Arianna Huffington on a New Definition of Success
352 pages; Harmony
Available at Amazon| Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn't, but doctors' waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
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. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, 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.
This was a classic wake- up call. Looking back on my life, I had other times when I should have woken up but didn't. This time I really did and made many changes in the way I live my life, including adopting daily practices to keep me on track—and out of doctors' waiting rooms. The result is a more fulfilling life, one that gives me breathing spaces and a deeper perspective.
This book was conceived as I tried to pull together all the insights I had gleaned about my work and life during the weeks I spent writing the commencement speech I was to give to the class of 2013 at Smith College. With two daughters in college, I take commencement speeches very seriously. It's such a special moment for the graduating class— a pause, a kind of parenthesis in time following four (or five, or six) years of nonstop learning and growing just before the start of an adult life spent moving forward and putting all of that knowledge into action. It's a unique marker in their lives— and for fifteen minutes or so I have the graduates' undivided attention. The challenge is to say something equal to the occasion, something that will be useful during a charged time of new beginnings.
"Commencement speakers," I told the women graduates, "are traditionally expected to tell the graduating class how to go out there and climb the ladder of success. But I want to ask you instead to redefine success. Because the world you are headed into desperately needs it. And because you are up to the challenge. Your education at Smith has made it unequivocally clear that you are entitled to take your place in the world wherever you want that place to be. You can work in any field, and you can make it to the top of any field. But what I urge you to do is not just take your place at the top of the world, but to change the world."
The moving response to the speech made me realize how widespread is the longing among so many of us to redefine success and what it means to lead "the good life."