How To Be A Super-Achiever: The 10 Qualities That Matter

What do actor Alec Baldwin, game-show champion
Ken Jennings and baseball icon Yogi Berra have in
That’s what husband-and-wife duo Camille
Sweeney and Josh Gosfield set out to discover. For
their upcoming book The Art of Doing: How
Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do
It So Well, they interviewed 36 star performers that
climbed to the tops of their various fields.
“We didn’t want to theorize about success,” says
Gosfield. “We went straight to the source, finding
the most amazing people in all fields and asking
them, ‘How do you do what you do?’”
Interview after interview with some of the world’s
most successful people—actress Laura Linney,
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, crossword mastermind
Will Shortz—they began seeing patterns emerge.
No matter how diverse their goals or crafts, these
super-achievers shared many of the same habits.
How can you follow in their footsteps? These are
the 10 qualities that will set you apart.
Dedication To A Vision
“Every great success starts with inspiration, but not
every inspiration leads to success,” Gosfield says.
“The most common thing we found was these
people’s devotion to the day-to-day struggle.”
Glossy magazine success stories often don’t show
the dark moments, the daily grind or flagging
energy that super-achievers endure to realize their
goals. However, that dedication is essential to their
Intelligent Persistence
One thing successful people know: Dedication and
blind persistence are two very different things. “You
can work hard but not smart,” says Sweeney.
“When something’s not working, you’ve got to
tweak it. Some people just keep banging their
heads against the wall.” Instead of doggedly using
the same ineffective tactics, super-achievers pivot
and try to tackle the problem from a different

Fostering A Community
Star performers know they can’t achieve success on
their own. Instead, they must galvanize a group of
people around their idea or goal. Teamwork, or
having an ecosystem of supporters, turns out to be
critically vital for success. It doesn’t just include
partners and coworkers. It might also mean
employees, customers, investors, mentors, fans
and social media followers. They quote business
guru Guy Kawasaki: “First you have to create
something worthy of an ecosystem. Then pick your
Listening And Remaining Open
“You don’t normally think of hard-charging, action-
oriented leaders as being good listeners,” says
Sweeney. “These people’s ability to practice the art
of listening helped them learn what they needed to
know about the world around them.” For example,
Zappos’ Hsieh asked all his employees to share
their personal values so that he could incorporate
them into the company’s values and culture.
Likewise, Linney says she never accepts a role
unless she has read and reread the script so many
times that it has opened up to her.
Good Storytelling
Stories have the ability to transport people to your
world, and then they’re more likely to invest in you
and your brand. Philippe Petit, famous for his high-
wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York
City’s World Trade Center in the 1970s, believed
other wire-walkers were trying to make it look hard.
“But he wanted to be a poet in the sky and seem
effortless,” Sweeney says. “His narrative wasn’t in
words, but it was a story he was communicating.”
Testing Ideas In The Market
“Everybody has a bias to think their own idea is
brilliant,” says Gosfield. “[Achievers] roll it out in
an environment that’s as close as possible to the
market.” Bill Gross, serial entrepreneur and founder
of Idealab, always tests before he invests. When he
had an idea for an online car dealer, CarsDirect, no
one was sure if people would actually buy a car
from a Web site. He decided to put up a test site to
see what would happen. Before they had any
inventory, they’d sold four cars and had to shut
down the site. On the upside, Gross then knew for a
fact there was a market for the service.
Managing Emotions
“We found that managing emotions is a key
element to success,” Sweeney says. “It’s so easy to
be derailed by them, but these people are able to
channel anger and frustration into their work.” This
was an important lesson for Jessica Watson, the
Australian sailor who circumnavigated the world
alone at only 16 years old. While out at sea, when
loneliness or negativity set in, she would
acknowledge her emotions and remind herself that
she could get past them. “You can’t change
conditions—just the way you deal with them,”
Watson said.
Constantly Evolving
Successful people maintain success by consistently
learning and adapting to the environment around
them. Tennis champion Martina Navratilova
realized this when her game suddenly started
sliding. She decided to transform her training
routine and diet, and soon was back on track to
become an all-star athlete.
Practicing Patience
Inaction, or stillness, can sometimes be just as
useful as action. The importance of patience was a
primary theme among the super-achievers–whether
it’s strategically waiting for the best time to make a
move or continuing to pursue a larger vision
without receiving immediate rewards. Jill Tarter, a
director of the SETI Institute (Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has been searching for
life on other planets for the last 50 years without
any guarantee of success.
Pursuing Happiness
Success fuels happiness, and happiness in turn
fuels greater success. Jennings, “the winningest
game-show champion in history,” said once he
became a contestant on a game show, it filled his
entire life with passion. That happiness helped him
win, and winning ended up giving him the
confidence he needed to pursue a career he loved:
writing. Seeking happiness in your life and work
turns out to be a win-win.


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