Arianna Huffington: Change How You Define Success!

Arianna Huffington speaking at last year’s C2-MTL Conference We loved this article by Michelle Wright, about the importance of changing our definition of success, a topic which is close to the heart of our Global Editor, Beth.

This week I came across what I think is a quite brilliant address from Arianna Huffington to Smith College graduates.  And Huffington’s main message? That Smith’s female graduates need to ‘change how they define success’.

I found this to be a refreshing change from the grand-standing, chest-beating, sort of speech we have come to expect at graduate addresses. This was a speech that asked graduates to move away from defining success solely by money and power and to include a third metric - namely "well-being, wisdom, an ability to wonder, and to give back." 

Huffington went on to say that:

No-one should ‘buy society’s definition of successbecause it’s not working for's only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress… sleeplessness and high blood pressure.’

Huffington’s speech contrasted vividly with another conversation I had last week with a charity sector leader who outlined that in her journey she had made a choice – that she had prioritized looking after her well-being and that in doing so she knew she wouldn’t ‘change the world’. We then went on to discuss the leaders that we thought had managed both to change the world and to look after themselves – and were pretty stumped – depressing or what?

The questions posed by Huffington are pretty front of mind for me at the moment. In my day to day work as founder of the social business Cause4 I am lucky to work across a variety of charitable causes building charitable, philanthropic and social enterprise programmes of scale. The causes concerned are varied and I get to see social change via a wide range of beneficiaries from young people to homeless people, to ex-offenders to talented musicians and sports people. 

But any start up is hard work, it hoovers up energy and four years into managing the business I wonder how I (and the leaders of the causes that I support) can really ‘change their bit of the world’ and still have the ability to grow personally, establish new ideas and prioritize good well-being. In my work with Chief Executives of charities, too often it does seem to be a choice where prioritizing well-being has led to disappointing under-ambition, or prioritizing ambition leads to burnout, stress and apathy. However, this perception in itself suggests that we need to redefine success.

I took five ideas out of Huffington’s address: 

  1. New models of success - As mentors and coaches and educators – we should be defining and co-creating new models of success – who are the role models and the leaders that have successfully modeled the third dimension?
  2. Values – What are your values and how do you stay close to them? Making decisions based on personal values is about all we have, they are a grounded place from which to experience both success and to measure failure.
  3. Focus – Where should we put our energy and what should we leave behind? Resisting the temptation to diversify before you or the business is ready is a crucial discipline. 
  4. Time - A growing business eats time until you feel that you have no time left for anything and anyone. Defining the art of the possible in relation to time therefore becomes vital.
  5. Protect your own human capital – as Huffington says, take care of you, lest you become bankrupt. At its heart this should include empathy, compassion, and the willingness to give back.

Reading Huffington’s speech has made me realize how conflicted I am in understanding my own definition of success. However, I think her stance is pretty courageous and quite inspirational.

It really must be possible to be able to ‘change the world’ and ‘find your own place to stand’.

To read our Editor Beth’s article on the same topic, please click here.

Michelle Wright trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and played the violin professionally. A chartered marketer, manager and fundraiser, Michelle founded award winning third sector organisational development and fundraising enterprise Cause4 in 2009 after leaving the London Symphony Orchestra, where her achievements in private sector fundraising led to her being judged the Best Upcoming Fundraiser at the National Fundraising Awards in 2008. Michelle was the winner of the female entrepreneur category in the Natwest Startup awards 2011 and is a top 10 winner in the Ernst and Young Future 100 awards 2011 for entrepreneurs under 35 that demonstrate innovation in progressing a responsible business venture. She is a silver award winner in the 2012 international Stevie Awards for female innovator of the year and was invited in 2013 to become an Accelerate 250 member in recognition of the UK's top growing businesses. Michelle is a mentor for emerging entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs for the Aspire Foundation, Cranfield Accelerator Network, Emerge Venture Labs and the Mastermind Network.

Image courtesy of C2-MTL

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