Arianna Huffington on the three W’s of success, and the S of it – sleep!


Arianna Huffington is a woman who needs no introduction, but not giving her one would be a crime considering how awesome she is. Hailing from Greece, the Co-founder and former Editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, Arianna is woman who exudes self-assurance and wins hearts with her often self-deprecating humour. It was only this August that she ended her journey with her Pulitzer-prize winning news website to begin work on her new startup, Thrive Global, which is intended to focus on health and wellness information.

Image credits: Charles William Pelletier

Huffington spoke at the Smith College’s 135th commencement ceremony in 2013, addressing the freshly graduated group of students. While most speakers urge students to “climb the ladder of success,” Huffington focused on pointing out why the definition of success must be redefined and how one can do that to attain a sense of fulfilment in life. As most of her speeches are often accompanied by laughter from the tickled audience, this commencement speech was nearly drowned by the energy that her words inspired in them.

The two-legged stool of success

She highlights the two parts that make up our society’s definition of success – money and power. She goes on to say how these two aspects have become synonymous with success but that in reality, they cannot hold the weight of what success is really about. This “two-legged stool” will eventually topple if a third metric isn’t added to the definition of success. The third metric, as Huffington goes on to elucidate, are the three W’s – well-being, wonder, and wisdom.

Well-being is the only achievement

Huffington believes that focusing on our well-being is equivalent to caring for the “human capital”, as we would, for our financial capital. She says that if we don’t think of our well-being at all times, the personal price that we pay will keep getting higher and higher. She recalls an incident when she was 12 years old: a certain gentleman had come home for dinner, who, albeit looking dilapidated, spoke of how well he was doing. Huffington quotes her mother - “I don’t care how well your business is doing…you’re not taking care of you. Your business might have a great bottom line, but you are your most important capital.” When we do this, Huffington says we also improve our relationship with time, and we will finally have the time to do the things we want to do.

What a wonderful world

Having these aspects in line will give us the freedom to enjoy the second W – wonder. This, too, was something Huffington learnt from her mother. She recalls her mother’s constant state of wonder in everyday activities, whether she was “washing the dishes or feeding the seagulls.” According to Huffington, wonder is the one thing that will surpass hierarchies as it inhibits inhibition. Taking delight in life will give one a sense of purpose which she believes is hidden within all of us. All it takes for the discovery is to make time for oneself – and the only way to do that is to redefine success.

Wisdom is underrated

Talking about the third W, Huffington points out the crucial difference between intelligence and wisdom. She talks of how good decisions (in business and in life) come from wisdom and not from a high IQ. But in today’s world, which is hyper-connected by technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to “tap into our own wisdom.” She asked the audience “to regularly disconnect from technology, to regularly unplug and recharge in order to reconnect with ourselves and our own deepest wisdom.”

Sleep your way to the top

The last, but not at all the least, aspect needed for success, that Huffington cannot stress enough on, is sleep. She calls herself the sleep evangelist. Her 2010 TED talk is evidence of this as it is entirely dedicated to the importance of sleep. In How to succeed? Get more sleep, she talks of how this small idea of hers will unlock “billions of big ideas”. She recalls an incident when she fainted from exhaustion. It took a broken cheekbone and five stitches for her to discover the value of sleep, which she has been advocating ever since. She believes it is the most important element of success because not only does it improve creativity, productivity and decision making, it is needed to see the big picture – “to see the iceberg before it hits the Titanic.”

She concludes both speeches with words that hit home –

“I beg you: don’t buy society’s definition of success. Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.”

“I urge you to shut your eyes and discover the great ideas that lie inside us, to shut your engines and discover the power of sleep.”