In the November issue on sale now, we spoke to Arianna Huffington about her career and why she’s an advocate for more sleep. She shares how she deals with stress and what advice she would give her younger self.
What does success mean to you?
Living the lives we want, not the lives we settle for.
What is important to you?
Professionally, what’s important to me is having an impact and adding value to people’s lives. From the beginning, the whole point of The Huffington Post was to take the sort of conversations found at water coolers and around dinner tables – about politics and art and books and food and sex – and open them up and bring them online. Personally, it’s so important to me to nurture my relationships with the people I love most – especially my daughters.
What is the most rewarding part of your day?
At HuffPost, we have more than 800 journalists, editors and engineers at our 15 editions around the world. And the most rewarding part of my job is getting to work with them every day – sharing ideas, solving problems, coming up with new ways to fulfill our mission of informing, inspiring, entertaining and empowering audiences around the world. If you’d told me back when we founded HuffPost in 2005 that we’d be in 15 – soon to be 16 – countries, with 100 000 bloggers, I wouldn’t have believed it.
And the most stressful? How do you cope with it?
There’s no one part of my day that’s most stressful, but working in media, like any industry, does bring its stressful moments. I find that what’s most important is not so much coping with stress after the fact, but being prepared for it in advance. And nothing helps me be prepared for the challenges and unpredictability of a workday like getting enough sleep the night before. These days, 95% of the time, I get eight hours of sleep a night. Once I started giving sleep the respect it deserves, my life improved in pretty much every way. Now, instead of waking up to the sense that I have to trudge through activities, I wake up feeling joyful about the day’s possibilities. And I’m also better able to recognise red flags and rebound from setback. It’s like being dialed into a different channel that has less static.
What were your goals when you were younger? Did you achieve them? How?
From writing books to launching The Huffington Post, I accomplished many of my goals. But the way I went about it came at a tremendous cost. For many years, I bought into our collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for accomplishment and success. We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage and bring in investors. But my life, I realised, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way. I’m often asked what advice I would give to my younger self if I had the chance. My answer? 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 are some of the biggest misconceptions around sleep, and the amount we need?
One of the biggest misconceptions has to do with so-called ‘short sleepers’. A lot of people in our culture – especially hard-charging men – like to think they don’t need much sleep and even brag about it. The truth is, less than 1% of the population qualifies as ‘short sleepers’ – those rare few able to get by on little sleep without experiencing negative consequences. Though many people would like to believe they can train themselves to gain admission to the short-sleeping 1%, the trait is actually the result of a genetic mutation. You either have it or you don’t, so it’s not something you can develop over time or something you magically acquire because of your dedication to your job.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m most proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish at The Huffington Post. Eleven years after our founding, we strive every day to innovate and seize new opportunities, but at the same time, stay true to our DNA. We’re committed to covering our core editorial pillars – news and politics, wellness and solutions to the world’s biggest problems – and using every available tool and platform, including virtual reality and immersive storytelling, to inform, inspire, entertain and empower. With editions in 15 countries, we’re able to reach more people than ever before, and voices that once would have gone unheard have a chance to join the conversation, and maybe even have a chance to change the world.
What do you say to women who find it hard to make the life change of prioritising health with the pressures of career and family? What practical tips can they follow?
Forced to juggle work and children, frazzled and sleep-deprived parents often feel like they have to choose between their job and their family. But the paradox here is that the more challenging our circumstances, the more imperative it is to take whatever steps we can to tap into our resilience to help us withstand and overcome the challenges we face. Again, there’s a reason we’re told on airplanes to ‘secure your own mask first’. Start by trying to get just 30 minutes more sleep a night.