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The Mind Behind the Maidens
By: Allison Kaplan | Posted: 06/19/2014
Arianna Huffington will spend the weekend in the Twin Cities, mingling with politicians and business leaders before her keynote address at Monday’s 32nd annual luncheon for Women Winning, a Minnesota-based multi-partisan organization devoted to electing pro-choice women candidates at every level of office.
Huffington will also appear at Mall of America to promote her 14th book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. And while this multi-tasking seems to fly in the face of her newfound passion for sleep, Huffington says she has found balance. Of course, that's easier, it could be argued, once you’re a huge success, but she had a thoughtful answer for that, too, when we exchanged emails in anticipation of her visit.
Ali: You recently tweeted an article about the importance of knowing your super power. What's yours?
AH: Breathing! It might sound mundane (after all, everyone breathes!) but a conscious focus on breathing helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment, and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks. It has also helped me become much more aware when I hold or constrict my breath, not just when dealing with a problem, but sometimes even when I’m doing something as ordinary as putting a key in the door, texting, reading an email, or going over my schedule. When I use my breath to relax the contracted core of my body, I can follow this thread back to my center.
Ali: As a sleep evangelist, describe your perfect sleep.
AH: The time varies from night to night, but after many years of burning the candle at both ends, I now get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. I make sure I have my phones charging far, far away from my bed, to help me avoid the middle-of-the-night temptation to check the latest news or emails. I like my room as dark as possible, and I have an analog alarm clock on my bedside table. Sometimes I fall asleep to meditation tapes and lately I’ve been enjoying the Le Labo fig-scented candle my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day.
Ali: I know you have nap rooms at the Huffington Post offices. Do you personally take naps?
AH: Yes! Our nap rooms are now full most of the time, even though they were met with skepticism and reluctance when we installed them in the spring of 2011. Many were afraid their colleagues might think they were shirking their duties by taking a nap. We’ve made it very clear, however, that walking around drained and exhausted is what should be looked down on – not taking a break to rest and recharge.
Ali: What do you say to women who look at you and think, it's easy to preach balance and rest and doing less when you've already accomplished so much?
AH: Some might look at these practices as a luxury— that it’s all very well for the financially independent, for people who have their basic needs met and have what are known as first world problems. What about those without a job who are struggling to put food on the table? In fact, it’s in difficult circumstances that these practices have the most to offer us. It is in times of great adversity when we are pushed and challenged that these practices become essential, helping us tap into our inner strengths and resilience.
In college, just before I embarked on a career as a
writer, I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.” That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.
Ali: Can you give us a little preview of what you'll discuss at the Women Winning luncheon in Minneapolis on June 23?
AH: I’ll be talking about our third women’s revolution. The first women’s revolution was led by the suffragettes more than a hundred years ago, when courageous women such as Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought to get women the right to vote. The second was led by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who fought— and Gloria continues to fight— to expand the role of women in our society and give them full access to the rooms and corridors of power where decisions are made. This second revolution is still very much in progress, as it needs to be. But we simply can’t wait any longer for the third revolution to get under way.
That’s because women are paying an even higher price than men for their participation in a work culture fueled by stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout. That is one reason why so many talented women, with impressive degrees working in high- powered jobs, end up abandoning their careers when they can afford to. Let me count the ways in which these personal costs are unsustainable: women in highly stressful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks compared with their less-stressed colleagues, and a 60 percent greater risk for type 2 diabetes (a link that does not exist for men, by the way). Women who have heart attacks are almost twice as likely as men to die within a year of the attack, and women in high-stress jobs are more likely to become alcoholics than women in low-stress jobs. Stress and pressure from high-powered careers can also be a factor in the resurgence of eating disorders in women ages thirty-five to sixty.
Ali: Will you address gun control?
AH: Gun control is one of the most important issues of our time, and the fact that we’re still fixating on Benghazi, when there have been an estimated 45,000 gun deaths since then, is illustrative of the dysfunction in Washington.
Restoring the assault weapons ban, regulating the capacity size of clips that are sold, closing the background check loopholes to include private dealers and gun shows – these are all necessary policies now relegated to the back burner.
Ali: At Women Winning, you'll be speaking to a room full of over achieving, sleep-deprived women. What is your advice for them, beyond sleep. How can we find balance at a time when everything is 24-7?
AH: We need to acknowledge that, for far too long, we have been operating under the collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving.
I love the way Iain Thomas put it:
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!”
And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”
Ali: Confession: I put together my questions for you at 11:40 p.m., toggling back and forth to my inbox, which has nearly 20,000 emails that I don't have time to sort. I can only imagine what yours is like. With the volume of information—photos, texts, tweets, links, digital touches of all types that you juggle every day, how to you stay organized and on top of things?
AH: Our relationship with email has become increasingly one-sided. We try to empty our in-boxes, bailing like people in a leaky lifeboat, but more and more of it keeps pouring in. How we deal with our email has become a big part of our techno-stress. And it’s not just the never-ending e-deluge of emails we never get to— the growing pile that just sits there, judging us all day— but even the ones we do get to, the replied-to emails that we think should be making us feel good. For me, it’s all about prioritizing. I’ve learned that “no” is a complete sentence and I have ended all notifications coming to my email box.
Ali: You'll be signing books at the Mall of America—have you been before, and will you take time to shop . . . or ride a roller coaster?
AH: It’s my first time, and while I’ll probably skip the roller coaster, I look forward to a good long walk around the mall, taking it all in – and I’m sure that will include some shopping along the way.
Allison Kaplan is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s shopping and style editor. See bio
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