When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Helle Thorning-Schmidt: I have to admit it, I turn my phone off from Do Not Disturb mode, try to do the seven-minute gym program on the floor, then a cup of tea.
TG: What gives you energy?
HTS: To work with a dedicated group of people to solve a difficult problem. To be in the midst of a crisis and be able to see the funny side.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
HTS: Two things: 1) To get my seven-and-a-half hours sleep (this is very hard when you are the P.M. It takes planning.) 2) Try not to take myself too seriously and see the funny side of things. It’s always there. Laugh.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
HTS: The Emperor’s New Clothes by H.C. Andersen, which all Danish children know before they are 7. It tells you everything you need to know about vanity, the danger of groupthink, and speaking truth to power.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
HTS: Yes it does, but only favourites can penetrate Do Not Disturb (clever if you have teenage daughters).
TG: How do you deal with email?
HTS: Still trying to work it out. I try to treat emails as letters, which means you don’t have to answer right away, but that doesn’t work either. Sometimes people need an answer now. However, I have one rule. If I am annoyed with someone, I write the email, but resist the send button, until I’ve calmed down. Never send an email in anger.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
HTS: Put on some music and sing and dance and/or send a silly GIF on the family Messenger group.
TG: When was the last time you failed, felt burned out and how did you overcome it?
HTS: Not winning my second term was very hard. How do you overcome it? One foot in front of the other. Each day I did normal everyday things that I couldn’t do as a P.M. Took the public bus, cycled around Copenhagen, went to a concert, had drinks with my friends on the beach. And then I decided to look up and broaden my horizon by becoming CEO of a large international NGO, with a steep learning curve and new challenges. You’ve just got to move on…
TG: Share a quote that you love and gives you strength:
HTS: “The sun will come out tomorrow.” (From Annie.)
Helle was Prime Minister of Denmark from 2011-2015, leading a coalition government and successfully steering the country through a difficult period of transition after the global financial crisis. As former CEO of Save the Children, Helle oversaw humanitarian and development programs that reach 50 million children in some of the most difficult and challenging contexts in the world. She is married with two children.