Adam Mosseri
Unintended Consequences

Instagram’s CEO Opens Up About His Own Relationship with Anxiety

Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO, reveals how his own relationship with anxiety has translated into a focus on improving the well-being of a billion users.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

One of the big questions right now for social media is how does it contribute to mental health?


Adam Mosseri: …I struggle with anxiety. I have a lot of anxiety. There’s a question about where and how Instagram can play a role. Are we exacerbating it? If so, then how can we make sure that we don’t do that. But can we go further than that? Can we reduce someone’s anxiety?

That’s a hard question to answer, because… I mean I’ll speak personally, my anxiety has to do with a lot more than my use of Instagram. It has to do with having little kids. It has to do with work/life balance. It has to do with my job. It has to do with my family, et cetera.

So, not to be dismissive at all. We just want to make sure that whatever we decide to do we have the capacity to do really well and to actually make a difference.

Laurie Segall: Why is mental health important to you? You spoke a little bit about anxiety, but why is this kind of stuff personal to you?

Adam Mosseri: It’s a good question. …I do think one of the big questions right now for social media is how does it contribute to mental health? And that’s laddering up to are you not good for people?

… And so I’m trying to respond to that. But personally, I mean my dad being a psychotherapist, probably has something to do with my sensitivity to mental health issues. I mean he’s supported all sorts of people in all sorts of difficult positions for as long as I can remember. And so that probably has something to do with it.

What I’ve wrestled with personally …I mean I’ve got my own, you know, anxieties, but also just motivators, things that I’ve struggled with over the years. And so I mean, this isn’t as interesting necessarily, but one of the ways I manage anxiety is I just invest a lot in health. … And so I actually try to take the anxiety I have and funnel that energy into sort of personal well-being, self-care.

And so that probably at some unconscious or subconscious level is a feedback loop that’s working that I want to apply somewhere else. So I believe that most people do things that work for them. So, if you, I don’t know, if you yell at people all the time you probably do that because at some level that worked for you at a young age, and then you’ve got this positive feedback loop, and then you kept on doing it.

So I have had this positive feedback loop over the last five years where my job has become very, very intense. I’ve become a father. I’ve got two little boys. …Little boys are amazing, but they’re also quite a handful. And the way I’ve managed that is through investing in my own well-being. And so I probably at some subconscious level am projecting that on my job.

And to say that one way to manage the questions and the anxiety and the scrutiny, and the rest of it is just to invest in care. And if you do that, you know, the belief, which is probably not articulated explicitly in my brain, but just sort of more in my body is, good things will happen.

Laurie Segall: Is there a moment you could go back to that you think was a particularly hard moment?

Adam Mosseri: There are. There are a number of moments. …I try really hard never to complain though about my job, because my job is, yes, it’s very intense, but it is an amazing opportunity. There’s a lot of people who would kill for the opportunity, and I try to remind myself of that, most every day, and be grateful for that… If you want to understand a little bit about what the anxieties, or what the costs, or what the downsides might be of a role like this…

There are some that are generic, and there are some that are probably more specific to me. Generic ones include, I mean security implications. …When you have you or your family being threatened either explicitly or implicitly, or physically, or online, like that’s part of the job at this point. And that is something that I did not even have on my radar only a few years ago. So that’s a big one, particularly if you’ve got young kids.

Laurie Segall: And that’s happened recently?

Adam Mosseri: Yeah. And some of that’s been covered, but a lot of it hasn’t. We generally try not to talk about it that much because you don’t want to inspire others. …So another generic one would just be the scrutiny. Like, I get out there in the world and I talk a lot. I think that we need to be out there more .because the conversation’s gonna happen with or without us. That can be intense. I’ve been asked on TV to resign. I’ve been shown a video of moms telling me to stop killing their children, uh, while being recorded without even giving a heads up.

Like this is part of the job. That actually I don’t find as taxing, because usually…when someone’s coming at you like that, they’re usually motivated by something good. They care deeply about a specific issue. And so I can tap into that, and I’ve gotten used to those types of experiences from so many crazy roles over the years. But that I think can be taxing.

For me personally, it’s different though. I have the hardest time when I feel like I’m failing my people. I care a lot about the people who work for me and with me. I think of leading any organization as, and this will sound a bit corny, but like a family. You want to understand that you’re in this together. You want to create space for dissent. You want to create real emotional support, not just, you know, rational support, because that will be how you get the best work. That’ll be how you attract the best people. That’ll be how you keep the best people. And when I feel like I’m failing at that, when I feel like I’m not doing right by my people, if I didn’t see around a corner for them, or if I change my mind on something and I thrash them, or if I didn’t provide an opportunity for them, that for me personally is really rough.