Arianna Huffington On The Woman Who Made The Greatest Impact On Her Life

08/03/2011 11:12 | Updated 22 May 2015

To help mark International Women's Day, I've been asked to write about a boss who made a difference in my career. The timing is rather delicious since, up until yesterday, when the Huffington Post's merger with AOL became official, I've never really had a boss.

But, as exciting and full of promise as this merger has been, I am going to write about the woman who had the greatest impact on my career, indeed on my entire life – my mother. And although I didn't work for her, the advice, wisdom, constructive criticism, and unconditional support she offered throughout my life made her the equivalent of a dream boss.

Of the many things she taught me - including the delightful notion that "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly" - the one that's proved most useful in my work life is the understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it's an integral part of success.

She told me once that she operated like the government - she first decided what it was that her children needed, and then she set out to find the money. My mother was one of the original deficit financers. She made ends meet by borrowing or by selling her possessions - from a carpet brought by her parents from Russia to her last pair of gold earrings.

The night before she died, we were having dinner at the home of some good friends. Near the end of the evening, our host asked everyone to talk about an important experience from their lives. When my mother's turn came, she talked about a moment that not only defined her but how she believed life should be lived. It was a moment during the Greek civil war, in the 1940s, when she was working with the Greek Red Cross and fled to the mountains with two Jewish girls.

She described the night when German soldiers arrived at their cabin and started to shoot, threatening to kill everyone if the group did not surrender the Jews the Germans suspected (rightly) they were hiding. My mother, who spoke fluent German, stood up and told them categorically that there were no Jews in their midst and to put down their guns. And then she watched the German soldiers lower their guns and walk away.

That story - which ended up being the last one she told in her life - really captured her: her indomitable spirit, her defiance of authority, her trust in life, her fearlessness. There was a magnificence in the way she approached everything in her life. Especially her role as a mother. She brought me up to believe that there was nothing I should be afraid to try while at the same time making it clear that she would love me not one iota less if I failed.

She used to say that the goal of life is not to see what we can make of it, but what it can make of us. Well, she made of life a grand adventure - and it made of her a magnificent tour guide. Though she died in 2000, I can't help looking to her for guidance as I embark on what promises to be the greatest adventure of my career.

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder of The Huffington Post. She has recently joined AOL as president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group.


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