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Why Arianna Huffington Says Burnout Shouldn't Be the Price of Startup Success

A few years ago, Arianna Huffington passed out from exhaustion while talking on the telephone and answering emails. The Huffington Post founder awoke in a pool of blood with a cut over her eye and a broken cheekbone. 

Inspired by this wake-up call, Arianna went on to write “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution.” She also founded Thrive Global to give people science-based tools to achieve these goals. By focusing on small, manageable actions like one-minute meditations, Thrive works with companies to improve their employees’ mental well-being, physical health, and productivity.

I recently sat down with Arianna to get her latest thoughts on why more people need to rest and recharge:

Why is resilience the key to thriving for entrepreneurs?

In times of deep uncertainty, anxiety, and huge losses—losses of life, of friends, of finances—how resilient we are determines how we respond. People respond very differently. Some people completely crashed, and some people were able to build their resilience muscles to the point where they come out of a crisis like the pandemic, and they're stronger and better than they were before. 

So that's why resilience is so key. We break down the journey toward resilience in what we call microsteps. Microsteps—incremental steps that are too small to fail—are daily changes that lead to big outcomes. And in our app, we have these four journeys:

  • Recharge: Sleep is foundational. Within the recharge journey is probably my favorite feature called reset, which is based on the latest neuroscience that shows that it takes only 60 seconds to course-correct from stress. 
  • Food: This is about trying to avoid sugar and processed foods.
  • Movement: How much are we moving every day? Even it's little breaks between Zoom.
  • Connect: This is how much we connect with others and how we express our frustrations as well as our gratitude.
“The truth is that stress is unavoidable, but cumulative stress is avoidable. It’s cumulative stress that’s the killer. It leads to the skyrocketing rates of diseases like diabetes and hypertension.”

How does Thrive Global help individuals and business?

I'm personally passionate about addressing all the (physical) health problems as well as the anxiety and depression that are very rampant among people who don't have the luxury of being able to work from home.

We've had amazing results. Literally, people through these microsteps are making better choices and are able to lose large amounts of weight and reverse diabetes, get off the hypertension medication, save money, or get closer to their families.

Why should companies want their employees to be well-rested?

What has been really important is to redefine the wellness category to be very data and science-based and move it out of the category of being warm and fuzzy. At the heart of the [Thrive] platform is that when we are recharged, we’re much more productive.

Why don’t more people prioritize rest?

We’re working to change the culture of companies and society at large, because we are all facing this delusion that burnout is the price you must pay for success. The last two books I wrote on the subject, “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution,” tracked it back to the first Industrial Revolution when we started revering machines and after machines, software. And the truth is that while 99.99% uptime is great for software, it's not great for the human operating system. Downtime is a feature—not a bug—for us.

Any advice for your younger self?

I would tell my younger self stop worrying and then recognize that life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. You know, those of us who are kind of Type A, driven, sometimes we make the mistake of trying to make everything happen. 

But when we look back on our lives, we see that a lot of the best things that happened, we didn't make happen. We were just open to the possibilities presented to us. And a lot of the worst things that happened opened doors to new, unexpected opportunities. 

It's basically back to my favorite quote by Rumi, which is: “Live life as though everything is rigged in your favor.”

Get more perspectives on the business and principles of wellness from Suze Orman, LL Cool J, Adam Grant, and other leaders at M13’s Future Perfect virtual event

You can also learn more about Thrive Global, a M13 portfolio company.

If you’re interested in receiving guides and other helpful resources to build your startup, please subscribe to M13’s newsletter.


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