Interview: Gina Murdock

Gina Murdock: By so many measures, you are a successful woman. How do you define success?

Arianna Huffington: Success for me is going beyond money and power, and measuring success based on a third metric—one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder, and to give back. Money and power by themselves are a two-legged stool. You can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. More and more people, very successful people, are toppling over. Basically, success the way we’ve defined it is no longer sustainable. It’s no longer sustainable for human beings or for societies. To live the lives we want, and not just the ones we settle for, the ones society defines as successful, we need to include the third metric.

GM: How do you tap into your own wisdom to make good decisions?

AH: We all have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and balance. This truth is embraced by a vast range of the world’s religions and philosophies. Whether or not we believe in the existence of the soul, we’ve all experienced times in which we’re fully connected with ourselves. The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. That’s the nature of life. In fact, we may be off-course more often than we are on-course. So what we need is a course-correcting mechanism. Meditation, yoga, and walks are all ways to regulate our stress and reconnect. We’ve recently launched an app called “GPS for the Soul,” which provides several measures of our current stress levels and gives advice on ways to regain that inner balance.

GM: Your book, On Becoming Fearless…In Love, Work, and Life, is one of thirteen books you’ve written. How does one become fearless?


AH: The first and most important step is to realize that, as my mother used to say, fearlessness isn’t the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear. It’s not that you never have fear, but that you don’t let your fears stop you. Often, you’ll fail. But, as my mother also taught me, failure isn’t the opposite of success—it’s a stepping stone to success.

GM: What has Huffington Post taught you about life?

AH: That very often the only difference between success and failure is perseverance. I was already in my mid-fifties when we launched Huffington Post. It wasn’t an immediate success. One reviewer wrote that it was “the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar, and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one,” and that it was a “failure that is simply unsurvivable.” Well, we kept going. A year later that reviewer asked to blog for us. The site has only reinforced my realization about the close connection between success and failure.

GM: Do you have any regrets?

AH: Eleven years ago, I was in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was supposed to give a speech. Then I learned that my father, who was very ill in Athens, had taken a turn for the worse. I began what seemed like an interminable journey—Madison to Milwaukee to New York to Athens. I talked to him from the plane: “I’m going to wait for you,” he said. My sister, Agapi, and two nuns met me at the airport. Halfway to my father’s apartment, we got a call from a woman named Vicki, who had cared for my father, who told us my father had died the moment my plane landed. I still regret not canceling my speech so I could arrive earlier. For a long time I was consumed by guilt, not only for missing my father’s final moments, but because the whole episode was an illustration of how my priorities were horribly misplaced.

GM: What are your views on the world now and where we are going versus where we ought to be going to accomplish that definition of success you mentioned earlier?

AH: I’m actually very optimistic. All around the country, individuals are choosing to redefine their lives and the pursuit of happiness in ways much closer to the original notion put forth by our Founding Fathers. Their notion of the “pursuit of happiness” wasn’t just about acquiring money and power, but about doing your part to add to the civic happiness of the community. More young people are volunteering than ever before. More people are including service to others on their busy lives’ to do list. The promise of America is embedded deep in our DNA, calling us to a much less shallow search for happiness and meaning.

GM: Tell me what you’re most passionate and concerned about?

AH: As I mentioned before, at HuffPost we’re doing a great deal around the theme of “Redefining Success: The Third Metric.” This is a great moment for all of us to acknowledge that the current male-dominated model of success—which equates success with burnout, sleep deprivation, and driving yourself into the ground—isn’t working for women, and it’s not working for men, either.

GM: Do you have any tools to engage young people? Do you have anything to say to them?

AH: We’ve designed our entire site to function as a tool for communication and engagement. We have a great HuffPost Teen section and a great HuffPost College section. We’ve also made a point to focus on issues important to Millennials, like unemployment among the young and indebted. I hope it will be their generation that finally redefines success from the self-destructive, unfulfilling, and limited version that my generation has given them.

GM: How do you use your platform as a writer to spread the word about ways people can instigate positive change?

AH: For too long, reporters for the big media outlets have been fixated on novelty, always moving too quickly on to the next big score or the next hot get. Paradoxically, in these days of instant communication and sixty-minute news cycles, it’s actually easier to miss information we might otherwise pay attention to. That’s why we need stories to be covered and re-covered, until they filter up enough to become part of the cultural bloodstream. That’s what I try to do as a writer and as the editor of HuffPost: cover important stories in an obsessive way that enables them to break through the din of our multimedia universe. We are also driven by a commitment to transparency, and to uncovering the truth, wherever it may lead us.

GM: What is the hardest part about your job?

AH: Doing it and getting at least seven hours of sleep at the same time!

GM: Why do you do what you do?

AH: The chance to work with our amazing team of reporters and editors, a truly global group now, since we have editions in four continents. The chance to cover stories that deserve more attention and get people engaged.

GM: Was there a turning point in your life?

AH: I came to the realization that I wasn’t living my life properly the hard way. About five years ago, I fainted from exhaustion. I hit my head on my desk. I broke my cheekbone and got four stitches on my right eye. It started me on this journey of rediscovering sleep and balance, and integrating my life. I think everyone should stop and reassess their lives before you hit your head on your desk.

GM: What do you believe in?

AH: That we’re more than just our job titles or our list of professional accomplishments.


GM: What has life taught you?

AH: The advice I would give to my younger self is very, very simple: Stop burning the candle at both ends and renew your estranged relationship with sleep. You will be more productive, more effective, more creative, and more likely to enjoy your life.

GM: What do you hope for?

AH: That the next generation will remake the world in a way that allows us to live in a more sustainable way, both personally and globally.

GM: What is the thing that is most on your heart right now?

AH: The need to redefine success. We now have nearly 70 million Americans with high blood pressure, which triples your chances of heart disease. Even though this is incredibly costly to employers—one study estimates that businesses spend 200% to 300% more on indirect health care costs in the form of sick days and lower productivity than they do on direct health care payments—the current system is set up to encourage this kind of literal self-destruction. Our current definition of success encourages burning the candle at both ends, resulting in these health issues. Until this changes, millions and millions of Americans will continue to pay a heavy price.

GM: What does vulnerability mean to you?

AH: Realizing and accepting that failure is an integral part of life and that perfection is not of this world.

GM: What inspires you most?

AH: I was raised in Athens by a father who was a newspaper editor, and I grew up on the romance of journalism. In a way, I am still pursuing that dream every day. As for the Huffington Post, bringing together people from different parts of my life and facilitating interesting conversations has always been part of my Greek DNA. 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), open them up, and bring them online.

GM: What do you do to stay balanced, mind, body and spirit?

AH: Meditation, yoga, and spending time with my daughters. If they’re out of town, calling, emailing, texting. And then shutting off all my devices.

GM: Do you practice any kind of yoga or meditation?

AH: I’ve always said that I think one of the best and cheapest ways to become healthier and happier is through mindfulness exercises like meditation. According to Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford and expert in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, after nine weeks of training, participants in a mindfulness program had “an increased sense of purpose and had fewer feelings of isolation and alienation, along with decreased symptoms of illness as diverse as headaches, chest pain, congestion, and weakness.” I always try to practice what I preach. I meditate for fifteen minutes every day and do yoga several times a week.

GM: What is one of the best decisions you ever made?

AH: One of my big milestones came when I turned forty and promised myself to stop worrying about all the things I thought I might do, but never really would. I was very relieved when I realized that you can actually complete a project by dropping it. That’s how I “completed” learning to cook and learning German, becoming a good skier, and a list of other things too long to recite!

GM: What are some of your most cherished accomplishments?

AH: My daughters, Christina and Isabella, have always been a huge priority for me. Being a mother is the role I’m most proud of.

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