Where the worlds of politics, new media and celebrity mix, there is only one Arianna: Arianna Huffington. She's been in the public eye for more than twenty years. For this interview, we focused on a lesser known part of Huffington's story—the years leading up to her current position of influence, in New York and beyond. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 report.
Arianna Huffington loves to mix the old with the new, easily moving in conversation from the internet and the blogosphere to her native Greece.
"The world has changed irrevocably. Heroticus, one of my favorite Greek philosophers, said you cannot enter into the same river twice," Huffington says.
Arianna Huffington seems to be everywhere: she's a political pundit on cable news, an author of fourteen books and primarily the chair, president, editor in chief and co-creator of the news gathering website The Huffington Post.
Despite this seemingly constant business, her new book "Thrive" suggests that we all slow down, meditate, get more sleep and expand our notions of success from power and money to well-being.
She says her epiphany came on April 6th, 2007 in her home office.
"Basically collapsed from exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and burnout. Hit my head on my way down, broke my cheek bone, got four stitches on my right eye," she explains.
"By conventional definitions of success, I was successful, but by any sane definition of success, if you are lying in a pool of blood on the floor in your office and you have not been shot, you are not successful," Huffington says to an audience at Princeton University.
Huffington's success story is well known, from her introduction into politics by the candidacies of her ex-husband, Michael Huffington, to the creation of the initially maligned, now internet monster, The Huffington Post.
What's not nearly as well known is the story of how she got there and how her early experiences informed her later success.
"We were living in a one room apartment in Athens, Greece. My parents had separated because my father was a serial philanderer and my mother finally took her two daughters and left," Huffington says. "She kept really telling us all the time that failure is not a problem, failure is not the opposite of success, she would say; failure is a stepping stone to success."
Huffington says at that time, her family had no money and she didn't speak English, but she did have a dream.
"I saw a picture of Cambridge University in a magazine and I said to my mother, 'I want to go there,' and everybody else said, 'Don’t be ridiculous. You know you're not going to go there,' and my mother said, 'Let’s find out how you can go there,'" she says.
Her mother arranged for young Arianna to take the entrance exam and then visit Cambridge.
Long before Huffington became a noted public speaker she faced the daunting task of participating in the oldest debating society in the world: The Cambridge Union.
"Because of my accent, especially, it was not easy. I was not a good speaker to start with. I had to really learn the hard way," Huffington explains. "I kind of loved it. It was my favorite thing to do at Cambridge. I loved the spectacle of hearts and minds being moved by words."
Huffington became the first foreigner and only the third woman to become President of the Cambridge Union.
The seeds of her later success had been planted, overcoming obstacles and exceeding expectations.
She was preparing for post graduate work at Cambridge when a publisher convinced her to write.
Her first book, 1973's The Female Woman, put her at odds with some of the prevailing feminist thoughts of the day.
"It was a very different world. There was a sense that only career women were living really valuable lives there was the sense that if you wanted to have children, you were just the product of social conditioning that made you believe that you should have children," she says.
Fast forward forty years and Huffington is routinely mentioned on lists of the most powerful women in the country.
There is no denying The Huffington Post's success as it enters its second decade—but it's not without critics, who believe it's primarily a site that aggregates content.
Even after "HuffPo's" series about severely wounded veterans and their families won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, Huffington received some good-natured ribbing at the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner from none other than the President.
"You deserve it, Arianna. There is no one else out there linking to hard hitting journalism that 'HuffPo' is linking to every single day," Obama said.
Huffington is clearly at home in these circles of power and celebrity, but she dismisses the notion that she's working the room in such situations for professional gain.
"People who really want to know other people—really want to understand them, really want to have substantive communication and maybe help them with what they want to do—are the people who in the end do better themselves, because their relationship doesn't start with what can I get out of you," she says.
Huffington is renowned for getting all types of people to blog for The Huffington Post—students, heads of state, even those, like the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, who have no idea what a blog is.
"He said, 'Let me take you to lunch and you can tell me about it.' So he took me to lunch at The Century Club, and him and I were the youngest people there and he is now dead, and I'm no spring chicken, so that gives you an idea of the atmosphere in which I was describing blogging to Arthur Schlesinger," Huffington says.
Any profile of Huffington includes her apparent transformation from conservative pundit in the 90's to someone more aligned with Democrats, but Huffington describes a change that is more nuanced.
"When I was a Republican, I believed that the private sector would step up to the plate and fix these problems, and then I saw firsthand that this wasn’t really happening, so it was really my understanding of the role of government that changed," Huffington says. "The fate of the middle class, choice, gun control, gay rights—my views were always the same. What changed is my understanding that to solve a lot of these social problems, we do need the real power of government appropriations."
Huffington moved to New York from California a few years ago.
She has two grown daughters, and says her message of expanding the notion of success from power and money to well-being applies not just to those who have achieved success, but also to her daughters' generation trying to achieve success.
The drive she first showed growing up in Greece is still there, reflected in one of her favorite quotes from the 13th century Turkish poet Rumi: "'Live life as though everything is rigged in your favor,' and when we do that, life is transformed, because obstacles, challenges, bad things happen to us all at any stage in our life, so the question is, what is our attitude to what happens and how do we respond to what happens," she says.