I love the word “gumption”. I like finding words that cram a lot of ideas into a small space. Gumption is closely related to boldness or courage, but it also relates more to enthusiasm than simply being able to overcome your fears. I think having gumption is important, and it’s something you can possess without being soaked in self-confidence or charisma.
I was invited to a gala dinner a few weeks ago. I was one of a few students amidst hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives. In other words, I was a little out of my league.
Instead of sitting with the group of students I was with, I took a friend and we went to go talk to the other attendants. One man we went up to talk to admired me, “for my gumption,” and having the enthusiasm to talk to complete strangers who are far more important and successful than I am.
What is Gumption?
If I had to define gumption myself (and I define words for myself all the time, so why not?), I’d say that it’s a combination of boldness and enthusiasm. It means taking the initiative, not because you’re immune to fear or dripping with confidence, but simply because you don’t buy into all the socially programmed reasons to hold yourself back.
Gumption means starting a company at 14. It means going to the gym every day, even though you’re out of shape and surrounded by fit people. Gumption is going up to talk to every person at a party, even though you’re a complete stranger.
Because Nobody is Going to Eat You…
I think the person with boldness ask themselves a lot of questions about why they are doing something. They create this list of motivation and use it to overcome their fears. I visualize boldness as picking out your goal and using it to drive through all fears and obstacles.
I feel gumption is slightly different as, instead of creating a list of whys, they ask themself, “why not?” What is the worst that could happen? You won’t spontaneously explode if you say hi to someone you don’t know. You aren’t going to die if your business idea fails. Robert Parsons, founder of GoDaddy, said that one of his favorite quotes was from his father when he had doubts about going into a new venture. His father replied, “Well at least they can’t eat you.”
What’s Your Excuse?
How do you create gumption? Although there are a lot of approaches, I think a lot of it comes from not rejecting ideas immediately. Societal programming means a lot of ideas are immediately tossed aside before they can be examined critically. Ideas get rejected on reflex:
- “I can’t start a business, because I don’t have any money or experience.”
- “I can’t talk to strangers because that would be rude.”
- “I can’t write a book because I’m not an expert.”
- “I can’t change my habits because I don’t have enough self-discipline.”
- “I can’t because…”
I think if you actually spent enough time sitting on an idea, you’d realize that a lot of reflexive excuses aren’t substantial. An online business has low capital requirements and you gain experience while you build it. Strangers are often friendly, if they don’t want to say “hi”, then they are being rude. Books make people experts, you don’t need a PhD to start doing your own research and start sharing your ideas.
Getting Away With Gumption
When I went up to talk to complete strangers out of my income bracket at the gala dinner, I made a realization. People will forgive you for gumption. They may tell you that you can’t do something, but they rarely provide a good reason. You may be too bold, precocious or idealistic. But, I’d rather be remembered as the person who had the gumption to say hi, than forgotten forever as the person who did nothing.