College commencement speeches have traditionally entertained, inspired and talked to the subject of climbing the ladder of success once students have passed that final time through the college gates to begin the next stage of life. Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Huffington Post recently gave an inspiring commencement speech at Smith College, Northampton where she encouraged graduates to challenge their current perceptions of success.
What have been the traditionally touted measures of success? Well, as Huffington points out, money and power have become synonymous in the collective psyche with success, her request is that we add a third metric; founded on ‘well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and to give back’. Money and power simply do not provide a stable enough foundation on their own; we need to come to a point where we are living the lives we want, not just what we settle for.
Huffington warns that if we do not add that third metric, if we continue to strive for an outdated view of success, we will pay a heavy personal price for staying on that treadmill. In the last 30 years as more women have gained coveted senior roles in companies, their reported incidents of stress and lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease have increased also.
Reportedly, the millennial generation who are now starting to graduate, are the most stressed generation yet. Huffington points to workplace cultures of high stress and sleep-deprivation and warns of the consequences of sleep deprivation, from personal accidents to factoring in major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez wreck.
With reference to a 1954 commencement speech where the male speaker told the all-female graduates that their success would depend upon how well they married, Huffington recommended students ‘sleep their way to the top’. This is meant in a literal sense of course, Huffington is a self-confessed ‘sleep evangelist’ and recommends that if graduates want to see more success, they ensure that they get a good night’s sleep.
To Huffington, redefining success means looking after not only our financial capital, but our human capital as well. If we work long hours on little sleep, we may see some great financial returns but at what cost to our personal well-being? What about our own health? Our relationships with others? What about the activities we enjoy that give us some kind of life away from the workplace?
Our human capital includes those elements; well-being, wonder, wisdom and giving back. Have you ever been so caught up in a project that you don’t even notice some of the incredible things around you? Does being constantly connected to technology cause you to lose that pause, that space in which you develop your own wisdom? Have you been so ‘busy’ that you have felt numbed to empathy and service? As Huffington addresses, all of these areas of her ‘third metric’ lead to a virtuous circle, that leave you in a position of well-being while contributing to the well-being of others.
“Remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible”.