Arianna Huffington: ‘If You’re on the Verge of Burnout, Slow Down’

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How to make your business sustainable.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington founded her namesake site, The Huffington Post, in 2005. Less than two years later she collapsed, hitting her head and breaking a cheekbone. She’s since become fiercely passionate about the importance of sleep and wellness and, in 2016, launched Thrive Global to help corporations and individuals enhance wellbeing and performance. Having raised US$7 million in Series A funding, the company, which specialises in corporate programs for clients including Under Armour, Accenture and Uber, has launched an e-commerce site and even an app which deletes your work emails when you’re on holiday. Thrive Global has also partnered with Death Over Dinner, to encourage conversations about death which in turn bring more meaning to existence. And, on a lighter but still serious note, Arianna’s leading the charge for the new power dressing: celebrating repeat wears as a means to freedom and career success. Here, she shares her insights from her remarkable life progression…

The seeds of Thrive Global go back to 2007, when I collapsed from exhaustion. After that I became more and more passionate about the connection between wellbeing and productivity. That led me to write my two books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. And as I went around the world speaking about them, and the issues of stress, burnout and sleep deprivation, I saw how deeply people wanted to change their lives. I wanted to go beyond just speaking out and raising awareness – I felt the need to turn this passion into something real and tangible that would begin to help people change their daily lives. It was a call to action I just couldn’t ignore, and so I founded Thrive Global.

It’s important to remember that trying to do everything, mostly, means doing nothing very well.

I thought it would be possible to build a start-up and continue on as editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. But as Thrive Global moved from an idea to a reality, with investors, staff and offices, it became clear that I couldn’t do justice to both companies. I realised I wanted to throw myself 100 percent into building Thrive and helping accelerate the culture shift. And so I stepped down as editor-in-chief. But it was easier to do knowing what a great team was in place to handle the transition.

Success is more about quality of work than quantity. Entrepreneurs should realise that taking care of their human capital will be just as important as whatever product or service or company they’re launching. Leading a sustainable life, and making sure their employees do, too, is the best way for an entrepreneur to make sure their business will be sustainable. It’s like what they say on airplanes – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

It’s certainly not easy and I’m not minimising the challenge, but it’s really all about prioritisation – about figuring out what absolutely has to be done, and then giving yourself time, instead of trying to do it all. It’s important to remember that trying to do everything, mostly, means doing nothing very well. The most important resource to a new business – or any business – is the decision-making of the owner. And that resource has to be safeguarded and nurtured just like any other resource.

If you’re on the verge of burnout, slow down, make changes and prioritise your wellbeing before you get a wake-up call like mine.

The challenges involved in asking organisations to commit to wellness are getting them to stop believing in the collective delusion that overwork and burnout are somehow productive. There’s now a mountain of science that shows that when we prioritise our wellbeing, we’re more productive, more creative, more focused and we make better decisions. That’s all great for the bottom line.

We launched our new power-dressing campaign to celebrate repeats. Men slap on the same thing every day, but women are expected to spend hours and hours getting ready. So in my own life, I don’t hide my repeats, I celebrate them. When I’m getting ready for an event, I don’t spend time agonising about what to wear – I pick out one of my frequently worn favourites and call it a day. Then at some point in the evening I’ll take a selfie or get someone to take a photo and then I’ll post it to my #Repeats collection.

It might seem trivial, but it’s not. There are real [productivity] issues at play. Women already bear the biggest cost of our culture of sleep-deprivation and burnout. And outdated notions of professional dress only add to that. Being able to spend only a few minutes getting ready versus an hour or two is a serious competitive advantage.

The style gap is meaningful because time is a resource and the style gap gives men more of that resource. So celebrating and owning the idea of repeats is a great way to begin to close that gap, affording women the same freedom (in the form of time and money and thought) that men have in putting together their outfits for the day.

Being able to spend only a few minutes getting ready versus an hour or two is a serious competitive advantage.

If you’re on the verge of burnout, slow down, make changes and prioritise your wellbeing before you get a wake-up call like mine. The science unambiguously shows that, in fact, they [people who suffer burnout] would’ve been more successful if they’d been prioritising their wellbeing all along. If they’re burning themselves out, whatever success they’re having in their career is in spite of burnout, not because of it.

Life audits can take many forms, but it involves writing down what your goals and values are, and everything you really want to accomplish. It’s an important process because it reminds us what we really want out of life, which is often very different than what we’re spending
our time on.

No matter what we believe happens after we die, whether our souls live on or not, mortality is something all of us have in common. And yet we rarely talk about it – even though there may be no single thing that can teach us more about life than death.

The fact that our time is so limited is what makes it precious – so if we want to truly thrive, we need to integrate the certainty of death into our lives. Allowing the reality of death into our everyday lives can keep us focused on what we really value, and help us make mindful decisions about how we should be living our lives and spending our time.

My most meaningful experience about death was the death of my mother. She and I were very different. She lived in a timeless world and was all about living in the moment. I was always rushing and late and behind, which she believed meant missing the gifts that come only when you surrender 100 per cent of yourself to a task, a conversation, a meal, a relationship, a moment. And that was true up until the moment she died. She’d been very sick, but insisted on going to the Santa Monica food market, which she loved. After we got back, my mother spread out an incredible lunch for us all – me, my sister, my two daughters. That evening, while we were in her room listening to some Greek music she insisted on, and with the girls buzzing in and out on their scooters, she fell. Our instinct was to call an ambulance, but she insisted that we didn’t. Instead we did as she wanted – we all sat on the floor with her and had an impromptu picnic. So there we were, drinking red wine with her, as she looked on and smiled at her beloved granddaughters still playing. And then, suddenly, she was gone.

Later, I found out she knew her time had come, but asked her [nurse] not to say anything to us, since she knew we’d insist on taking her to the hospital – and she wanted to die at home with her daughters, her granddaughters, in the glow of those she loved and who loved her. She never wanted to miss the moment, and certainly not that one. It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

 

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