something larger than yourself.