Arianna Huffington’s big message to readers via Thrive Global is not just to shut their eyes and sleep, but to open them wide and find well-being, wisdom and wonder.
“Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done,” writes Erin Callan. In the early-2000s, she worked her way up to become the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Lehman brothers but resigned ‘amid mounting chaos and a cloud of public humiliation’ just before the company went bankrupt. “As they see it,” she continues, “I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things.”
But Callan doesn’t see this as balance nor does she wish this for anyone. She lost precious time, valuable relationships, and harmony. “Even at the best times in my career,” she said. “I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside.”
Callan’s is only one among the many messages Arianna Huffington – the 66-year-old digital media pioneer, founder of The Huffington Post, and bestselling author – wants you to hear.
In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, she invokes numerous examples of overworked and overwrought people. About Callan, she writes that “when you’re burned out and exhausted, it’s much harder to see clearly the dangers— or opportunities— ahead.” Callan’s overworking, in Huffington’s opinion, was clearly unproductive as very soon, the company went bankrupt. “(A) function of leadership,” she writes in the introduction to her book, “is to be able to see the iceberg before it hits the Titanic.”
Huffington herself quit her position of top leadership at Huffington Post to launch a new platform, Thrive Global. In the years following her resignation, she has become a wellness guru, talking at length about the harms of our over-busy and over-connected lives. She has been relentlessly asking people to switch off their phones, stop bragging about being busy, shut their eyes, meditate, and sleep peacefully. She has also been elbowing the society into broadening its metric for success and accepting well- being, wisdom, and wonder as crucial parts.
The three also form the main categories at her venture, Thrive Global. Its media component features self-help articles that are often backed by data and research. The portal’s reach, although nowhere close to Huffington Post, can be understood by its founder’s sphere of influence, philosophy, and aggressive promotion. Consider its twitter followers: Thrive Global has 26.3k followers to Huffington’s 3.8 million. Naturally, a part of Thrive Global’s content strategy to get more eyeballs is also to get ‘role models’ to dispense advice.
They recently featured Demi Lovato talking about switching off from social media, and in the past, have discussed how Jeff Bezos gets eight hours of sleep, and how Ann Romney dealt with the stress of her husband Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Recently, its editorial team member told Poynter that the media platform grew 80% early last year.
The company also has a corporate and digital products component where they provide trainings, seminars, e-courses, coaching, and support based on scientific findings to corporates. With high-profile clients such as Accenture, JPMorgan, Uber and Alibaba, it claims to shift the culture to create healthier employees with a focus on engagement and retention to increase productivity and lower healthcare costs. But Huffington says that her personal focus has also been on helping improve the workforce for women. She has written that only 40% women go back to working full-time because of low levels of engagement, the toxic definition of success, and the culture of rewarding the slogger.
Sustaining Thrive Global
In 2016, Thrive Global raised a Series A funding of $7 million and in a recent Series B round, the company raised $30 million to reach a $120 million valuation. It has recently entered India, its first expansion, and aims to use the money to accelerate its technology platform around the world. In accordance with its role-model strategy for content, it has already roped in the founder of India’s e-payment and e-commerce brand, Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, to write for them.
But at the bottom of it all is Huffington’s own story of transformation. In 2007, two years after co-founding The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. On her way down, her head hit the corner of her desk, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone. Her doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her. Only she did – she wasn’t living well.
Something similar had happened previously as well. At 23 and already the bestselling author of The Female Woman, she was on a promotional tour, sitting in a room around yellow roses, champagne, and Swiss chocolates, but sweating with anxiety, wondering, “Is that really all there is?” “Can the goal of life really be just about money and recognition?”
However, it would take her more than 40 years to start talking about a more sustainable way of life. And now, Thrive Global’s biggest offering is Huffington’s philosophy. Its corporates packages don’t just emphasise on good healthcare plans for hypertension or diabetes but also the symptoms or causes of these diseases. Increase in stress and mental health problems directly affects productivity and Thrive Global’s pitch, therefore, is to invest in the employee’s wellness. The company also seems to be leading by example as Global Thrive’s Headquarters in New York has a nap room and serves lunches with fresh vegetables picked from their own garden.
But achieving work-life balance, no matter how tough, does not mean a healthier life. As Huffington said in a recent interview, ‘We don’t think that’s (work-life balance) really the goal. If you leave work and then lose yourself down the rabbit hole of social media, games like Candy Crush or whatever it is that your addiction is and keep answering work emails, it means you are still not going to recharge.’ Therefore, she launched the The Thrive App with Samsung. The app blocks all other apps, notifications, calls, and texts except from those on your VIP list. It also auto replies which lets others know you are taking time off from your phone, creating what Huffington believes is a new type of FOMO.
But everyone doesn’t buy into Huffington’s philosophy. To some, it looks like a pinterest board that reeks of privilege as Huffington has amassed both money and power. It’s not a message that can be sent to the 389 million people living on less than $1.90 a day.
But the message is not directed at them. It’s a message for a culture that measures hours of work than the work itself. For those who are toiling away on their desk, clocking over 50 hours a week, with no time for rejuvenation, and with eyes that don’t rove or look inward, but browse social media. It’s for those whose stress levels peak and illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension find their way in. In that sense, it’s a message that is needed.