The idea that working less could actually advance our careers is gaining traction. In her recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, The Huffington Post President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington, describes a definition of success that goes beyond money and power to include a "Third Metric" that embraces self-nurturing, connectedness and attention to the elements of our lives we most value. The book points out the importance of sleeping more, setting technology limits and taking time to step back and reflect. These things don't just make people happier, they are associated with longer, more fulfilling careers and more profitable companies.
In a conversation at Yale Law School this Monday styled, "Strive Meets Thrive," Huffington and author-professor Amy Chua negotiated a vision of life that included both traditional success and personal flourishing. The discussion was, unsurprisingly, met with considerable skepticism. One of the 70-odd law students crowded into the faculty lounge asked Huffington whether the Third Metric was something reserved for those who had already achieved a strong measure of traditional success. She said it was not. Another asked whether she believed she would have achieved all that she has if she had slept more and worked less in her younger years. She countered that she may have achieved more. An attendee later remarked in a Facebook post that based on the feverish pace of Huffington's support staff, "the ideas that sell books aren't the same ones that run companies." The post generated close to 100 "likes" and a score of (humorous) assenting comments.
These reactions are not unique. There is a sense of fierce competition in the current market, and an antiquated cultural ethos suggests true success is reserved for those willing to sacrifice the most. Furthermore, there is a fear that young pioneers of a Third Metric approach will be penalized in the workplace. One "Strive Meets Thrive" attendee described it as a prisoner's dilemma: If we all agree to take Sundays off and not check our email after 8 p.m., the promotion will go to whomever cheats. This might be true if the only difference between two employees is a willingness to stay plugged in 24/7. But this is flawed logic; regularly unplugging to get a restful night's sleep is correlated with improved decision-making, better focus and higher quality work product. Over time, the employee respecting the limits will likely outshine her always-on-call counterpart.
Huffington was inspired to refocus her success after a 2007 wake-up call. I had my own red flag moment relatively early in life. Like so many neurotic, upper-middle-class white girls from the suburbs, I developed a forceful eating disorder in college. In less than a year, and without ever actually being overweight, I lost more than 40 pounds. I compulsively weighed, counted and measured myself while multitasking by spending several hours per day reading for class on the treadmill. This was, of course, on top of the usual health compromises made by American college students. One morning, I stood up from bed and immediately collapsed. Diagnoses of heart palpitations, iron deficiency, muscle loss and an observation of lanugo (which persists to this day) finally compelled me to reexamine my life. Studying, drinking and hating my body wasn't enough. Through an arduous, year-long recovery process, I discovered my own balance. By my senior year I was spending less time reading and studying, yet performing better than ever in my classes. I was extremely fortunate to learn this lesson early in life.
Being a top performer without sacrificing wellness requires discipline. After a long day of work, it's hard to go straight to bed without taking time to unwind. But journaling or meditating for 30 minutes before going to sleep at a reasonable hour will make for a better next day than binge watching House of Cards. Even staying up to work more hampers efficiency, emotional intelligence and constructive thinking skills. There is a lingering and mistaken acceptance that tough choices must be made between success and happiness. Yet the science is here, and the revolution of well-being is already underway. Leaders across the world in the public and private sector alike are implementing email limits, reducing hours and promoting employee health. We as individuals can invest in our careers by investing in ourselves. By identifying and prioritizing the things that keep us healthy, grounded and fulfilled we ensure consistent, long-term achievement and a life of success.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.