What does a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer have in common with a tennis legend? Or how about a celebrated opera diva and a Los Angeles civil rights lawyer? What does Alec Baldwin have in common with Yogi Berra? A lot, says journalist Camille Sweeney, who, along with co-author Josh Gosfield, interviewed dozens of highly accomplished men and women for a new book, The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. Whether someone is setting out to create one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, as Mark Frauenfelder did with BoingBoing, or to win a record amount of money on “Jeopardy!,” people who accomplish amazing things rely on a particular collection of strategies to get to the top—and many of them are not what you’d expect.
Who is a superachiever? Somebody at the top of their craft. Ken Jennings, for example, he didn’t just win on “Jeopardy!,” he was the winningest contestant ever on “Jeopardy!”—he won 74 times. It’s the person who is going beyond success.
Do you think that the people you interviewed for the book are fundamentally different from the rest of us? No! It’s interesting. I think when we started out I might have thought that. But after talking to them and really thinking about their lives, I don’t think that they’re different. When they arrived at what they thought they were going to be doing, they just kept at it. They kept up the energy. And when all the doubters and the haters were saying, “This isn’t going to work,” they didn’t listen. When they felt like they could learn something, they took what they could. It gave me hope that if you put your mind to something, you can be a superachiever. It takes a lot of work, and the work doesn’t stop. These people are pretty 24/7 about what they’re doing.
Even if we aren’t superachievers, can regular people use these techniques and strategies in our own lives? Absolutely. There is a process of doing everything. Superachievement may seem like this impenetrable block of success, this almost intimidating concept. But when you break it down into very small things, or patterns to the way somebody does something, you can grab it and absorb it right into your life. There is this exciting opportunity for people to start seeing the world through this different lens, whether you’re looking at the people we chose or people in your life.