What Jennifer Weiner and Moby Taught Me About Success

As I’ve previously covered, one of my favorite days of the year is the Alameda Legacy Home Tour, an annual event in which locals who have painstakingly restored beautiful century-old homes open them to the public. Due to my longstanding interest in architecture and historic houses, I look forward to the tour all year. When I’m walking around town, I often find myself wondering which houses will be featured on the next tour. The 2016 tour included one of my favorite homes on the island: the former residence of opera singer Frederica von Stade. The stately Tudor manse was on the market a few years ago for $1.75 million, and I fantasized about buying it. When it turned up in the home tour booklet, I immediately Googled the new owner (whose name was in the description) and found that he’d invented some kind of database to track poker tournament results.

Afterward, I complained (as usual) to Joe that I wished I could have invented something that would have made me a zillionaire so we could be the ones living in this 6,500-square-foot home. He responded (as usual) that there is no reason two adults and a Boston terrier need that much space. I pointed to a pile of books on the counter and said that if we had a bigger house, I could have a library, and have space to store my ever-growing collection. He stated that we have friends who do have an actual library in their home, and they still have books piled all over the place.

Sometimes, you need a reality check to remind you that happiness does not come from owning a massive Tudor or some other external validation. One of my clients recently had a book peak at #11 on the New York Times bestseller list, and because I had worked so hard for so long on the launch, I almost burst into tears. I really, really wanted that book to make the top 10.

If the book had made it to #10, would I have been disappointed that it didn’t make it into the top five? If it had peaked at #2, would I have sulked that it didn’t hit the top spot? Probably.

That’s why I found something incredibly reassuring about listening to the new Gimlet Media show Heavyweight, which includes an interview with the musician Moby. The episode centers around Gregor, an old friend of Moby’s who loaned him the Alan Lomax field recordings that were incorporated into the 10-million-copy-selling Play album. Even if you’ve never listened to Moby’s Play, you’ve undoubtedly heard at least a few songs from it, because every single track was licensed for use in an ad, film, or TV show. Gregor dreamed of becoming a filmmaker but now makes commercial films about cleaning products. Moby never returned the Lomax recordings, and Gregor wants them back. In their ensuing conversation, Moby has some thoughts about success:

There’s always going to be someone doing so much better than you that if you spend the time to look at it, you’re going to feel bad about yourself. My nemesis, well, according to him for a while, was Eminem. So if he was my nemesis… he was always more successful, always selling more records, always more popular, always cooler. Depending on who I was comparing myself to, over time, more people start selling more records, getting better reviews. You start selling fewer tickets. As the 2000s progressed, my career waned and other people’s escalated. I would go to visit my record company and they’d have my picture behind the receptionist desk. One day I show up and it’s Jack White’s picture behind the receptionist desk.

The most depressed I’ve ever been in my entire life was the height of my professional success. I remember this moment so clearly. I was at an MTV awards in Barcelona. There’s this hotel called the Arts Hotel in Barcelona. At the tippity top of the hotel they have four three-bedroom apartments. I was in one, P. Diddy was in one, Jon Bon Jovi was in one, and Madonna was in one. The first night I was there I invited some people over to look at the view and drink. I kept drinking by myself and I got more and more despondent. I literally, at the end of the evening, before going to bed, was walking around this beautiful, insane apartment, crying, thinking of how I could get out the window to kill myself.

I realize that some people would hear this and roll their eyes, but I really appreciated Moby’s honesty. There’s always going to be someone ahead of you who seems like they are the one who has it all. I felt the same way when Jennifer Weiner confessed on Facebook that she felt hurt when Oprah Winfrey picked another writer’s memoir for her book club, rather than her forthcoming Hungry Heart. It looks like Weiner removed the post, but I found a few excerpts online: “I still feel like crap on a cracker, though (as well as being so jealous that I can’t see straight). Yes, I have my own career, and my own path, and my own purpose. I know who I am and I know who I am here for. I know that the universe provides an abundance of favor and love, and there’s enough for all of us, and we shouldn’t tear each other down when we don’t get what we want, and there are better things ahead.”

Most days, Weiner’s social media feed is full of fun photos and sassy remarks, but she’s not just a quip machine. She’s a sensitive and vulnerable person (which is probably a big reason why her books are so good). Naturally, she was criticized for making her feelings public, but to me, it was a lesson that even an extremely successful person can fall victim to the “compare and despair” trap.

Most celebrities will only show us their most airbrushed, perfect faces; and in the age of social media, even many of our friends curate their feeds to make it look like their lives are a glamorous swirl of parties, vacations and Instagram-ready dinners. I am grateful to those who dare to give us a peek at the real feelings lurking behind the façade.

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