Art of Doing authors at Woodstock Library this Saturday

Did you ever wonder how successful people get that way? Putting aside sheer luck, it seems that they must know something that the rest of us don’t in order to have hit their personal jackpots. What we’re often not privy to is the commitment and persistence that each success story involves: the years of practice, the hard climb to the top and the flat-out failures that lead to new ideas.

In their new book, The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do & How They Do It So Well, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield present 36 brief profiles of accomplished people, giving us a glimpse into the mindset of achievement. The winners in this lineup are a diverse crowd, conquering the challenges of things like opening a restaurant and becoming an opera diva and mastering dog psychology – as did David Chang, Anna Netrebko and Cesar Millan.

“We envisioned both the person and the question,” Gosfield said. “The idea for this book was like curating the world’s most fabulous dinner party: Whom would you like to sit with and speak to about their lives and the way they accomplished their achievement?”

The authors wanted to find examples in all human endeavors: the arts, business, science, entertainment. They interviewed actors Laura Linney and Alec Baldwin, athletes Yogi Berra and Martina Navratilova, gamers Will Shortz and Ken Jennings and a broad field of entertainers, from funkmaster George Clinton to Candida Royale. Business entrepreneurs they talked with include Momofuku’s Chang, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh and baseball-park-builder Joseph Spear, among many others.

“You get this wide range of thinking – not only how they made their way in the field they chose, but the field itself. Then something really fascinating happened for us. We began to see how a rock band and a tennis player think alike, or a racecar driver and an astrophysicist,” said Sweeney. It turns out that there are common strategies to pursuing goals, even though the goals for each of these select superachievers are so different. The authors identified similarities in risk-taking and responding to failure, for example, and they suggest that we can all take inspiration from the methods and experiences of others, whether we’re budding entrepreneurs or stay-at-home Moms.

Sweeney and Gosfield will be at the Woodstock Library this Saturday, November 9, to share some of the stories that they gleaned for The Art of Doing. “The process of interviewing these people was like 36 master classes for us,” said Sweeney. “Very often after an interview, we’d have our jaws hanging on the ground, just hearing the details of someone’s amazing feats or even a singular feat. And how these people dealt with failure was fascinating. Everybody has failure in their lives.”

The larger the aspiration, the larger the possible failure, they noticed. Viewing failure more as a process than as an end result, superachievers have the ability – in the moment of obstruction in advancing towards their goal – to look at their own biases and assumptions, their thinking about what works or doesn’t work. They reinvent themselves and come up with entirely new ways of doing things.

“Another common trait that surprised us is listening. You associate the hard-charging leaders to be moving forward and not listening to the opinions of others. We found just the opposite. They are listeners – to their customers, employees, the market place, their competitors; there’s even a vintner in California who listens to the land.”

Sweeney and Gosfield offer a list of replicable common traits of superachievers, like being able to connect the dots, manage your emotions and get feedback. “Ultimately what we found is that the clues are right there. It’s about having self-awareness,” said Sweeney.

Camille Sweeney/Josh Gosfield author talk, Saturday, November 9, 5-6 p.m., Woodstock Library, 5 Library Lane, Woodstock; (845) 679-2213.

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