Global media mogul, author, founder and CEO of Thrive Global
Mogul, mother, and author of fifteen books, Arianna Huffington—most widely recognized for her namesake, The Huffington Post—remains a powerful voice to be heard. Her startup, Thrive Global, where she also serves as CEO, launched in 2016 with a vision to champion the importance of sleep. Her most recent book, The Sleep Revolution, delves even further, reinforcing how a full eight hours can dramatically improve your personal—and professional life. We sat down with her to hear how her journey from media powerhouse to ‘sleep evangelist’ came to be.
Sleep deprivation is so prevalent these days. What triggered your personal interest?
My interest was triggered by my own body. In 2007, I collapsed from exhaustion and broke my cheekbone as I fell. As I visited various doctors’ offices trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I had the time—finally—to ask myself questions like: ‘What is a good life?’ and ‘What kind of success am I after?’
What I came to find out was that I was suffering from an acute case of burnout. This led me to make some changes to my life, which included renewing my estranged relationship with sleep. As I learned more about sleep—the history of it, the science, and the increasing number of studies that show how deeply connected sleep is to our well-being, performance, and productivity—I became a sleep evangelist. This eventually led me to write my two books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.
What did you discover when researching the statistics on sleep deprivation?
One study in particular found that staying awake for just 17 to 19 hours (which is a normal day for a lot of people), your level of cognitive impairment is equivalent to a blood-alcohol level just under the limit of legal intoxication.
Now that’s reason enough to get more sleep. For someone who is looking to make a change in their life, where do you suggest they start?
Firstly, anybody who wants to make a change in their life should congratulate themselves—because that determination is really the first step. But it can be hard going from knowing what to do to actually doing it. A good place to start is with sleep—it’s the underpinning of every aspect of our well-being.
We tend to think that in order to change our lives, we have to make big, dramatic changes. But, it’s actually possible to make a big impact by taking small steps. At Thrive Global we call these ‘microsteps’—small, actionable steps people can take to make immediate changes in their daily lives. One of my favorites is charging your phone outside your bedroom. Doing this as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes it more likely you’ll get a bit more sleep and wake up as fully charged as your phone.
"Helping people engage and connect has always been one of the motivating passions of my life."
What’s the first step to feeling less stressed?
Making time to unplug, recharge and connect with ourselves and others; this is what nurtures and fuels our resilience. We’re always going to have stressful and challenging situations, but how we respond to them depends on our ability to persevere and be resilient.
Despite this sound advice, do you still find yourself getting stressed from time to time?
We all have stresses in life. Founding and leading a company inevitably includes stressful situations, and many that push you to the precipice of burnout. Beyond work, there’s also the stress of being a parent! The key is to realize that you may need to change direction before hitting that proverbial ‘iceberg’ (or, in my case in 2007, the floor). Now I’m much more mindful of the warning signs and have learned to incorporate ‘microsteps’ into my day to reduce the likelihood of stress and burnout.
How do you avoid burnout?
I try to meditate, exercise and do yoga every morning. And, I build time in during my day to unplug. Also, I love to walk and have come up with some of my best ideas during walking meetings.
We’re taking notes. When it comes to your work, how do you stay motivated?
Helping people engage and connect has always been one of the motivating passions of my life. At Thrive Global, it’s hard not to be motivated by our mission of helping people reduce stress, avoid burnout and live the lives they truly want. What motivates me most is seeing the results—hearing from people, wherever I go, about the changes they’re making and the differences they’re seeing in their lives.
That must be incredibly rewarding. So, what’s next for Thrive Global?
Expanding to even more parts of the world. Because the burnout epidemic is global, we’ve been global since day one; Thrive is now in India and Greece and we’ve given trainings in 5 continents. We’re continuing to hire new talent and connecting with new partners in order to reach tens of millions of people around the globe. With the latest science on well-being and performance, ancient wisdom and new role models, we’ll continue to grow our media platform.
"My two daughters and my sister Agapi. They’re my Thrive Tribe—always in my corner and always there for me, whether I succeed or fail."
Speaking of role models, who are the essential women in your life?
My two daughters and my sister Agapi. They’re my Thrive Tribe—always in my corner and always there for me, whether I succeed or fail.
The future is definitely female. How do you work with other women to let their voices be heard?
Opening up the conversation to bring in more female voices is one of my career missions. Unfortunately, women still pay the highest price for workplace cultures fueled by sleep deprivation, whereas more machismo cultures see burnout as commitment and dedication.
That’s why at Thrive Global we’re working to feature women’s voices on how to change this culture in a way that works for women. Also, when I first joined the board at Uber, I made a promise to myself that one of the first things I would work on would be to add another woman to the board. So, last year I was very grateful to finally introduce Wan Ling Martello.