Redefining success: Arianna Huffington tells all

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At a Junior League of Greenwich membership meeting, Greenwich resident and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, at left, sat for a conversation with Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. -Kait Shea photo

At a Junior League of Greenwich membership meeting, Greenwich resident and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, at left, sat for a conversation with Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. -Kait Shea photo

The Junior League of Greenwich held a regular membership meeting last week, but with Greenwich resident and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington appearing as guest speakers, the occasion was anything but ordinary.

Leadership was the theme of the night, and Mr. Armstrong played the role of interviewer, asking Ms. Huffington about the latest trends in media and her views on managing a work/life balance.

“I think Arianna is one of the most interesting women and people in the world because she spends a lot of time thinking about the world and where it’s going,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Referencing an economic forum held in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Armstrong first questioned Ms. Huffington about her experience at the event, which is attended annually by roughly 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, intellectuals, and journalists to discuss the world’s most pressing issues.

“The most amazing thing” about this year’s forum, Ms. Huffington said, was its focus on creating more effective leaders. There are many world leaders in many different spheres, she said, “but they are making terrible decisions.” Part of the solution to that problem is ensuring that those leaders pause to take care of their own well-being rather than letting stress take over their lives, she said. In fact, Ms. Huffington added, she saw an Oxford professor leading about 100 CEOs into a meditation class during the forum.

“That wouldn’t have happened last year, let alone 10 years ago,” but it’s a necessary change, she said.

Mr. Armstrong then turned the conversation to Ms. Huffington’s highly successful news website and interactive blog, the Huffington Post, asking about its inception and the concept behind it.

Anytime someone decides to start something new, Ms. Huffington said, “the chances of succeeding are much greater if you’re tapping into some bigger trend.” Accordingly, Ms. Huffington said, she wanted to keep up with the “big conversations” happening in the world that were taking place online, specifically on blogs.

“For me, anything anybody writes that is an expression of what they believe, even if you send it by carrier pigeon, is a blog,” Ms. Huffington said. “I love that we are offering a platform for anyone who has anything of quality to say,” she said. The website is “not a free-for-all,” she added, explaining that the caliber of blog content is important.

Mr. Armstrong also inquired about HuffPost Live, the Huffington Post’s live cable channel for the Internet, which launched last year.

Ms. Huffington explained that she loves the Huffington Post like a third child, in addition to her two daughters.

“I don’t know if Huff is a boy or a girl,” she added, eliciting a laugh from the audience. The point, she said, is that to see her website “grow exponentially” was like watching a child “grow beyond your wildest dreams,” so HuffPost Live was the next logical step.

“But we wanted to do it differently,” Ms. Huffington said. “We wanted to do it in a Huff Post way, which meant in a very engaging way … putting the viewers, the users at the center of the conversation.”

The dialogue then turned to the future as Mr. Armstrong asked what Ms. Huffington believed the world’s megatrends to be.

Health and wellness, a topic close to Ms. Huffington’s heart, is becoming a significant trend, she said. While it is a positive sign that consumers are becoming increasingly eager to understand and take charge of their own health care, many health care systems are becoming “increasingly dysfunctional” and outrageously expensive, Ms. Huffington said. Yet technology, although bad for individuals’ health because they can become addicted to it, provides an opportunity to track health care and one’s state of wellness. Accordingly, Ms. Huffington said, the Huffington Post launched its own free wellness app, “GPS for the Soul.”

Describing it as an app for better living, Ms. Huffington said GPS for the Soul is “based on two truths: that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer away from that place again and again.” The app aims to assist users with finding “a place of peace inside you,” she said. In fact, she added, the Huffington Post’s lifestyle sections are all geared toward the concept of “less stress, more living.”

As the conversation was opened up to the audience, the theme of stress management continued.

An audience member who identified herself as a female executive asked Ms. Huffington for her best advice in regard to “climbing the corporate ladder” while maintaining a work/life balance.

Ms. Huffington answered that it is important for both men and women not to see it as a ladder but rather a jungle gym. If gaining success is seen as climbing a ladder, people become “breathless … exhausted from the effort,” she said. Instead, she said, the focus should be on finding success that doesn’t take a toll on one’s entire well-being. The key to success is prioritizing and about the small choices one makes, such as whether to stay at the office late or attend a child’s school meeting. It’s also very important to prioritize oneself, Ms. Huffington said.

“If you just give without enjoying what you’re doing, it’s not going to work in the end for anybody,” she said.

Continuing the theme, another audience member asked Ms. Huffington what she does to pull herself away from business and to clarify her vision.

The answer, Ms. Huffington said, has been her focus on wellness and “rediscovering sleep.” Having fainted as a result of exhaustion four years ago, Ms. Huffington said, she has since concentrated heavily on her own well-being and relieving herself of stress as much as possible. Now a daily meditator, Ms. Huffington said, she is “much more effective” in what she’s doing when she gets enough sleep and keeps up with meditation and other relaxation activities. In any job, each day will bring good and bad news, but when Ms. Huffington finds that she is in a “centered” place, she is capable of handling whatever the day brings, she said.

Furthermore, Ms. Huffington said, it’s important for women to ignore the inner voice that tells her she’s not good enough.

“Don’t treat the voice so seriously because it’s not who we are,” she said. “We need to stop judging ourselves constantly; it becomes paralyzing.”

When another audience member asked her what women are responding to online and what kind of experience they seek, Ms. Huffington continued to speak about the significance of women believing in themselves. Women are often “out of the picture,” both literally and figuratively, she said. A prime example, she added, was a recent Huffington Post photo campaign.

One of the website’s bloggers told readers that she had begun to look at family photo albums and realized she was virtually absent from them and what an alarming realization it was. Accordingly, the Huffington Post invited mothers to share pictures of their families in which they were present to remind them that they should be more engaged in their own lives. The campaign quickly became a sensation in terms of community response, bringing forth photos from mothers everywhere, Ms. Huffington said.

“This is often a metaphor for women who are often responding to anything that will invite them to be part of the conversation and be part of what’s happening and to stop kind of holding themselves back,” she said.

Posing a dual question, another audience member asked Mr. Armstrong if there is a plan for wider free wi-fi access in cities and towns, and if so, if it would drive the costs of Internet service down. She also asked Ms. Huffington to comment on her book On Becoming Fearless … in Love, Work, and Life, in which she explains that the key is not the absence of fear but rather the mastery of it.

Mr. Armstrong answered that within the next 10 years, “hopefully less,” people will essentially have broadband access on all of their devices wherever they go, which will be a “game changer” in terms of what content it would be possible to serve. For example, he said, the town’s recent Polar Bear Plunge was an event Mr. Armstrong was interested in and read about after the fact. In the future, he said, the event would likely be broadcast live on the Internet so that he could watch it as it happened, no matter what time zone he happened to be in. Within the next 20 years, Mr. Armstrong added, “things will be done with the Internet that can’t be imagined now.”

Ms. Huffington answered the question about fear succinctly, explaining that no one can be without fear completely but that it’s important not to let fear get in the way of what one wants to achieve in life. Failure, she said, is a stepping stone to success.

To wrap up the evening, Ms. Huffington spoke about a major concept she is working on, with help from Mr. Armstrong, which she has dubbed “redefining success.” Women are the key to creating the kind of success for both men and women that allows them to impact the world without impacting their health and daily lives, she said. The concept is a focus on making life easier and eliminating problems that don’t have to exist, she said.

In a final thought for the evening, Ms. Huffington said she wanted to sum up and share one of her favorite quotes derived from the U.S. economic crisis: “If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters, it might still be around.”

 

kshea@greenwich-post.com

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