Lean This Way

Photo by Miller Mobely/Redux

For two of the most visible and influential women in media today, The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski can spend a surprising amount of time talking about what goes on in the bedroom.

“Have you seen the interviews in your bed airing this week?” Brzezinski asks Huffington one Friday morning on a conference call, in reference to her recent chats with Katie Couric and other celebs that, indeed, took place in Huffington’s sleep chamber.

“Yes–I’ve been tweeting up a storm!” Huffington exclaims.

“I think we want to start a special segment where I interview powerful women in your bed,” Brzezinski replies.

“I love it. You have free access to my bed any time,” Huffington deadpans.

The journalists–turned-multimedia powerhouses have teamed up more than simply to joke about doing their jobs from the comfort of down pillows and Egyptian cotton sheets. Though, as a haven for rest and rejuvenation, the bedroom, even more than the boardroom, may well be the perfect platform for a very important message that Huffington and Brzezinski are using their high profiles to convey to women (and to men who want to hear it).

You know how life often feels like a toxic blend of overwhelmed and overtired? Huffington and Brzezinski think we all can do better than that. They’re calling for nothing short of a new women’s revolution to change how society defines individual success, to go beyond the traditional measures of money and power, and give equal weight to a “Third Metric” grounded in personal wellness and fulfillment.

The idea for the revolution evolved partially through a comment made during a commercial break on “Morning Joe.”

“I noticed that Mika, who always looks beautiful, was looking tired—that deep tiredness that we have all felt,” Huffington remembers. “I said to her: ‘How are you? Are you okay?’”

The TV host was having trouble sleeping. She’d been taking sleep medication on and off for many years and found herself using it more frequently as time went on. “You can’t live like that,” Huffington told Brzezinski.

This exchange inspired a series of conversations on the right way to live, which ultimately galvanized them to introduce their ideas to leaders from media, business and politics, and culture at The Third Metric women’s conference, which they hosted at Huffington’s home in June. A few weeks earlier, Huffington introduced the movement to the graduating class at Smith College with a rousing commencement address, beseeching the graduates to embrace The Third Metric as an urgent and essential societal need.

“Commencement speakers are traditionally expected to tell graduates how to get out there and climb the ladder of success. But I want to ask you, instead, to redefine success, because the world you’re headed into desperately needs it,” Huffington told her audience. “What I urge you to do is to lead the third women’s revolution.”

As she explained, The Third Metric is a revolution based on the idea that women (and men) should be spending more time enjoying themselves, taking care of themselves, and capturing meaningful moments to wonder, develop wisdom, and give back—to, in essence, reclaim their humanity.

“Money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool,” she continued. “You can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over… Success, the way we’ve defined it, is no longer sustainable.”

As women who’ve already reached great heights in their professional lives, Huffington and Brzezinski know firsthand what it’s like to sacrifice their health and happiness to achieve victory in the workplace. Both have suffered personal injuries as a result of exhaustion; Huffington fainted and broke her cheekbone on her desk; Brzezinski fell down a flight of stairs while holding her infant daughter. For them, the principles of The Third Metric are as critical to their health and wellness as any doctor’s orders—and they’re probably not alone in feeling this way.

To get a better sense of the movement’s objectives and next steps—along with how Huffington and Brzezinski are making changes in their own lives—we recently met with Huffington at her battle carrier of a newsroom while Brzezinski called in from home to join the discussion.

You’re calling the movement “The Third Metric.” What’s it about and why do we need it?

Arianna Huffington with her daughters, Christina and Isabella

Arianna Huffington: It consists of multiple things beyond money and power, such as well-being. We have the data to show that 75% of healthcare costs are because of preventable chronic diseases. The data shows that as women move into more stressful jobs, they have a 40% greater threat of heart disease and a 60% greater threat of diabetes—because women internalize stress and we have a harder time processing it and dealing with it.

The second thing is wisdom. We look around us and we see many leaders making terrible decisions, not because they’re not smart or don’t have high IQs, but because they’re not wise. The Third Metric is about being able to tap into our own wisdom.

The third is our sense of wonder about life. So often we just keep going to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve in our career, and we miss out on walking down the street and noticing that it’s a beautiful summer day—all those little things. If you look at your life, these moments stand out. They don’t make us richer or famous, but they intensify our sense of aliveness, of noticing what’s going on.

The final thing is empathy and giving back—we think it’s incredibly important. Again, there’s neuroscientific data that shows that when you’re engaged in giving, your own sense of well-being increases. Going back to the Founding Fathers and the pursuit of happiness, it’s the pursuit of leading a good life, not just the pursuit of fun. Calling it The Third Metric allows people to weigh among these things what matters more to them, but keeping in mind that for a full and happy life we have to move beyond the first two metrics [of money and power].

Mika Brzezinski: While Arianna was talking [just now], I got two text messages from work about the ratings and a promotional campaign that’s going to have me coming in an hour earlier than my 3 am call next week. I got a text from my husband about planning the weekend, and now he’s just texting me again because I haven’t texted back. And I’m here holding a phone against the wall that’s running out of battery, looking in the mirror at myself with foils in my hair because I’m getting my hair color done in the very brief hour that I have before I rush down to get my kid ready to go away to summer camp. So I don’t have a minute to think about the joy or the wonder or the health of my life. I don’t have a minute. And that’s why I’m in this state with Arianna, because it’s a serious one.

Huffington: Do you have a picture of you with foils in your hair?

Brzezinski: I’ll text it to you right now, because I’m a multitasker.

You’ve also described the movement as the third women’s revolution. Why is the focus on women?

Huffington: During our first conversation, we decided that this problem of dealing with multiple demands is a problem for many women and many men. But we’re emphasizing women because the model of success, the world that has been created, has been created by men—they designed it. So women, we believe, and the men who “get it,” have to redesign it, and women have to lead this redesign. A lot of women now don’t want to aim for the star positions because of the price we pay.

It’s taken years, but enormous strides have been made in terms of the roles that women can have in our society. And yet, at the same timepermission to be crudewe have an incredibly…

Huffington: Fucked up world?

Incredibly. You would have thought we’d have a more humane workplace. What happened?

Huffington: I feel what happened is that women felt that they had to compete all the time in the ways that men had set out. Many women have felt that they have to out-compete men, to log more hours. And they can’t say that they’re going to pick up their kids from kindergarten because they didn’t want to be on the “mommy track.” A lot of these things have been corrected, but nevertheless, at the beginning women felt that the way to win their place at the top was to completely adopt the macho [approach]… It’s been corrected more in terms of our attitudes; in terms of practices, 25% of corporate America is now introducing some form of mindfulness, meditation, yoga. And I’m not just talking about Google and Silicon Valley, but General Mills and Aetna. A lot of these ideas are now becoming more mainstream.

We noted that one of your seminars at the conference was called “Leaning In & Leaning Back.” Is The Third Metric a response or a complement to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?

Huffington: I think that “leaning in” is very important. Basically it means, to me: overcoming our fears that we can succeed, overcoming our own doubts, not letting what I call the “obnoxious roommate” in our head stop us or slow us down. The Third Metric is very complementary. It shows that we need to be fearless enough to not accept the current terms.

Brzezinski: I actually think it’s vital, as I sit here and my chest gets so tight and I’m about to explode trying to get my daughters to stop fighting… I’m going to work myself to death if I don’t figure this out. And I’ve come to the conversation as one of the women who hasn’t figured it out. I grew up in a generation where we were breaking glass ceilings, we were told we could do anything and we should do anything, and there were women before us who blazed trails that we have to walk down because they [sacrificed] much more than us, and it’s a responsibility to pick up the mantel. Having said that, the cycle that I’m on is unsustainable. This isn’t a light, extra thing for women who can afford it. This is fundamental, because all the people that we take care of need us to be in one piece.

So what are the next steps?

Huffington: Well, the first thing is very personal, and it’s what we value in our lives. Obviously there are many women—as we said at the conference, and Senator McCaskill [of Missouri] was very eloquent on the subject—who have three jobs and are trying to make ends meet, [for whom] having this conversation [might be considered] a luxury. We’re arguing that this conversation isn’t a luxury at any level, even at the level of financial struggle… If people can take a little time to nurture themselves, to learn to breathe, to learn that we all have a place of strength and peace inside of us, even in the middle of huge challenges—after all, people have written about that place in the middle of a concentration camp, so we’re not being airy-fairy here. Whatever your religion…that place exists; no matter what’s happening in your life, you can access that place. And then it can affect everything you do externally. That’s why [The Huffington Post] launched the GPS for the Soul, which is an app that can help us get to that place and get back to that place when we get away from it—which happens all the time to all of us.

[At the leadership level], women and men who have more power to change the way the business world is run, the way politics is run, need to start doing that today. Here [at The Huffington Post offices], we’re practicing what we’re preaching. We have two nap rooms, weekly meditation class, breathing class, yoga class; we’re promoting the culture of people knowing that they’re valued as human beings, not just in terms of how many hours they clock.

What about on a personal level? How do you embrace The Third Metric principles in your own lives? Mika, what makes your morning? What do you love most about your job?

Brzezinski: I love the show. If I didn’t have such an amazing job, I’m not sure I could do the schedule. I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and I work a very long day. I’ve always wanted to be in TV and TV news since I was 14, and I became very discouraged with the industry. When I started doing “Morning Joe” I was very surprised because I had been kicked out of the industry [and] I was scratching my way back in… Within twenty seconds of being on the air, I knew it was going to be the best thing I’d ever done. It’s an incredible platform and a product you can be proud of in a sea of bad TV.

You’re about to celebrate your 20th wedding anniversary. Any marriage advice?

Brzezinski: No marriage is perfect, and it’s constant challenge. I think Sheryl Sandberg nailed it when she wrote about this in Lean In. Incredible advice for people choosing a partner: You’ve got to choose someone who assumes that they’re 50/50 in terms of parenting and decisions and planning and running the household. That’s the future. A lot of guys, I think, are stuck in the past and don’t get it.

Tell us about your daughters, Carlie (15 years old) and Emilie (17).

Mika Brzezinski with husband, Jim Hoffer, and daughters, Carlie and Emilie

Brzezinski: There was a moment recently when my husband was talking to them, and I was going through an I don’t understand how to connect with them; they don’t seem to appreciate me; I don’t think they understand what I’m doing; how do I let them know but also not make them carry around a log of guilt? [period]. I felt like I was running uphill with them. My husband said they were watching TV and I was asleep. I think they were watching American Idol or something about idols, and he said, “Who are your idols? Who do you look up to?” And the older one said, “I don’t know, Katy Perry or something!” And Carlie, who I’d been struggling with a little bit, said, “Well, I don’t know. I guess Mommy?” And Jim didn’t let it lie. He goes, “Why?” She goes, “Well, because she’s, you know, confident.” I kind of lost my breath and had to sit down.

What about you, Arianna? What’s your greatest joy at The Huffington Post?

Huffington: I love the fact that we’ve become a true journalistic enterprise, won a Pulitzer, have great editors and reporters. But the greatest joy comes from the fact that we can be a platform for people who are not known but have something interesting to say, and they are able say it to millions of people. Just one example: In the summer we had a homeless teenager write in our teen section, and the Harvard admissions office happened to read it and offered him [a place at the school]. There’s this kind of magic of the Internet. Wherever I go, wherever I speak, I give an email address for people to write to, because it’s amazing how much talent is out there.

Do you take the time to browse your own website and discover things?

Huffington: Yes, especially on the weekends. Which is a mixed blessing for everyone here because I’ll always find things I want to change. But we have the rule that there’s no expectation for people to respond to emails after hours.

How do you enjoy spending your free time with your daughters, Isabella (22 years old) and Christina (24)?

Huffington: My daughters are big walkers; we love walking—especially my youngest daughter. And she’s a foodie, so exploring new places to eat. And just having really long meals and talking. I’ve been through a lot of challenges with both of my daughters that we’ve been public about. One of them went through anorexia; she’s a rising senior now at Yale. She’s doing well. The other one got involved in drugs in her last year at Yale, and she’s now 16 months sober and wants to use her experience to help other young women. Having been through a lot of challenges, we’re in a really good place.

In terms of moments, last night after dinner, my younger one was painting at my desk. Christina, the older one, curled up in bed with me. And it was just a special moment. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. But it was just one of those moments that means so much.

Eric Messinger is editor and Whitney C. Harris is executive editor of New York Family.

For more information on the Third Metric, visit huffingtonpost.com/news/third-metric