Arianna Huffington flustered me.
The way these Q&A interviews usually go is that I ask the subject some questions about whatever they are promoting, along with other questions that I hope will foster a rollicking exchange.
Huffington shut down briefly, as you can see in my startribune.com/video, complaining that questions about Edward Snowden and Hillary Clinton would be “awfully disconnected” when she thought the interview was supposed to be about her book “Thrive,” which she was here promoting at book signings, including one at the Depot where she spoke to WomenWinning.
I did notice that the media mogul adroitly turned a question about Hillary Clinton into an answer that promoted “Thrive” on the Wendy Williams talk show.
An entire column about Huffington’s book didn’t sound interesting enough to be picked up by, say, Huffington Post.
In my haste to find questions on my list about “Thrive” that might appease Huffington, I missed a few that met her all-about-the-book criteria. Huffington graciously responded to those questions via e-mail.
Q: Tell me about that third leg on the stool.
A: First of all, the first two legs of the stool of success: The way our society defines success are money and power. These are the two metrics of success and the theme of “Thrive” is that’s not enough. It’s like trying to sit on a two-legged stool. Sooner or later you fall off and we need the third leg of the stool which is the third metric. That includes four pillars. First of all, well-being: If we don’t have our health and our well-being everything else becomes secondary. The second is wisdom: How do we tap into our own inner wisdom to make the best decision? The third is wonder: How do we connect with all the beauty in the world and the mystery of life? And the fourth is giving: Otherwise, life becomes just about me.
Q: You acquired wealth, fame and power but had more difficulty finding happiness. What advice for finding happiness do you have for those of us without money and power?
A: Don’t fall into the trap of chasing only the successes built on money, status and fame. When this happens, we miss out on the happiness, purpose and meaning that come from reaching out to others, pausing to wonder, and connecting to that place of strength and wisdom within us from which everything is possible.
Take it from me. We founded the Huffington Post in 2005, and in two years we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, ‘Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted?’ I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.
Q: After years of beating up my knees on hard tennis surfaces, I can’t wear high heels for even five minutes without my knees swelling. What caused you to eschew high heels?
A: Several years ago, I had my high heel wake-up call. Wearing a beautiful but ridiculously high pair of heels, I stepped in a subway grate and broke my ankle. Not only was I off heels for a long while, but I was on crutches and, after that, forced to wear the dreaded Broken Ankle Boot. My punishment for wanting to draw attention to my feet was … drawing attention to them while wearing a Frankenstein-worthy boot. My relationship with heels has since changed dramatically; I can’t say that I’ve given them up entirely but I’ve become a passionate missionary for flats.
Q: If I am not oversimplifying your message to say that our lives should be more about our eulogies than our résumés, may I ask you to compose the first three sentences of your eulogy?
A: I think about death and eulogies often. But not my own eulogy. One of the best things about eulogies is that you don’t have to write your own! So I’m off the hook. What matters to me is doing everything I can to give my loved ones plenty of material to work with.
Q: How long does it take you to fall asleep at night?
A: It varies. But after many years of burning the candle at both ends, I now get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Q: Do you regularly ask your employees to tell you how they are reconnecting with themselves and disconnecting from their overly connected lives?
A: We have some ground rules, like we don’t expect HuffPosters to be on e-mail when they’re off work. We make it very clear that if it’s something urgent, we text them, but when they are off work it’s their own time. I think that’s very important for people to know they can disconnect from work.
Q: But don’t you have to look at your phone to see if you got an e-mail or text?
A: Not an e-mail. Nobody is supposed to be on e-mail. And emergencies happen incredibly rarely. I don’t remember the last time we had one. We are a 24/7 media operation, but it’s not the same people who are on 24/7.
Q: If you could add one writer or reporter to your stable, who would it be?
A: You know, I feel very blessed. As well as having 800 writers, reporters and staff, we have tens of thousands of people who write whenever they have something to say. They may put it on their own Facebook wall or a blog, if they have one. It’s not a free-for-all; it has to have a certain quality. That’s one of the things I love the most about the Huffington Post: being a platform as well as a journalistic enterprise. We now have a campaign, for example, #HowIThrive, where people share what they do, tips. It’s like sharing Thriving recipes.
Q: What did you ever do to Craig Brown? Is he not allowed to write for Huffington Post? He is a guy who has been savaging you on the Internet and wrote a parody in Vanity Fair.
A: There you are. I don’t even know about him.
Q: What impact would a Hillary Clinton presidency have on your website?
A: Our website always does well when there’s news. But at the same time we’ve become very good at giving people what they need. That’s why all our content around how to live life with less stress and more fulfillment, even though it’s not based on any news, is some of our most popular, highly trafficked content. It’s something that people want to share with friends and those they love.
Q: How much stress do you think Edward Snowden causes President Obama?
A: Being president is an incredibly stressful job. That’s why I quote in the book, Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, managed to be a Stoic philosopher and unflappable in the middle of enormous stress: The plague, war. I think it’s up to us to see how we respond to adversity and challenges.
Q: Do you consider Edward Snowden a hero or a villain?
A: I’m not quite sure what the interview is about. Are we doing an interview about “Thrive” or … it’s going to be awfully disconnected to go from Edward Snowden to Hillary Clinton. You know what I’m saying? I just think we should keep some … [her assistant said something]
Q: OK, what really scares you? That came up in “Thrive.”
A: Yes, definitely. I have two daughters, whom I adore, and I constantly have to deal with my own fears. My oldest daughter got involved in drugs, and I write in the book about how she overcame it and has now been sober for two-and-a-half years. But I think it’s really important as parents to not to let our fears about our children take over because often they are just negative fantasies about the future instead of reality.
Q: What was the last thing you experienced that gave you wonder?
A: Last night at Dan Buettner’s house overlooking the lake. He had a beautiful book party for “Thrive.” The view was absolutely stunning. As the sunset came it was wonderful to see the colors change and the water change. Often we miss these things or we take them for granted because we are buried in our smartphones or in our thoughts.
Q: When was the last time you saw your face on a Valet sign?
A: A what sign ? No, I didn’t even notice.
Q: Have you ever seen one of my favorite movies “Shirley Valentine”?
A: Yes! [Enthusiastically] I love it, yeah.
Q: I had a friend in Michigan, Lynn Afendoulis, who would come back from visiting relatives in Greece and talk about her relatives who had names like, I don’t know how to spell these folks she called Ooola, Tula, Ossemula. Until then, I did not know that Greeks were as fascinated with weird names as black people.
A: [Near unbridled laughter] Yes, that’s so funny. We have a lot of weird names but they don’t seem weird to us.
Q: Who does the best impersonation of you?
A: Oooh, um Tracey Ullman does a great impersonation. Saturday Night Live does great impersonations. We’ve had competitions at the Huffington Post to see who among HuffPost staff did the best impersonation [she laughed].
Q: Thank you
A: Thank you, so much
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”