Sometimes in life you get a wee boost of something that inspires. When a copy of Arianna Huffington’s book – Thrive, dropped on to my mat a couple of Saturdays ago, courtesy of Random House Group (humble thanks to Neil Morrison (@neilmorrison on Twitter) – I suspect you know what you were doing… damn you!) – I was making a cuppa and had about half an hour to spare…. I started flicking through the book and ended up tucked up reading for over an hour (apologies to my mate Liz – I was late for good reason, honest!)
The basic premise is this: we are mostly operating in a world where success is defined through money and status. This brings about emptiness, stress and burnout. It means we are encouraged to spend our lives striving for money or getting one over on others. We end up divided and filled with compromise as work & life are seen as binary and non-inclusive…..In this particular reality – we battle ourselves and each other. Not. Too. Smart.
Huffington’s solution is to offer a third metric – a way to measure success in terms of your Wellbeing, your Wisdom, your ability to Wonder and if this can be underpinned by generosity and giving? Well, then we start occupying a less selfish state of being. She is not saying you don’t need money or don’t pursue status – what she seems to be saying is those things alone might make you wealthy, but not healthy or wise.
Let’s be clear about this: I’m not overly fond of her politics and I may still hold a question mark over her early position on the feminist movement (she wasn’t a huge fan), so I watch her with suspicion. Nevertheless, something happened to me when I read Arianna Huffington’s words about what it is to be a person, a successful thriving human being, in the modern world and the organisations we construct around us…..
Guess what? It spoke to me.
Yes. I mentally argued with her. My inner teenager pulled the whole “well, it’s alright for you, love, with your millions, your uber-successful business & your contacts. On you go with the mindfulness and the “Slow down. Switch off your technology. Sleep.” message… if I had your pension, I’d be feeling easier.”
“Oh. And BTW Mrs Huffington Post – the irony of you, online 24 hour news content woman, telling me to switch off my tech is not lost. I see you, Lady. It’s not that simple.”
And yet.. oh and yet.. when I read a similar line in the Evening Standard on a train to Brighton last week, I found myself mentally defending what she had written. …
because the core of the book is something important: a call to ourselves. A call to pay attention to all that is to be nurtured, prized and regarded in our lives and our actions. It is an invitation to discuss the maddening things we do to ourselves and each other in organisations when we forget that people are people – uniquely built, beautifully flawed, trying really really hard to get stuff done and do stuff right and fight for their families and way of living.
Yes – Huffington pulls in tales from the great and the good – captains of industry, editors of global magazines, the occasional superstar – but those are her circles. She moves thus.
The point, if you get underneath the shiny stuff, is not only that we need a different discourse in organisations and our lives (one that includes looking after ourselves, being good to those around us, recognising when we need to rest, to eat, to exercise, to be with people who we love and who cherish us) but that this discourse is actually happening.
Example after example – Mindfulness in this organisation, making this % difference to the Healthcare costs. Improve working environments – this leads to reduced stress and fewer mental health issues in for workforce. The benefits of upping your Oxytocin ( the love hormone) over flooding your body with cortisol ( hello stress hormone).
Underneath the shiny? I’d say she has Backed. It. Up.
At times, I felt the irritation of being in the realms of “statements of the bleeding obvious” – until I reminded myself that, obvious or not, we don’t actually pay attention and do this stuff often enough – and Yes, HR & OD people – I’m looking firmly at you in all of this.. we are in prime position to sort benefits, wellbeing methodologies and tub thump for the good of the folk we are meant to be cheering for. I’ve grown tired of seeing knackered, burnt out, change weary people who commute forever and live in a state of constant guilt about their kids, their health, their lives. We KNOW this. We KNOW how to look after ourselves and each other. How about we try? How about we set the permission to work flexibly, for sleep to be vital and for thinking time to be as essential as doing time? OK.. I’ll get off my soapbox.. but this is partly what reading it did to me.
It’s not the best book I have ever read… it sure as hell isn’t the worst and in a world of sodding “Thought Leaders” espousing threories about single topics, I’ll take this whole-person, mind/body/spirit approach every single time.
I recognise a call to resource ourselves. In a rapidly changing, hi tech “WTF is going on NOW?” world, something in here speaks to the heart of who we are – wide-eyed children, filled with potential for wisdom, wonder and generosity who need to be nurtured, cherished and challenged.
Read the book. Let it annoy you or inspire you, but read it.
Then read around it – look at the stuff you dismiss and see if you truly disagree. And try some stuff – breathing, stretching, sleeping with a little less guilt…see where that takes you.
Because in the realm of big-brained single themed “This Is How You Do It” thought leadership – I suspect Ms Huffington has touched on just the sort of complex, whole-system thinking we might actually need.