Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post to focus on her new company, Thrive Global. The concept came out of her 2013 “Third Metric” initiative, which she launched after she passed out at her desk, breaking her cheekbone. She hit her limit of stress and exhaustion, but being Arianna Huffington, she saw a business opportunity in her self-realization.
“Thrive” was the book tied to the Third Metric initiative. Think “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” branded for the social media age. Metrics one and two are money and power. Metric three is the smell the roses stuff, or, as the subtitle has it: “The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.”
I have no complaint about the general premise that we need to order our lives to respect more than work and money. As evidenced by the two clichés in the previous paragraph, this knowledge is old. It features prominently in the Sermon on Mount (see Matthew 6:19-34 specifically), enjoys perennial popularity as Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” homages, and has been part of modern intellectual discourse since at least Russell Kirk’s discussions of “permanent things” in the 1950s. It is common wisdom, or should be.
Yet here we are, so harried that Huffington has another potentially successful business in a company to teach us how to Be outside of the professional rat race. It is a welcome enterprise — we are too focused on work — but I would be more optimistic if she had shown some understanding about how we came to forget this ancient wisdom.
Blame the Men Again
During the U.K. launch event for Third Metric, Huffington tried to blame our work-focused culture on the modern man. She posted: “The #ThirdMetric is going to be led by women because men designed the way the world is now. Now, it is not working for women, it’s not working for men. It’s not working for polar bears [?!]. When we change the world, you men are going to be so grateful to us.”
Men designed the way the world is now? It is a condescending assumption of docile and impressionable women to suggest that in the 50 years since the second wave of feminism women have had no say in the magnitude of their career life. That is not at all how modern women see themselves. And it is simply wrong.
Women once commanded the third metric, and Huffington knows this. In a promotional interview with the Times of London prior to releasing “Thrive,” she said this of her mother:
‘She was a remarkable woman in so many ways, which I began to fully appreciate after her death,’ says Huffington. ‘I mean, we always had a great relationship and she was sort of my foundation.’ In the book Huffington describes her mother’s serene death after a day of buying and serving food to her family, her last suggestion being that everyone have a glass of red wine.
Was Thrive a way of coming to terms with her death in 2000? ‘Absolutely. While she was alive, it was as though she was the keeper of all things third metric. She was the one who knew how to live without being at the mercy of deadlines. I remember the last time she was angry with me was when she saw me reading e-mails and talking to my children at the same time and she said, “I abhor multitasking”. ’
It wasn’t just her mother. Back in the terrible days of the “comfortable concentration camps,” as Betty Friedan called the post-war suburban household, women provided a counterbalance against worldly achievement. That’s part of what homemaking was. Leading women of the second wave, however, led homemakers to dump all things third metric in favor of breaking into the career-driven life of men.
Women chose. In full knowledge and sound mind, women chose to ape men’s career arc. Friedan noticed the mistake too late, but at least she noticed. From an interview to promote her 1981 trashed and then-forgotten tome, “The Second Stage” (emphasis mine):
‘The so-called radical feminists developed a lot of rhetoric against the family and against the role of woman as defined in the family,’ Mrs. Friedan says. ‘’They did some valuable work, but a lot of it was twisted somehow and began to be repudiation [of the family], throwing the baby out with the bath water.
‘They seemed to create the impression that the all-important thing was career and profession, and . . . downplayed the part of woman that is defined in terms of love and nurturing.’
The counterbalance to professional life that homemakers provided disappeared, and nothing was left to replace it. In fact, the cult of measurable achievement even seeped into domestic life. Martha Stewart capitalized on that trend. (See mention of Charles Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism” at link, or merely ponder the origin of the Mommy Wars).
Think Positively, Speak Prettily, and Buy Stuff
Willfully unaware of the origins of our harried lives, third metric commentary is full of pretty but silly talk. Thrive Inc. will tell you to “get more sleep” or eat a bit of chocolate. I recall Huffington telling women to be like a gazelle. What? Run prettier than other prey until hauled down by a lion and ripped apart from the neck or hindquarters?
For another livestream, “Live like the world is rigged for you” got many retweets, even though it makes no more sense than a paranoid’s view that the world is rigged against her. Julianne Moore told one audience that “Life is about having a lot of experiences,” by which I must assume she means good ones. Lots of experiences can be horrifying outside of Western 1 percent feminism.
Vague but positive platitudes have been a constant feature of the Huffington’s thriving. The specifics, however, are purchase required. To achieve the third metric you need to be able to afford assorted items Huffington has branded for that well-being, wisdom, and wonder. This is part of Thrive Global’s business plan. Of course, she’s tested it. An example from my inbox a while back:
From March 24th – March 27th, Zulily will feature Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive, in hardcover and audiobook with special signed copies for up to 40% off.
Along with the book you’ll find a collection of essentials to promote well-being in your life, specially curated by Arianna.
Find soft bedding, aromatherapy, calming teas, slippers and more at up to 50% off.
As friend quipped when I sent her an exasperated email about all of this: “Wait………Arianna Huffington cannot keep up, so now the rest of us are supposed to slow down? Did I miss a step?”
Yes, she did miss a step. Huffington also wants us to pay her, in conference fees and branding markups, for the privilege of following her advice — because the third metric is still about the first two.