Arianna Huffington On The Struggle To Find Work-Life Balance

During a recent talk at the Columbia Business School, Arianna Huffington outlined four ways to achieve what she calls the third metric for success: thriving.

Arianna Huffington believes we are living in a brave new world--today's work environment is somewhere between the dark ages and the renaissance.

The dark ages, she says, include environments and a culture fueled by stress, but she maintains that in order for businesses and individuals to thrive we must transition to a "renaissance" time of mindful living and working.

Huffington didn’t always think this way, though. As the founder of a 24/7 media company, she lived much of her life like the legacy she had built--always on. Until April 6, 2007, when awakening in a pool of her own blood to a broken cheekbone and a gash over her eye shook her to her core.

Two years into creating the Huffington Post, an 18-hour workday had become the norm for Huffington, and the sleep deprivation and exhaustion eventually took its toll. After arriving home from work that night, she collapsed in her home office, hitting her head on the way down. Doctors ran numerous tests to discover the cause, but found nothing beyond sheer exhaustion.

It was then she says she realized that sleep-deprivation is not a badge of honor worth wearing.

“By professional definitions of success, I was successful,” she says. “By any sane definition of success, if you are lying in a pool full of blood on the floor of your office, you are not successful.”

Huffington now believes that these professional definitions of success--money and power--are a shrunken view of human existence. They are missing what she considers the third metric--thriving--and she outlined four ways to get there during a Q&A hosted by Columbia Business School’s Chazen Institute and the Global Leadership Matrix (GLeaM) Program earlier this week:

1. Take care of your well-being and health

Take as good care of yourself as you would your smartphone.

Huffington knows first-hand how much care and attention we give the devices that connect us to the rest of the world. But what good is charging you phone when you yourself are incapable of processing the data it provides?

Huffington says that today’s culture has glamorized how much we sacrifice our health--many of us brag about only getting three hours of sleep. She compares this to congratulating someone for coming to work drunk.

Instead, she suggests getting 30 minutes more sleep than you did the previous night, and she cites Former President Bill Clinton, who only got five hours of sleep a night, as an example. He said, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.”

2. Look to the wisdom of the ancient world

While data alone does not lead to wisdom, she says it is unprecedented how much scientific data we now have available to support ancient wisdom and practices.

All the wisdom in the world--from the Ancient Indians to the Japanese--has the same message, she says. From the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” to the Roman practice “memento mori,” which is a reminder of the inevitability of death, Huffington believes that all ancient wisdom points to more mindful living, and today we have to science to prove the benefits.

3. Pause to Embrace the Wonder of Life

“We don’t know what life brings,” Huffington says. “So often we bury ourselves in our to-do lists, in our charts, in our plans, and we just pretend to actually live.”

Huffington says it’s time to start embracing the wonders of life. We forget to do this often, since our minds are either looking ahead and worrying about the future, Huffington says, or looking in the past, judging ourselves.

She calls this the “obnoxious roommate living in our head,” and says it’s time to evict him.

4. Be Generous

Offering stress-reduction policies in the work place is not only the nice thing to do, Huffington says, but it will also help the bottom line.

She offers the example of the CEO of Aetna, Mark T. Bertolini, who discovered the benefits of naturopathic medicine, yoga, and meditation after he spent a year on painkillers due to a skiing accident.

Bertolini decided to offer these mindfulness benefits to his employees, and the results have been very telling. During a 12-week study of the Aetna employees who practiced alternative techniques to reduce stress, they saw a 7% reduction in health care costs and a 69-minute-a-day gain in productivity.

Huffington believe this is the tipping point, when we realize that we have 30,000 days to live and “play the game of life.”

“How we play it is dependent on what we value,” she says. “And if we only value money or power, we’re never going to have enough of either ... It’s only when we begin to value the third metric of life that we actually begin to fully live.”

Arianna Huffington outlines her journey to redefining success in her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.

[Image: Flickr user C2-MTL]

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7 Comments

  • Charlene Johnson

    Aww. Hard to generate pity for anyone complaining about balancing life and work when so many of us can't find a job at all! Suck it up and be glad you don't need to worry about where your next meal is coming from or how long you'll be able to have a roof over your head before the bank forecloses.

  • Joe Scott

    The key is balance. Just as one shouldn't eat too much, to avoid getting fat, one shouldn't work too much, to avoid getting exhausted.

    Here's another cliche for you - It's not quantity it's quality. Working 18-hour days doesn't mean you'll be more productive.

    For more tips on how to prioritize your time check out this mindmap of Stephen Covey's 'First Things First':

    http://whycode.com/home.aspx?kgid=23978

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  • Mindful living and working is the key. Teamwork, with a mission, and an equal-exchange relationship between employee and employer - anything BUT today's norm - is the key to productivity in today's business arena. My goal is to offer THE best job conditions and flexibility, so I get the best people - EVERY TIME. The best people = the best opportunity to succeed. I believe that the next great corporations of this world will embrace this philosophy as the keystone to their strategic plan.

  • I am currently reading her book and I have to admit that it's truly inspiring to me: as I read through the pages I realize it is not so difficult to "switch off" from our chaotic days and take back our true "real life". Wind of change is in the air!