By Elizabeth E. Thorp
Photography by Daniela Federici | April 17, 2015 | People
Author, entrepreneur, and media mogul Arianna Huffington is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her game-changing news site with the launch of HuffPost Australia and China and a strategy to simultaneously power down her laptop and get more sleep. Here’s why.
Clothing, Huffington’s own.
I’ve admired Arianna Huffington since before her role as global media maven. I would see her out and about in Washington and watch her on the Sunday morning talk shows as a conservative commentator. I appreciated her intelligence and moxie, especially because she was often the sole woman at an all-male roundtable. Later, she shifted her political ideology, and in 2005 launched The Huffington Post as a liberal answer to The Drudge Report. My esteem further increased when I read Huffington’s latest book (her 14th!), Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder (2014). Thrive debuted at number one on The New York Times best-seller list and remained there for 19 weeks. It has been published in 24 countries and was recently released in paperback. Not a fan of Lean In, I appreciated Huffington’s challenge for people to evaluate what success means for them—whether it’s the corner office, a fancy car, a big house, an exotic vacation, or more family time. Huffington’s dogma is that America’s definition of success—money and power—has led to a pandemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life, and, ironically, our careers. In being connected to the world 24/7, we’re losing our connection to what truly matters.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Huffington is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of HuffPost and The Huffington Post Media Group, a nationally syndicated columnist, and the author of many books. It’s been a decade since she launched HuffPost, a news and blog site that has quickly become one of the most widely read, linked to, and frequently cited media brands on the Internet. The website was sold to AOL for $315 million in 2011, consolidating Huffington’s status as one of the most influential women in the business and media world.
“I’ve always loved starting conversations —even in my college room at Cambridge—around food, books, art, and HuffPost was really about moving these conversations online,” says Huffington. “Even now, to have 850 reporters and journalists and engineers in soon to be 15 countries, conversation is the model and is still one of my absolute favorite things to do.” HuffPost is now in 13 countries, with the launch of HuffPost Australia and China on the horizon—by the end of the year, she hopes.
China is a challenging market given the restrictions in the media, but Huffington has a plan. “The way we’re looking at going into China is to focus on lifestyle. There are huge issues in China at the moment about reducing stress and about well-being,” explains Huffington. “All they are going through with the tech industry—fueled by burnout and sleep deprivation. This is one of the areas where we have real thought leadership and an enormous amount of content.” Huffington adds that they want to be in every country around the world, and she says they have their eyes on Mexico and South America, and there will be an Arabic version, HuffPost Arabi, slated to launch sometime this year, according to the latest reports.
With such an incredible résumé and success story, it is easy to imagine Huffington’s mentor as a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates type. It’s not. It’s her mother, Elli Stassinopoulos, whom Huffington and her children affectionately refer to as “Yaya.”
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Huffington grew up with her mother and sister in a one-bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece. There was not a lot of money, but no matter how tough the circumstances, Huffington’s mother was a magical improviser. “She was always able to conjure up what we needed, including a good education and healthy food,” Huffington says. “She only owned two dresses and never spent anything on herself. I remember her selling her last pair of little gold earrings. She borrowed from anyone she could so that her two daughters could go to college, and no matter how little we had, she never failed to give to others with even less to make us feel that we were bigger than our circumstances.”
In fact, one can see the direct connection between Huffington’s passion for the “third metric” and the influence of her mother. Echoing sentiments she has expressed in HuffPost, Huffington describes her mother as someone who “moved through days like a child does, living in the present, stopping, literally, to smell the roses—a trip through the farmers market might be an all-day affair—with little thought of All the Things That Must Be Done.”
In fact, the last time Huffington’s mother got angry with her before she died was when she saw Huffington reading her e-mail and talking to her children at the same time. “She said, ‘I abhor multitasking,’ in a Greek accent that puts mine to shame,” says Huffington. “In other words, being connected in a shallow way to the entire world can prevent us from being deeply connected to those closest to us—including ourselves. And that is where wisdom is found.”
Clothing, Huffington’s own.
Along similar lines, Huffington has been spearheading “What’s Working,” a global HuffPost editorial initiative, launched in January 2015, to double down on coverage of the kind of stories that “work” and resonate with the public—which, in this case, are positive stories. Huffington explains that while HuffPost will continue to cover serious issues, she wants to move beyond the hackneyed publishing precept of “if it bleeds, it leads.”
“I believe that it’s our responsibility as journalists to give our readers the full picture. And the full picture obviously includes crises and beheadings and rapes, and we’re going to continue to cover these things relentlessly. But at the same time, the full picture also includes an enormous number of good things happening—examples of ingenuity, compassion, solutions,” Huffington elaborates. “I don’t think journalists have done as good a job at covering those. And as a result, we have a lot of copycat crimes, but not as many copycat solutions.”
This focus on the positive dovetails with Huffington’s “third metric” for success—a metric, comprising four pillars, that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. In basic terms, Huffington advocates mental and physical health and wellness through digital detoxing, sleeping eight hours per night, relaxing, taking your vacation time, and spending time with loved ones. Huffington maintains that meditation, yoga, getting enough sleep, and generally renewing ourselves make us better employees and more successful.
Clothing, Huffington’s own.
It’s hard to believe that the head of a huge media empire based on a 24/7 news cycle can actually practice what she preaches. According to Huffington and those in her inner circle, she absolutely “logs off.” Huffington explains, “My day starts the night before. And depending on what time I have to get up in the morning, I estimate getting eight hours of sleep. So at least half an hour, ideally one hour, before I need to go to sleep, I turn off all my devices. I have a real ritual and charge them outside of my bedroom, and if I haven’t finished everything, that’s fine.” Huffington has trained herself to live with incompletion. She believes that what really matters in all our lives, is that the most important things get handled.
When I admit to Huffington that it’s hard for me to turn off in the evenings, she admonishes me: “If you are a mother and a career woman, there are always going to be incompletions. The important thing is not to let the pressure ball fall in the juggling act.” She suggests that meditation would be very helpful, and says that one of the great things about technology is the access to helpful apps and sites that focus on wellbeing and yoga, such as Headspace and HuffPost’s GPS for the Soul.
When asked about the advice she would give to her younger self, Huffington says she wishes she had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and her 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,’” she says. “That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout, and exhaustion.”
Clothing, Huffington’s own.
Huffington tells me that many CEOs are now meditating and bringing yoga and mantra into the workplace, and that this has become mainstream. These modalities are no longer feel-good topics relegated to the health or lifestyle pages. Huffington really is a sleep champion—there are sleep pods in the New York offices and a regular bed. When asked if she ever uses them, she tells me that they’re always booked, and besides, she has a nice long couch in her office. To send the message to her team that napping at work is positive, she keeps her curtains open when she’s lying down. “I used to close the curtains and now I don’t,” Huffington says, “because I think it’s good to set an example that napping at work is a good thing.”
Huffington has a soft spot for Washington. She lived in the Wesley Heights neighborhood in the ’90s, and her children went to school at St. Patrick’s and Beauvoir. “I love coming to DC and visiting our Huffington Post office on Capitol Street, which has a meditation room, a yoga room, and a nap room,” she says. “The Huffington Post’s first DC office was actually one room that we got for free—we couldn’t afford rent yet—after I called David Bradley, [then] publisher of The Atlantic, who generously offered us a room in one of his buildings that was in the process of being renovated.” Huffington admits that during her free time she loves watching House of Cards and Homeland, but her favorite thing is reading and rereading books (yes, real paper books!)—preferably in bed.
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