Jon Mooallem is a a contributing writer at New York Times Magazine and writer at large for Pop-Up Magazine. Jon is also the author of American Hippopotamus and Wild Ones.
My Definition Of Success | I used to conflate success with impressing people and accumulating little tokens of prestige. Now, I see success in more practical terms: being able to do work I enjoy—because I think how you feel about your work inevitably spills into the rest of your life—and earning enough to help support my family.
A Key Talent | A lot of people seem to romanticize writing as art, as something that requires inspiration or should happen easily. I’ve always approached it more as a blue-collar job. I love what I do, but I’ve built up a particular kind of love for journalism that understands that it’s hard work, and that each story is a long process that inevitably includes stretches of uncertainty, anxiety or tedium. Especially the writing part. Before a day of writing, I’ll often take a short walk and just remind myself how difficult and crazy-making it may be just to string words together on a page that day. That may sound negative, but I think it creates an honest expectation, allowing me recognize any difficulty I run up against as normal, and part of the process. Rather than get frustrated by obstacles, or find a way around the negative feelings that arise, I know to just keep going until I’ve come out the other side.
I Am Driven By | Often, it’s fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not taking full advantage of an opportunity. Fear of inertia. Fear of being laughed at. I do a fairly good job of not letting those fears consume me, or paralyze me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel them.
My Highlights | My wedding day and the births of my daughters. Those are cliché answers, maybe, but the reality is those memories are immeasurably rich and irreplaceable. Professionally, I tend to feel most proud of moments in my writing where I’ve been able to portray the deep and complicated emotions of people in an honest and un-exploitative way.
The Meaning Of Life | Kindness, maybe. Or openness. Mostly, I’m working to stop asking questions like that and just appreciate what’s in front of me.
I Am Inspired By | Almost anybody can inspire you if you ask them enough questions, right?
The Best Advice I’ve Received | When I was in third grade, for some reason, I started getting very nervous about going to school. Every morning, my stomach would knot up and I’d feel small and afraid and panic. Once, I got so worked up that I made a run for it—straight out the front door of the school–and punched my principal in the chest when he tried to stop me. After that, my parents sent me to a psychologist. I remember almost nothing about those visits, except that the guy once told me: “You know, everyone else at school probably feels the same way you do, sometimes.” It’s astonishing how revelatory that felt to me at the time. And it’s been a good thing to keep in mind in many situations since.
Performing At My Peak | I’m not always at my peak. That would be ridiculous! But when I am, I’d say the formula is some combination of sleeping well, engaging somehow with the world outside my own head (even if that’s just playing with my kids or reading the news) and resisting the urge to be too critical of myself or impatient.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | For years I’ve had a really killer idea for a Cheerios commercial, and if I can somehow find a way to get the Cheerios company to produce it, and then play it on television for the rest of eternity, that would be wonderful.