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  • Writer's pictureSara Morgan-Beckett

Arianna Huffington; Her Wake Up call and Mine

In 2007, Arianna Huffington had a painful wake up call; she lay in a pool of blood, her eye cut and her cheekbone cracked after hitting her desk. She’d collapsed from exhaustion. Gracing the cover of Time Magazine two years after launching The Huffington Post undoubtedly made her a success, but at what cost? Working 18 hours a day was running her into the ground and jeopardising her health. She realised to be truly successful you also need these key aspects in life; well-being, wisdom and wonder. And sleep. Most importantly sleep.

“I recently went to dinner with a gentleman who boasted only having had four hours sleep the night before. I couldn’t help but think how much more interesting the dinner would have been if he’d had five,” Arianna joked last night, during her presentation at Neuehouse in Manhattan; an evening dedicated to discussing her new book Thrive.

As a mother of an 8 month old, I’d give my right arm for a night of uninterrupted sleep, but would I give up my iphone? I’m guilty of reaching for it when I’m awoken in the small hours to check emails and have a quick snoop on Facebook. Arianna advocates charging your phone in another room while you get the recharging and device detoxing you so desperately need. We’re all trained to believe that success means sacrifice. She thinks that working around the clock in the future, far from lauded, will seem barbaric.

Arianna is truly inspiring, not least as the Co-Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, and author of 13 books prior to Thrive; she has a sharp sense of humour and a down-to-earth way about her that makes her extraordinary level of achievement seem accessible. Much of what she says has people around the room nodding in agreement. I find myself doing the same. I completely relate to her story of moving to New York from London aged 30 and starting a family here in her late 30s.

Like Arianna, I had a wake up call. Mine came at the age of 35. I didn’t physical injure myself, but I was definitely on a self-destructive path. I’d spent my 20s living in London working for the BBC, a job which led me into journalism and presenting the nightly Entertainment News on BBC Radio 1. As 30 approached I decided I wanted to radically change my life and prove that I could start over somewhere new. So I moved to the other side of the planet; Sydney, Australia. And for a while, life in the sun was good; I continued to work in Radio as an Executive Producer, I’d made a whole lot of new friends and I felt like I’d extended my 20s. But my relationships were a bust and my career wasn’t as inspiring as I wanted it to be. The unwelcome sensation of treading water slowly started to feel like drowning.

I was living in one of the most beautiful places in the world but I couldn’t shake off the creeping dread that the best was behind me. I was haunted by thoughts that my career highs had all already happened. And that one too many poor decisions in my personal life had left me damaged goods. Alcoholics call it ‘hitting their bottom’. In my mid 30s, feeling I had nothing in life to look forward to, this was unequivocally mine.

I decided that drastic action was needed if I was to clamber out of this well of self-loathing. I had to lose my ego, my negative preconceptions and stop blaming outside situations for the trajectory my life had taken. Drinking had become a crutch, a shortcut to quelling these negative thoughts, only for them to come back with a vengeance once the hangover kicked in. I quit for 3 months to see what clarity would come.

I exercised more. It’s a well documented fact that exercise releases endorphins which help us deal with stress. I developed new vigor for my yoga practice and took pilates reformer classes. I was going at least three or four times a week before work and at weekends. I became energised and started to see results which was encouraging.

I did a meditation course at the Sydney Meditation Center. Like most of us, I’d always lived under the apprehension that my brain was far too cluttered for me to be any good at meditation, but yoga had been my first step towards it and I wanted to give it a try. On the course, a British Buddhist Nun called Gen Kelsang Naljor, told us that as much as we think the better job, car or boyfriend will make us happy, that kind of happiness so fleeting we’re quickly looking for the next job, car or boyfriend. True happiness only comes from inner peace. It sounded obvious but at that moment it made total sense. I began listening to ten minute guided meditations on a daily basis.

I started reading books like The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I was never one for self-help books but these two books resonated and helped me to remain mindful of what’s important. It boils down to this simple question; "Will this pursuit ultimately make me happy?"

Kinesiology is the physiological and psychological study of human movement. A friend enrolled in a course and I became her guinea pig. We’d meet on a weekly basis, talk through issues and see how my body responded. I was cynical but, over time, the accuracy of the readings won me over.

I even tried hypnotherapy in an attempt to curb my self-destructive impulses. I imagined a “Three, two, one, you’re under - don’t drink as much - and you’re back in the room” scenario but what transpired was startling. It was more past life therapy which I wasn’t at all prepared for. During the session I was told I was an Emperor's daughter who had been forced to marry a man I didn’t love and have children at a young age. This had left me with a fear of being trapped. Hilarious, I thought,you always have to be a somebody in a past life. You’re never just a maid. She also identified the fact my mother had miscarried before me and that I had incarnated thinking I would be the second child, not the firstborn. For that reason I’d always struggled with leading or following. I walked away thinking that the whole experience was bizarre and too out there. Strangely, after a few days had passed, I began to draw correlations between some of the subjects we’d discussed and my present day situation.

Over that six month period in 2010, I also started seeing a therapist. In major cities in America, seeing a therapist is as common place as having milk on your cereal, but as a Brit, again I had my reservations. Fortunately, Lynn was a delightful woman with a wicked sense of humour. Once the stigma of seeing a therapist evaporated in my mind, I actually looked forward to our catch ups and within weeks of speaking to her I felt my outlook start to change. One breakthrough I had was that if I was to ever meet someone who didn’t party, I would need to stop partying myself. I returned to drinking but never to the same extent as before.

My mother, a Sikh, has always said, "You must love yourself before anyone else can. Not with ego, but with acceptance." WIth that finally making sense, and remembering my genetic predisposition to my father's dry wit, I was feeling better about myself than I had in a long time.

Finally, I started making serious plans to move to New York and worked on gathering the evidence needed to prove I was an alien of extraordinary ability.

A few months later I booked a flight from Sydney to New York to meet up with my immigration lawyer, to ensure all was heading in the right direction. En route I stopped off in San Francisco to meet my friend, Victoria, a music photographer. She suggested a road trip to the Palm Springs music festival, Coachella, before I flew on to New York. Victoria and I had met there in 2004 so it seemed serendipitous to return. And that’s where I met a musician called Darren, purely by chance, under the warm desert night sky. Coincidentally, he was living in New York, where he’d been for 20 years. He's from Ballymena, Northern Ireland originally, and coincidentally, that’s where my father was born and my grandmother was from. We discovered that, coincidentally, both his parents and mine had places in the South-East of Spain, relatively close to one another. Darren offered to get me a drink, even though he didn't drink himself. We chatted through the night and met up once I got to New York. All in all, we spent 24 hours in each other’s company. After I met with my lawyer I flew back to Sydney with no date in mind of when I would make my New York dreams a reality.

Darren and I kept in touch every day over the next 3 months until I left Sydney, my home of six years. We met in Spain that Summer and our fate was sealed. Just over a year later we married in New York and almost a year after that I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Delphine.

On a professional level things are equally taking off. I wanted to move to New York to increase opportunities and diversify in my career. It’s happening, and I’ve started to feel appreciated for my talents in ways that I always hoped I would be. Of course there’s still a long way to go, but if Arianna, one of Forbes Top 20 Most Influential Women in Media, at 63 still considers herself a work-in-progress, I’m more than happy to consider myself the same.

I never thought life would get more exciting after the age of 35, but it has. At 36, I met the love of my life. At 37, I moved to New York. At 38, I got married and at 39, I became a mother. Mentally and geographically, I’ve never been in a better place and I attribute this to that period of time in Sydney spent working on myself and learning what it takes to thrive. With only a few months until I hit 40, I’m looking forward to what this new decade has to offer. And that’s not a feeling I ever anticipated having as I reached this milestone.

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