Arianna Huffington on Why Women Must Redefine Our Notion of Success
Nothing succeeds like excess, we are told. If a little of something is good, more must be better.
So working eighty hours a week must be better than working forty. And being plugged in 24/7 is assumed to be a standard requirement of every job worth having today – which means that getting by on less sleep and constant multitasking is an express elevator to the top in today’s work world. Right?
The time has come to reexamine these assumptions. When we do, it becomes clear that the prices we are paying for this way of thinking of living is far too high and unsustainable.
The architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair. What we really value is out of sync with how we live our lives. And the need is urgent for some new blueprints to reconcile the two.
In Plato’s Apology, Socrates defines his life’s mission as awakening the Athenians to the supreme importance of attending to their souls. His timeless plea that we connect to ourselves remains the only way for any of us to truly thrive.
Too many of us leave our lives – and, in fact, our souls – behind when we go to work. This is the guiding truth of the Well-Being section and, indeed, of this entire book.
Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave – in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor – was put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men.
But it’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and, really, it’s not working for men, either. If we’re going to redefine what success means, if we are going to include a Third Metric to success, beyond money and power, it’s going to be women who will lead the way – and men, freed of the notion that the only road to success includes taking the Heart Attack Highway to Stress City, will gratefully join both at work and at home.
This is a our third women’s revolution. The first women’s revolution was led by the suffragettes more than a hundred years ago, when courageous women such as Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought to get women the right to vote. The second was led by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who gough – and Gloria continues to fight – to expand the role of women in our society and give them full access to the rooms and corridors of power where decisions are made.
The second revolution is still very much in progress, as it needs to be. But we simply can’t wait any longer for the third revolution to get under way.
That’s because women are paying an even higher price than men for their participation in a work culture fueled by stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout. That is one reason why so many talented women, with impressive degrees working in high-powered jobs, end up abandoning their careers when they can afford to.
Let me count the ways in which these personal costs are unsustainable: women in highly successful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks compared with their less-stressed colleagues, and a 60 percent greater risk for type 2 diabetes (a link that does not exist for men, by the way). Women who have heart attacks are almost twice as likely as men to die within a year of the attack, and women in high-stress jobs are more likely to become alcoholics than women in low-stress jobs. Stress and pressure from high-powered careers can also be a factor in the resurgence of eating disorders in women ages thirty-five to sixty.
Most of the time, the discussion about the challenges of women at the top centers around the difficulty of navigating a career and children – of “having it all.” It’s time we recognize that, as the workplace is currently structured, a lot of women don’t want to get to the top and stay there because they don’t want to pay the price – in terms of their health, their well-being, and their happiness.
When women do leave high-powered jobs, the debate is largely taken over by the binary stay-at-home-mom versus the independent career woman question. But, in fact, when women at the top – or near enough – opt out, it’s not just because of the kids, even though that’s sometimes what takes the place of the job they’ve left. And the full reasons why they’re leaving also have implications for men.
From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Copyright © 2014 by Arianna Huffington. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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