Beyond Money and Power (and Stress and Burnout): In Search of a New Definition of Success

What we need is a more humane and more sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. And women will have to lead the way.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Founder Arianna Huffington delivers a speech during a press conference in Tokyo on May 7, 2013. US news website and aggregator The Huffington Post launched a Japanese edition on May 7, the company's first site in Asia, hoping to shake up the media landscape and generate discussion with readers. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
Founder Arianna Huffington delivers a speech during a press conference in Tokyo on May 7, 2013. US news website and aggregator The Huffington Post launched a Japanese edition on May 7, the company's first site in Asia, hoping to shake up the media landscape and generate discussion with readers. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

I'm happy to announce that next week, on June 6th, Mika Brzezinski and I will be co-hosting the Huffington Post's first-ever women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power." As the title makes clear, the purpose is to discuss ways to come up with a new definition of what it means to be successful. Right now, the two metrics of success that drive the American workplace are money and power, but by themselves, they make a two-legged stool -- fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you're headed for a fall. And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more "successful" people are falling. So what we need is a more humane and sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success? That's what we'll be discussing.

The conference is fully booked, but we would love you to be part of the larger conversation, which has already started on the new section we launched on HuffPost, The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power. In the days leading up to the conference this week and next, and long after it ends, we'll be featuring blog posts on anything and everything related to the topic, and starting conversations around them. Please join the conversation by sending a post to me, by leaving a comment on this post or by tweeting using the hashtag #thirdmetric. We'll also be posting videos from the event and sharing bits of wisdom throughout the day.

The participants include Valerie Jarrett, Jill Abramson, Cindi Leive, Katie Couric, Sen. (and former single mom) Claire McCaskill, Lesley Stahl, Ali Wentworth, Erica Hill, Susie Essman, Joanna Coles, Candice Bergen, writer Rebecca Miller, neuroscientist Amishi Jha, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior, and human rights activist Clemantine Wamariya.

We'll be discussing Leadership and Wisdom, Leaning In/Leaning Back, Managing a Frenetic Life, Wellness and the Bottom Line, Taking Care of Our Human Capital, The Connection Between Giving Back and Well-Being, among other things. There will also be a panel by and for millennials, as well as a panel we are calling "Do Men Get It?" Among these men will be George Stephanopoulos, Rep. Tim Ryan, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, Joe Scarborough and Adrian Grenier.

The current definition of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave, and in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor, was created by men. It's a model of success that's not working for women, and it's not working for men either. And women will have to lead the way to redefining success to include the Third Metric.

Valerie Jarrett, who will be speaking at the conference, is chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as one of the president's closest advisors. As she wrote in 2010, "In the last generation, we broke down barriers so that more women could enter the workforce," but now "women and men are facing demands from work, education demands, child care and elderly parent care demands, and retirement demands."

And so, she concludes:

We need a 21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce. This is important not only for employees, but also for employers -- because the companies that provide flexible workplaces that address the needs of this changing workforce are the companies that will stay productive, competitive and profitable in the 21st century.

The question is how to create that flexibility both in the workplace and in the way we approach our careers and our personal lives. And it's a question that's even more pressing for women who, even as they assume more and more leadership positions -- or especially as they do -- are confronted with this challenge.

Here is another participant, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive, on how to "have it all":

I hate the phrase "having it all" -- no one has it all, and trying to is the surest way to make yourself feel like a failure. I try to think of it as "having what matters." What matters to me right now are my family and my work. I don't throw huge dinner parties or even go to many, and every plant in my house for the last decade has died. Maybe it'll be different when my kids are older, but keeping focused on the two things I care about helps me not beat myself up for the 17 things I'm not doing at any given moment.

Padmasree Warrior, who will be speaking on the panel Leadership and Wisdom together with Valerie Jarrett and Sen. Claire McCaskill, grew up in a small town in India, and, as well as being at the top of a very male-dominated industry, loves to paint and do haikus and makes a point of getting seven hours of sleep a night. As she put it recently, women have to give up on the idea of balance:

The important thing to remember is it's not about balance; it's about integration... the important thing that I would like to add to the conversation is to really focus on making sure you're integrating all four aspects of your work, your family, your community and the yourself. And it's not about trying to spend equal amounts of time on everything you do each day on each of these things, but making sure you're paying attention to all the things that make it up as a whole human being.

One of the keys to changing our definition of success -- and making sure our workplaces reflect that new definition -- is getting our business leaders and shareholders to realize that what's good for employees is also good for the bottom line. Stress costs U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion annually, according to the World Health Organization. And sleep deprivation adds another $63 billion a year in lost productivity. In the last 30 years, self-reported stress has gone up 25 percent for men and 18 percent for women.

We now have nearly 70 million Americans with high blood pressure, which triples your chances of heart disease. Even though this is incredibly costly to employers -- one study estimates that businesses spend 200 to 300 percent more on indirect health care costs in the form of sick days and lower productivity, than they do on direct health care payments -- the current system is set up to encourage this kind of literal self-destruction.

One recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at policies in 16 European countries, along with New Zealand, Japan, Canada and Australia, and found that the U.S. was the only one of the 21 countries to lack any kind of mandate for vacation time. Around one-quarter of all American workers have no paid vacation time at all.

"The lack of attention to employee needs helps explain why the United States spends more on health care than other countries but gets worse outcomes," says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "We have no mandatory vacation or sick day requirements, and we do have chronic layoffs, overwork, and stress. Working in many organizations is simply hazardous to your health." And not just the health of the employees. "I hope businesses will wake up to the fact that if they don't do well by their employees, chances are they're not doing well, period," Pfeffer adds.

Penny George, who will be speaking on the Leadership and Wisdom panel, is trying to change this, by changing our entire approach to health care. A breast cancer survivor herself, she's experienced firsthand the power and efficacy of traditional medicine. But in the course of beating cancer, she discovered that it wasn't enough. So she co-founded The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the country's largest hospital-based integrative medicine program. "Integrative Medicine is the healthcare approach that sees people as inextricably connected in body, mind and spirit," she wrote recently on HuffPost. "It combines the best treatment options from conventional Western medicine with those from other healing traditions, with a preference for the least toxic interventions whenever possible." And the implications are huge: "It is clear that as a nation, we can no longer afford to wait for people to get sick to address known conditions that lead to illness," she writes. "The status quo is not sustainable, no matter how much we increase efficiency and eliminate waste."

Not being in a half-panicked, half-crazed, fight-or-flight state at work is seen in some places as shirking your duties or not being fully committed. When calling friends or co-workers, or even spouses, we're obliged to give a throat-clearing boilerplate apology: "Hey, I know you're busy, but I just had a quick question..." Yes, God forbid we waste a friend or loved one's precious work time with some actual human interaction. It's tolerated -- barely -- but only if the question is Very Very Important. And Quick. Then we can get back to the 72 things we each have to do before we wolf down lunch at our desks (as one-third of us do).

But humans aren't meant to be in permanent fight-or-flight mode any more than gazelles are. That's why, unlike humans, gazelles only run when they absolutely have to. And when they don't have to, they stop. Otherwise, at some point, they'd just keel over.

Mark Williams is a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, and his book, Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, will be given out to all the conference participants. Here's how he describes what's going on in our over-amped bodies:

...what we know from neuroscience, from looking at the brain scans of people that are always rushing around, who never taste their food, who are always going from one task to another without actually realizing what they're doing, is that the emotional part of the brain that drives people is on sort of high alert all the time... When people think that 'I'm rushing around to get things done,' it's almost like, biologically, they're rushing around just as if they were, you know, escaping from a predator. That's the part of the brain that's active. But nobody can run fast enough to escape their own worries.

Of course, fight-or-flight mode is good for some things, but decision-making is not among them -- especially for important, long-term decisions. "Psychological stress creates a sense of immediacy that inhibits consideration of options with distant payoffs," says Michael Mauboussin, a Columbia Business School professor and author of Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition. "The stress response, so effective for dealing with here-and-now risks, co-opts the decision-making apparatus and compels poor decisions."

And poor health. As the Mayo Clinic put it:

The long-term activation of the stress-response system -- and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones -- can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity... [and] memory impairment.

Tony Schwartz, the founder and CEO of The Energy Project and author of Be Excellent At Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live, will be speaking on the Leadership and Wisdom panel. He's written extensively on the fact that when we allow ourselves to recharge, we're not just healthier human beings, we're also much better at our work. "A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research," he writes, "shows that strategic renewal -- including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations -- boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health."

Schwartz cites a study that found for each additional 10 hours of vacation, an employee's performance rating went up by nearly 10 percent. And yet, as of last year, Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days on the conference room table -- up from 6.2 the previous year. And even when we take a vacation, most of us work through much of it.

Fortunately, an increasing number of companies understand the less-stress-more-productivity equation. One of those is Whole Foods, whose CEO John Mackey will be speaking on the theme of Leadership and Wisdom. Along with Raj Sisodia, he's the author of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

What is conscious capitalism? What Mackey is urging isn't about CEOs making a choice between doing good and doing well. It's about having a better bottom line and a higher purpose at the same time. As Steve Denning put it in his review of the book:

In addition to creating social, cultural, intellectual, physical, ecological, emotional, and spiritual value for all stakeholders, conscious businesses excel at delivering exceptional financial performance over the long term. For example, a representative sample of conscious firms outperformed the overall stock market by a ratio of 10.5: 1 over a fifteen-year period, delivering more than 1,600 percent total returns when the market was up just over 150 percent for the same period.

Or, as Mackey and Sisodia put it: "Conscious businesses win, but they do so in a way that is far richer and more multifaceted than the traditional definition of winning."

More and more businesses recognize that the traditional definition is no longer working, even for the "winners." As a result, a quarter of large American employers have introduced some sort of stress management program. At one of those, General Mills, over 80 percent of executives who attended a seven-week meditation course reported that they felt an increased ability to make better decisions.

George Stephanopoulos, who is speaking on our Managing a Frenetic Life panel, is himself a convert to the benefits of meditation, which he does for 20 minutes after he wakes up (which takes place around 2:30 a.m.) He recently interviewed another meditation practitioner, Jerry Seinfeld, along with Bob Roth, head of the David Lynch Foundation:

Stephanopoulos: We're all here because we have something in common. We all practice Transcendental Meditation.

Seinfeld: I've been doing it for 40 years... You know how I was describing it? You know how your phone has a charger? It's like if you had a charger for your whole body and mind. That's what TM is.

Stephanopoulos: You [Roth] said something very important to me when we first started. It was one of the questions I had. You said, 'this is not a religion, it's a technique.' It's compatible with all kinds of religions. What it really does is try to get the stress out of our life, and now scientists are finding real health benefits.

Roth: The whole idea is that we have very active, noisy levels of the mind... but every human being has, deep within, a settled, calm, silent level of their mind. And this transcendental meditation is just an effortless way to have the active, excited mind settle down, experience that inner calm. At the same time the body gains a very deep state of rest. That rest eliminates stress, you have more energy, wakes up the brain, and you guys can do your jobs.

And not only can we do our jobs better, we allow back into our lives one of the most important elements of being human: the ability to wonder.

The problem is that as long as success is defined by just money and power, we are never going to be able to enjoy this crucial aspect of the Third Metric. Though I have to make a deliberate effort to create the space in my life for wonder, I was blessed with a mother for whom it came naturally. She was in a constant, near eternal state of wonder. My mother moved through her life the way a child does. Whether it was washing the laundry or shopping at a farmers market, she was exquisitely attuned to the moment. She managed to live her entire life in the moment. It's not something we can all do naturally, but it's something we can cultivate.

At Smith College earlier this month, where I gave the commencement address, Dean of Religious Life Jennifer Walters said something that has stuck with me. "Every moment," she said, "is a doorway to the sacred."

And yet how many of those doorways do we decline to walk through because we're too busy pursuing the conventional, destructive and unsustainable definition of success? It's bad for people and it's bad for businesses -- it's bad for women and it's bad for men. Yes, more and more people are coming to understand this, but until burning the candle at both ends not only ceases to be rewarded but becomes considered the destructive behavior that it is, millions and millions of Americans will continue to pay a heavy price. So let's go beyond money and power and add a third metric. How would you define the Third Metric? What steps have you taken to add elements of it to your life, or to see that it's rewarded in your own workplace? Please join the conversation around the Third Metric -- by sending us your blog post, photographs, video, or simply by posting a comment -- and help redefine success for women and for men, so that we can live the lives we want, not the lives we settle for.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.

This story appears in the Issue 51 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, May 31.

Popular in the Community