Arianna Huffington on a New Definition of Success
I remember it as if it were yesterday: I was twenty-three years old and I was on a promotional tour for my first book, The Female Woman, which had become an unexpected international bestseller. I was sitting in my room in some anonymous European hotel. The room could have been a beautifully arranged still life. There were yellow roses on the desk, Swiss chocolates by my bed, and French champagne on ice. The only noise was the crackling of the ice as it slowly melted into water. The voice in my head was much louder. "Is that all there is?" Like a broken record, the question famously posed by Peggy Lee (for those old enough to remember) kept repeating itself in my brain, robbing me of the joy I had expected to find in my success. "Is that really all there is?" If this is "living," then what is life? Can the goal of life really be just about money and recognition? From a part of myself, deep inside me—from the part of me that is my mother's daughter—came a resounding "No!" It is an answer that turned me gradually but firmly away from lucrative offers to speak and write again and again on the subject of "the female woman." It started me instead on the first step of a long journey.
My journey from that first moment of recognition that I didn't want to live my life within the boundaries of what our culture defined as success was hardly a straight line. At times it was more like a spiral, with a lot of downturns when I found myself caught up in the very whirlwind that I knew would not lead to the life I most wanted.
That's how strong is the pull of the first two metrics, even for someone as blessed as I was to have a mother who lived a Third Metric life before I knew what the Third Metric was. That's why this book is a kind of a homecoming for me.
When I first lived in New York in the eighties, I found myself at lunches and dinners with people who had achieved the first two metrics of success—money and power—but who were still looking for something more. Lacking a line of royalty in America, we have elevated to princely realms the biggest champions of money and power. Since one gains today's throne not by fortune of birth but by the visible markers of success, we dream of the means by which we might be crowned. Or perhaps it's the constant expectation, drummed into us from childhood, that no matter how humble our origins we, too, can achieve the American dream. And the American dream, which has been exported all over the world, is currently defined as the acquisition of things: houses, cars, boats, jets, and other grown-up toys.
But I believe the second decade of this new century is already very different. There are, of course, still millions of people who equate success with money and power—who are determined to never get off that treadmill despite the cost in terms of their well-being, relationships, and happiness. There are still millions desperately looking for the next promotion, the next million-dollar payday that they believe will satisfy their longing to feel better about themselves, or silence their dissatisfaction. But both in the West and in emerging economies, there are more people every day who recognize that these are all dead ends—that they are chasing a broken dream. That we cannot find the answer in our current definition of success alone because—as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland—"There is no there there."
More and more scientific studies and more and more health statistics are showing that the way we've been leading our lives—what we prioritize and what we value—is not working. And growing numbers of women—and men—are refusing to join the list of casualties. Instead, they are reevaluating their lives, looking to thrive rather than merely succeed based on how the world measures success.