the cut on tuesdays

Adam Moss on His ‘Tortured Relationship With Ambition’

Photo: Ms. Magazine, Getty Images

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

Earlier this year, Adam Moss, New York Magazine’s editor-in-chief, announced he’d be stepping down. He said his plan for the future was to try “living with less ambition.” But for anyone with firsthand experience of Adam at work, this sounded slightly far-fetched. So we brought him by the studio to talk about his career — and why he’s always been ambivalent about ambition.

Adam:  I have been in a tortured relationship with ambition my whole life.

From the beginning I was really ambitious and thought ambition was a terrible thing.

Molly: Why? 

Adam: Because when I grew up, which was just at the very end of the ’60s, hippiedom — which I so romanced in my head — was exactly the opposite of ambition. Ambition was considered like the man, slick and corporate and ugly. You know, it was for bankers.

Molly: God forbid.

Adam: In junior high school, a student got to direct the school play. And I was like a little theater geek — I had, actually, a lot of theater experience, and I felt that I was obviously the person who should be the director of the school play. I thought I would get this job. I thought it was obvious — there was no one else even remotely qualified, as a 14 year old, to do this thing.

And I didn’t get it. I was, like, weeping. And my mother — who did not ordinarily stand up for me in this way — went and stormed the principal’s office, asking why I didn’t get it.

And the reason he gave was: He’s just not a leader. He’s just not strong enough. And I think maybe that was the beginning of my real ambition. Because I said, Fuck this. I am strong enough; I can do this.

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Adam Moss on His ‘Tortured Relationship With Ambition’