Arianna Huffington on dreaming big
03:38 - Source: CNN

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Arianna Huffington founded one of the world's most successful media companies, The Huffington Post, in 2005

She sold the company to AOL for $315 million two years ago

She describes herself as a "sleep evangelist" and obsessed with stress reduction

As president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, you would expect Arianna Huffington to be living her life at 100 mph.

Not so, she says (although she is often spotted running from event to event gripping multiple smartphones while tweeting at the same time).

In fact, Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post Media Group, is on a mission to persuade us all to slow down.

She describes herself as a “sleep evangelist,” has nap rooms in her offices at the AOL headquarters in New York and tries to start every day with meditation.

“I’ve been meditating for years but now I’m increasingly making it part of my daily routine,” she said.

In fact, she jokingly says she slept her way to the top. “There is that special glow after a good night’s sleep when you feel really in the zone. You feel like ‘Bring it on – you know I can handle anything!’”

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For a woman so successful, it is of course a mission with a business opportunity. The Huffington Post has a new “Less Stress More Living” lifestyle section and the company recently launched an iPhone app called “GPS for the Soul,” at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“I am obsessed with stress reduction,” said Huffington. “We (The Huffington Post) are now moving into lifestyle and growing our offering in that department, especially at a time when we are recognizing more and more the dangers of stress.”

Huffington, 62, founded Huffington Post in 2005, and two years ago sold it to AOL for $315 million. She and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong inked the deal during halftime at the Super Bowl.

She was listed on Time Magazine’s “Time 100” list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2006 and 2011, and among Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women” for the past three years.

Huffington Post now has editions in six countries, launched a HuffPost Live streaming network last year and has plans to expand into Japan and Brazil.

“I started with wanting to create a site that was incredibly engaging,” said Huffington. “And the timing was great, I loved my work, working hard doesn’t feel like drudgery.

“And then I think we made some really smart moves, the acquisition was an incredibly smart move, moving internationally was really the right moment.”

Huffington was born in Athens, Greece, (she jokingly calls herself a “Greek peasant girl”) and moved to the UK at age 16, winning a place at Cambridge University to study economics.

“My mother would tell me from a very young age never to be afraid of failing,” she said.

“I was absolutely fine taking risks. Trying to get into Cambridge when everybody said you’ll never get in, or writing my first book when I was 23.

“A lot of things that were likely to fail and many did fail. I mean my first book did well, my second book was rejected by 36 publishers.”

She has now written 13 books.

Her advice? Embrace failure, she said. “You can recognize very often that out of these projects that may not have succeeded themselves that other successes are built.”

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While at Cambridge, Huffington became president of its prestigious Cambridge Union debating society, but said she initially struggled to be accepted.

“I was terrible,” she said. “My accent, if you can believe it, was even heavier. In the UK having a foreign accent at the time especially was still seen as really alien.

“Learning to debate was definitely on that young Arianna’s dream list.

“Therefore I was prepared to stay up late, be ridiculed, whatever it took. I was determined to learn to speak.”

Huffington moved to the United States in 1980, where she found her accent was more easily accepted.

“I remember Henry Kissinger saying to me ‘don’t worry about your accent, in American public life you can never overestimate the advantages of incomprehensibility.’ “

In more than three decades since moving to the United States, Huffington’s influence on public life has grown exponentially.

In 2003, she stood against Arnold Schwarzenegger as an independent candidate for governor of California.

She rejects political definitions of left and right (although she is widely viewed as a staunch liberal these days), but has plenty of advice for President Barack Obama.

“For me the biggest crisis that’s not being addressed at the moment in Washington is youth unemployment.

“It’s the fact that 50% of college graduates either can’t get a job or are doing a job for which they wouldn’t have needed a college degree.

“That’s not sustainable. That really goes against the American dream, which is based on the assumption that you work hard, you play by the rules and then you do well.”

Huffington is divorced with two daughters in their 20s. Her biggest hope for her daughters’ generation is that they will feel less pressure.

“I think especially as women we need to recognize that feeling pressure is completely self imposed,” she said.

“We women suffer more than men what