Two years into founding her eponymously named news site/blog, Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. Of course, she went through a battery of medical tests before discovering that what ailed her was nothing that a reasonable amount of shut eye couldn’t cure, which is when she had a come-to-Jesus moment:
Was this what success felt like? she asked herself.
A good question to pose to a packed house of overworked, no doubt perpetually fatigued entrepreneurs at AlleyNYC, where Huffington was hawking her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Pretty funny that her wake up call was to get more sleep.
And to shift her focus on what really matters/how to best define success.
“It’s not money and power,” she said. “This is like sitting on a 2-legged stool. You will fall off!” Besides which, she continued, “If we only value money and power, we are never going to have enough. There’s always someone else who will have more.”
Contrary to popular belief, one doesn’t have to burn out while founding a startup and her first point from Thrive – well-being – has to do with getting enough sleep.
“Working 24/7 is a good thing – like coming to work drunk,” said Huffington. “We’re all addicted to our current way of living. We’re better at taking care of smart phones than ourselves.” She pointed out that when our phone batteries start to drain, we monitor them and then frantically search out a power source to recharge them. Do we give ourselves the same consideration?
“Another important point is learn that ‘no’ is a full sentence,” she suggested.
Wisdom is what she calls the second pillar. Being permanently attached to phones, we’re disconnected from ourselves, she said, and that multitasking doesn’t exist: it’s just another term for task switching.
“You never see people just walking down the street. They’re always on their phones. And you don’t notice thing.” When she decided to stop that behavior, she recalled walking down the street with a friend and commenting on a building near her apartment.
“That’s a beautiful building. When did this go up?” she asked.
“1890,” her friend answered.
“Bill Clinton once said to me, ‘The most important mistakes I made in my life I made when I was tired,” said Huffington. “However, he didn’t specify what those mistakes were.”
“Take care of your source of success first,” she suggested. “Yourself.”
Which introduced her third pillar: Wonder.
“Don’t miss the moment,” she warned. “To connect with a sense of wonder required getting out of our heads.”
It’s also important to realize you can’t put your life on hold, she said. “No one ever said at a funeral, ‘George was amazing. He increased market share by 1/3.’”
In a commencement speech, she suggested that women sleep their way to the top. “It’s not what you think,” she added, “but literally: seven or eight hours a night.”
Huffington was certainly amusing, and it’s easy to say ‘get more sleep,’ in retrospect. She might have had her epiphany two years into building the HuffPo, but it was another several before the property was acquired by AOL. She never mentioned the sleepless nights she no doubt had before that deal was done.
“I felt like she was doing stand up comedy,” said one young woman as she was exiting the venue. She was entertained, but a bit disappointed. “I was hoping to find more of a role model.”
When you’re proselytizing that money and power are not indicators of success and you happen to be the richest and most powerful person in the room by a long shot – and one who has gone through her share of very public lawsuits and power plays – the crowd might be entertained for a time, but entrepreneurs know that an hour or two more of sleep is not an overarching solution. An argument like that to a crowd like this?
Best to give it a rest.