Arianna Huffington, co-founder, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, shares her views and perspective at the Stanford GSB View From The Top talk titled “We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom” on April 12, 2016. Here is the full transcript.
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Interviewer: So Arianna welcome to Stanford.
Arianna Huffington – Co-founder, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group
Thank you so much. What a fabulous auditorium!
Interviewer: We handpicked them specifically just for you. And so you often quote a Persian poet who encouraged us to live our lives as though they were rigged in our favor. Now as it is often easy to proclaim the fact after success, it appears as though you actually embodied this mindset from an early age. But not just you, your parents, too.
So, I was wondering if you could take us back to Greece where it all began and share with the audience a story as to how your parents met and how they came to be in Greece.
Arianna Huffington: Well, first of all Liv, thank you so much for starting with my favorite quote, which I carry with me laminated in my wallet, and which I keep bombarding my children with. In fact, my oldest daughter Christina is here, so she has heard it many times. It really did all start with my mother, because we lived in a one bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece. And one day, I saw a picture in the magazine of Cambridge University. And I said to everybody who could listen, I really want to go there. And everybody said don’t be ridiculous; you don’t speak English. We don’t have any money and it’s really competitive to get into Cambridge even if you’re an English girl.
But my mother said, let’s see how you can get there, and that involved going to the British council and taking my GCEs, which as you know since you’re an Oxford girl, it’s what you need to take as the first step and borrowing money. And then one thing which I kind of love is that she said, one day, I got us these cheap tickets and we can go and see Cambridge. It was just kind of an early visualization trip. We’re not going to see anybody at Cambridge. We’re just — we’re going to see Cambridge and kind of make it more real for me that I could go there.
And to cut a long story short I got an exhibition, which is kind of a scholarship, a version of a scholarship. I remember getting that telegram saying awarded exhibition and I have to find out what the hell was exhibition to Cambridge and that definitely changed my life. It was kind of the unexpected trajectory that made a lot of other things possible, especially because I fell in love with a Cambridge union, the Debating Society. And I really, really put a lot of my energy into learning to speak. And whenever anybody says, well I can’t speak or I’m terrified of speaking, apparently public speaking is, in terms of fears, higher up than death by mutilation.
Interviewer: Okay. So this is not good for me right now, then. Okay, good to know.
Arianna Huffington: So I started literally by writing down every word. I would be called in sometimes after midnight. And because I was so bad and also had this heavy accent which was even —
Interviewer: Accents are good. Accents are good.
Arianna Huffington: Well maybe now, maybe in America. But you know perfectly well, not in England. Anyway, so –
Interviewer: You’ve got to take whatever card you can play, so I’ll take the British accent here.
Arianna Huffington: So I spent an enormous amount of time at the union. In fact, I spent more time at the union than I spent studying, which is why you got a first at Oxford and I only got a two one.
Interviewer: Okay, and that’s why you’re sitting in that chair and I’m right here.
Arianna Huffington: Well, you are 3,000 years younger so.
Interviewer: So on that point, in Thrive one of your best selling books, you talk about having this inner voice, that sort of obnoxious neighbor. And yet, from the outside, you look as though you have this remarkable self belief. Because you not only went to Cambridge but despite a glorious accent, you decided to run for President of Cambridge and became the first foreign lady or foreign lady at all to become President. That continued thereafter whereby after your first successful book, your next one was rejected 36 times before. And then even with the Huffington Post, you launched it to a backdrop of critics. So this perseverance appears to be a common thread throughout your journey. How much of that spun from drive of being the underdog, or was it a mindset that you taught yourself over time?
Arianna Huffington: Well, it was a mindset that was very much something that my mother kept talking about. One of her favorite sayings was failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a stepping stone to success. But the obnoxious roommate, that voice of doubt and self-judgment, remained very loud. And people don’t write about it. But I can tell you, I can still hear it. I can still hear, for example, when I gave my first big speech at the — what do they call? Do they still call it a paper speech?
Interviewer: They do indeed, yeah, traditions die hard.
Arianna Huffington: Meaning that you actually are one of the main speakers as opposed to somebody they call on after the main speakers. And I was speaking on the same side as JK Galbraith against William Buckley and I remember every detail. And the topic of the speech was The Market, meaning the free market is a snare and a delusion. And I was sitting next to Galbraith and while Buckley was speaking, Galbraith leaned over to me and said, can you stand up? You have the right at the union to stand up and every speaker has to give way for the point you want to make. So can you stand up, he said, and interrupt him and make it. And he mentioned some kind of recondite econometric point, which I stupidly stood up and interrupted Buckley with. And then he turned to me and said, well madam, I don’t know what market you patronize and brought the house down. And I sat down feeling completely humiliated, which would have been neither here nor there. Except the obnoxious roommate, for the next week, I’m not exaggerating, was replaying that incident as though this was the end, not just of my career, but my life.