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.

  • Vincent

    Scott, the “company at 14” link is broken. Could you fix it?

  • Scott Young

    Whoops, WordPress likes to add stuff before a link if I don’t include the http://, unfortunately…

  • Avi Marcus

    Heh, I recall reading: “When I asked someone why he was always so enthusiastic, he responded: why not?”

  • Laurie | Express Yourself to S

    Gumption, for me, is a single word for the already short phrase “Just do it.”

    Great post.

  • Chris Edgar

    Thanks for this piece. It does seem important to give serious thought to the consequences of doing what we fear. Another approach I’ve found important is to notice the sensations that come up in your body when you’re thinking of doing something you see as risky like talking to strangers. Just doing this has you realize that you’re separate from those sensations and that experiencing them can’t change who and what you are.

  • David

    I love it, what a great post. Allow me to share with you & everyone else the day Michael Harris came to sing in Church; Michael walked in standing 6′ “6 he took a seat in a pew up front by himself I noticed no one had the “Gumption” to sit next to him or even walk up & shake his hand. I began to think; do I have the gumption? I answered myself by getting up & walking up to him introducing myself & taking a seat next to him & began a pleasent conversation with him where we both witnessed to each other & became friends.

    Ahh the power of gumption!

  • irwin Madarang

    i remember watching the movie “The holiday” (Nancy Meyers) I heard the word gumption the first time, used in a conversation. Iris ( Kate Winslet) if I remember it right has often used the word to describe herself, in finally getting over with her ex. But I also remeber, I have seen the word more in action, as acted out in the person of Amanda ( Cameron Diaz).
    Wow! I love your post man!

  • googoo

    Good Lord!

    Does no one on this blog read anymore?

    What happened to the best “gumption” reference of them all: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance”…..?

    That book was the one phenomenon that allowed ideas like the ones you write about everyday to be talked about and accepted into the mainstream 🙂