Arianna Huffington's Life Advice for Girls
Looking at Arianna Huffington’s never-ending list of accomplishments—founder of The Huffington Post, author of 15 books, and, most recently, the founder and CEO of the new media platform Thrive Global—is enough to make anyone tired. But the entrepreneur has made it her mission to debunk the myth that burnout is a sign of success. Below, she filled us in on school, stress, and Mr. Darcy.
What were you like as a teen?
I was bookish, wide-eyed and naïve. Naivety is a good quality in children and young people because when you’re not aware of the obstacles and complications and hurdles in front of you, you’re less likely to be controlled by them. So when I saw a photo of Cambridge University in a magazine, and told my mother I wanted to go there, I didn’t really have a sense of how unlikely that was. My sister and my mother and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Athens at the time. But a lot of other people knew how unlikely it was and just laughed me off. But not my mother. She was determined to make it happen and she did (part of which involved selling her jewelry).
It’s so easy to get caught up in the stress of day-to-day work and school. How do you prevent burnout?
It’s all about priorities and realizing how your performance in your day-to-day work and school life actually suffers when you don’t prioritize your well-being. Doing your job well, or succeeding academically, is more about quality of work than quantity. So you need to be as zealous about making sure you’re recharged as you are about making sure your phone is always charged. There are always plenty of priorities and appointments in our schedule that we simply make the time to meet—work, friends, class (most of the time, hopefully!).
One tip is to think of sleep as an appointment with yourself—one that you stake out and adjust the rest of the day accordingly. Once you see the benefits of getting more sleep, and feel the positive results in your life, it becomes a lot easier to move it up the priority chart and make the time for it.
What is one actionable thing all of us can do each day to become more mindful?
Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, take ten minutes to set your intention for the day: not just for what you want to get done today, but also what kind of day you want to have. This will affect the rest of your day.
Mornings are very important – that’s why we've partnered with Quaker to help make mornings more joyful. They call breakfast the most important meal of the day, not just because we need to fuel up but because taking the time to eat a good breakfast gives you the opportunity to slow down and have a mindful start to the day.
Sometimes when there are a million things swirling around in your mind, sleep can feel impossible. What do you do when that happens?
Preparing ourselves for sleep means putting away the day – along with all of its anxieties. This can be a lot harder when we always have our phones with us, since our phones are repositories of our to-do lists, our inboxes, our worries – everything we need put away to allow us to sleep. So my biggest tip is to gently escort your phone out of your bedroom. You can make this a ritual – in effect, saying goodnight to the day. And adding other elements to your ritual to create even more separation also helps. I like taking a hot bath with epsom salts, and then reading or writing. Different things work for different people, but it’s important to have a routine that puts a buffer between you and those millions of swirling things!
If you could go back and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self to not buy into the delusion that the necessary price to become successful is burnout and exhaustion. I’d tell my younger self that, in fact, she’d be more successful, happier, and more fulfilled—and more productive—if she committed to unplugging and recharging. The bigger question, of course, is if she’d listen. I’m guessing no!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman working her way up in the business world?
Women pay the highest price for workplace cultures fueled by sleep deprivation and in which the macho culture of burnout is taken as a proxy for commitment and dedication. When women work, they are still doing the lion’s share of the work of keeping up the household. This excludes women from the workforce, or at least makes it harder for them to advance. That’s one more reason why it’s so important to change this culture of burnout.
What book had the biggest impact on you as a teen?
Middlemarch by George Eliot and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What teen isn’t enthralled by the story of Mr. Darcy?
A lot of girls look up to you—who did you look up to when you were a girl? Who do you look up to now?
It might seem like a boring answer, but as a girl it would be my mother. She was an amazing woman. She was full of wonder, lived in the moment and was the ultimate non-thing person. My sister and I once tried to give her a watch for her birthday. Two days later she gave it away. She approached life by liking everybody, and because this feeling of trust and connection is contagious, everybody liked her right back. Now, I don't know if there’s one person, per se, but I’m constantly finding myself both humbled and inspired by so many young women who are committed to solving various problems in the world. Their ambitions aren’t about success in the conventional sense (of just money and power) but more based on their deep connection to their world. It’s hard to be cynical about the direction of the world when I see all these amazing young women.
Anything last words?
As they say on airplanes, before helping others, secure your own oxygen mask first. It’s a great rule to live by—you’ll be more present for those around you if you first (and regularly) take the time to be present for yourself.