In 2007, Arianna Huffington had a painful wake-up call. She lay in a pool of blood, her eye cut and her cheekbone cracked after hitting her desk. She'd collapsed from exhaustion. Gracing the cover of Time magazine two years after launching The Huffington Post undoubtedly made her a success, but at what cost? She realized to be truly successful you also need these key aspects in life: well-being, wisdom and wonder... and sleep, most importantly sleep.
Arianna joked during her presentation at Neuehouse in Manhattan; an evening dedicated to discussing her new book Thrive:
I recently went to dinner with a gentleman who boasted only having had four hours sleep the night before. I couldn't help but think how much more interesting the dinner would have been if he'd had five.
As a mother of an 8-month-old, I'd give my right arm for a night of uninterrupted sleep, but would I give up my iPhone? I'm guilty of reaching for it in the small hours to check emails and have a quick snoop on Facebook. Arianna advocates charging your phone in another room while you get the recharging and device-detoxing you so desperately need. We're trained to believe that success means sacrifice. She thinks that working around the clock in the future will seem barbaric.
Arianna is truly inspiring, not least as the co-founder, President and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post and author of 13 books prior to Thrive; she has a humorous, down-to-earth way about her that makes her extraordinary level of achievement seem accessible. Much of what she says has people around the room nodding in agreement, myself included.
Like Arianna, I had a wake-up call. Mine came at the age of 35. I didn't physically injure myself, but I was definitely on a self-destructive path. I spent my 20s living in London working for the BBC, a job which led me into journalism and presenting the nightly Entertainment News on BBC Radio. As 30 approached, I decided I wanted to radically change my life and prove that I could start over somewhere new. So I moved to the other side of the planet: Sydney, Australia. And for a while, life in the sun was good. I continued to work in radio as an executive producer, I made a lot of new friends and I felt like I'd extended my 20s. But my relationships were a bust and my career wasn't inspiring me. The unwelcoming sensation of treading water slowly started to feel like drowning.
I was living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I couldn't shake off the creeping dread that the best was behind me. I was haunted by thoughts that my career highs had all already happened. And that one too many poor decisions in my personal life had left me damaged goods. Alcoholics call it "hitting their bottom." In my mid-30s, feeling I had nothing in life to look forward to, was unequivocally my own.
I decided that drastic action was needed if I was to clamber out of this well of self-loathing. I had to lose my ego, my negative preconceptions and stop blaming external situations for the trajectory my life had taken. Drinking had become a crutch, a shortcut to quelling these negative thoughts, only for them to come back with a vengeance once the hangover kicked in. I quit for three months to see what clarity would come.
I exercised more. It's a well documented fact that exercise releases endorphins which help us deal with stress. I developed new vigor for my yoga practice and took Pilates-reformer classes. I was going at least three or four times a week before work and on weekends. I became energized, and I started seeing results, which was encouraging.
I did a meditation course at the Sydney Meditation Center. Like most of us, I'd always believed that my brain was far too cluttered for me to be any good at meditation, but yoga had been my first step towards it and I wanted to give it a try. A British Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Naljor said that the happiness associated with a better job, car or boyfriend is so fleeting we're quickly looking for the next job, car or boyfriend. True happiness only comes from inner peace. It sounded so obvious but in that moment it made total sense. I began listening to 10 minute guided meditations on a daily basis.
I started reading books like The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I was never one for self-help books but these two books resonated and helped me to remain mindful of what's important. It boils down to this simple question; "Will this pursuit ultimately make me happy?"
I even tried hypnotherapy in an attempt to curb my self-destructive impulses. I imagined a "Three, two, one, you're under -- don't drink as much -- and you're back in the room" scenario but what transpired was startling. It was more past-life therapy, which I wasn't at all prepared for. I was told I was an emperor's daughter who had been forced to marry a man I didn't love and have children at a young age, leaving me with a fear of being trapped. "Hilarious," I thought, "You're always a 'somebody' in a past life. You're never just a maid." She also identified the fact my mother had miscarried before me and that I had incarnated thinking I would be the second child, not firstborn. For that reason I'd always struggled with leading or following. I walked away thinking that the whole experience was bizarre and too out there. Strangely, after a few days passed, I began to draw correlations between some of the subjects we'd discussed and my present-day situation.
Over that six month period in 2010, I also started seeing a therapist. In major cities in America, seeing a therapist is as common place as having milk on your cereal, but as a Brit, again, I had my reservations. Fortunately, Lynn was a delightful woman with a wicked sense of humor. I actually looked forward to our catch ups and within weeks of speaking to her I felt my outlook start to change. One breakthrough I had was that if I was to ever meet someone who didn't party, I would need to stop partying myself. I returned to drinking but never to the same extent as before.
My mother, a Sikh, has always said: "You must love yourself before anyone else can. Not with ego, but with acceptance." With that finally making sense, and remembering my genetic predisposition to my father's dry wit, I was feeling better about myself than I had in a long time.
Finally, I started making serious plans to move to New York and worked on gathering the evidence needed to prove I was an alien of extraordinary ability.
A few months later, I booked a flight to New York to meet up with my immigration lawyer, to ensure all was heading in the right direction. En route, I stopped off in San Francisco to meet my friend, Victoria, a music photographer. She suggested a road trip to the Palm Springs music festival, Coachella, before I flew on to New York. Victoria and I had met there in 2004 so it seemed serendipitous to return. And that's where I met a musician called Darren, purely by chance, under the warm desert night sky. Coincidentally, he was living in New York, where he'd been for 20 years. He's from Ballymena, Northern Ireland originally, and coincidentally, that's where my father was born and my grandmother was from. We discovered that, coincidentally, both his parents and mine had places in Spain, relatively close to one another. Darren offered to get me a drink, even though he didn't drink himself. We chatted through the night and met up once I got to New York. All in all, we spent 24 hours in each other's company. After I met with my lawyer I flew back to Sydney with no date in mind of when I would make my New York dreams a reality.
Darren and I kept in touch every day over the next 3 months until I left Sydney, my home of six years. We met in Spain that summer and our fate was sealed. Just over a year later, we married in New York and almost a year after that I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Delphine.
On a professional level, things are equally taking off. I wanted to move to New York to increase opportunities and diversify in my career. It's happening. Of course, there's still a long way to go, but if Arianna, one of Forbes' most influential women in media, at 63 still considers herself a work-in-progress, I'm more than happy to consider myself the same.
I never thought life would get more exciting after the age of 35. But at 36, I met the love of my life. At 37, I moved to New York. At 38, I got married, and at 39, I became a mother. Mentally and geographically, I've never been in a better place and I attribute this to that period of time in Sydney spent working on myself and learning what it takes to thrive. With only a few months until I hit 40, I'm looking forward to what this new decade has to offer. And that's not a feeling I ever anticipated having as I reached this milestone.