Embracing an entrepreneurial spirit and determination to succeed despite the potential for failure are integral to achieving the American Dream, media doyenne Arianna Huffington told attendees at NRA Show 2015.
The remarks were part of an hour-long conversation in front of a packed ballroom of NRA Show-goers at Chicago's McCormick Place with National Restaurant Association CEO and President Dawn Sweeney. Huffington, founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, told restaurateurs that how we deal with failure is essential to doing well in business.
"At the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit is the ability to deal with failure and challenge yourself all the way,” she said. “My mother used to say failure is not the opposite of success; it is the stepping-stone to success, and entrepreneurs of any size share that [ideal] ... If you’re not willing to fail, you’re not really going to succeed.”
Huffington commended Sweeney and the NRA on the NRA Educational Foundation's ProStart program, which offers high-school students education in culinary arts and hospitality management skills. Students looking to pursue careers in the foodservice industry also have the opportunity for scholarships.
“Not everyone needs to go to college, but I think we need to make every kind of education available. That includes vocational and on-the-job training, especially for millennials,” she said. She said millennials face a combination of job insecurity and the burden of student loan debt.
Stress, however, is not relegated just to millennials, Huffington said. She talked about her own experiences with it and how she is incorporating behaviors to de-stress her own life and that of her employees. Unplugging from a 24/7 immersion in technology and learning how to rest and relax are also keys to success in life and business, she said.
“Eight years ago I collapsed from a combination of stress and exhaustion. I hit my head on the way down and broke my cheekbone. As I came to in a pool of blood, I asked myself ‘Is this what the picture of success looks like? By any sane definition it is not.’ That started me through this process of looking at how I’d come to define success.”
Huffington said she now practices the following behaviors:
Getting eight hours of sleep every night
Finding time to disconnect from technology
Trusting her own wisdom and intuition, and embracing wonder.
She added that those practices have become part of the work culture at the Huffington Post and encouraged others in the room to embrace them as well.
“So often we get so busy we miss out on life’s small beauties and pleasures,” she said. “From the moment we launched the Huffington Post, we tried to create a culture where people genuinely felt they were cared for as human beings and not as cogs in a machine. When you are off from work, you are not expected to be on duty. People need predictable time off to be with their families and not feel like they have to watch their smartphones. Being able to disconnect makes us healthier and more productive at work.”
She said brand authenticity and transparency also are keys to a company’s success.
“Transparency is so important today,” she said. “Whatever happens is going to be on social media sooner or later, and more likely, sooner. If there’s a problem with any consumer-facing brand, there will be complaints about it on social media and companies [would do well] to address them immediately. Look at Zappos. They’ve built an entire brand based on customer service. I feel it’s the same whether you’re a restaurant or media business.”
Huffington herself is the embodiment of the American Dream, having immigrated to England from Greece at age 17. She graduated from Cambridge University with a master’s degree in economics and then came to the United States in the 1990s. In sharing her own journey with the audience, she said that even though people tend to focus on the things that are not going well in their lives, they must be grateful for the things that are good.
“One of my favorite quotes, from the Persian poet Rumi, is: ‘Live your life as if everything is rigged in your favor.’ Very often, when we look back on our lives, some of our biggest heartbreaks or failures lead to our biggest accomplishments. If we can do this, we can deal with adversity so much better.”
Pictured top right: NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney, left, with Arianna Huffington
Pictured above right: Huffington talking about the American Dream