2014 – A Year Of Gumption

gumptionI know, who the hell uses the word Gumption anymore?

According to the Google Book historic view the word Gumption really peaked in 1939-1940, started growing again in the 1980’s, and burst back into popularity in the 2000’s (likely as it was a plot point in the Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet romantic comedy The Holiday.)

So why on earth would I guide my year in 2014 by a word that is best known in modern times by a chick flick?

Here’s the definition of the word Gumption:

gump·tion (gəmpSHən): 1) shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness

That’s right. Gumption is pretty badass.

Etymologically it is of unknown origin, but word scholars believe that Gumption comes from an old Scottish word gaum (from the Middle English gome) which meant “attention or notice.” As Lucy Maud Montgomery once wrote “Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it.” Gumption is also a recurring theme in Robert Persig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, so it isn’t just for sassy savvy ladies of pages and screens.

Over the past four years of carefully thinking over and deciding the words that would be my theme for the upcoming year (Love in 2010, Intention in 2011, Fun in 2012, Surrender in 2013) I realized that the past few years have been about a need to slow down and become softer. Not surprising for someone who just a few years before had garnered the nickname “Ice Princess” from her Corporate American peers (Ice Queen was already taken in the office.)

At the end of 2013, while savoring the lessons learned from surrendering my control in situations beyond my control, I also realized that I had fallen into a state of complacency and contentment in the slower softer bubble I had created over the past few years. I mean, I had some pretty momentous life events over the past few years, but in general I’ve been dialing it back to the point that I started to dial it in. The point of adopting words and themes each year is not just to focus on them for a year and then move on to the next year. The point is to learn important things about the world around you and the world inside you, and form a perspective you may not have seen or noticed before. To take the lessons learned from each 365-day adventure around the sun and apply them to your life going forward.

That is why Gumption resonated with me. I looked at some of the synonyms: backbone, grit, guts, moxie, fortitude. I liked them, but something about gumption spoke to me and spoke to the way I want my 2014 to look. Shrewd and spirited with resourceful initiative, while maintaining some bits of the reserved classic. Driven while still being a bit softer and slower, like the women of the bygone era.

Easy enough, right? What do my 2014 plans look like?

I’ve adhered before to SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) in the past, which ends up being a laundry list of resolutions that are rarely reviewed and never completed. Then I read James Clear’s article in Entrepreneur.com, Forget Setting Goals. Focus On This Instead, which talks about the difference between goals and systems and he asks:

“If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?”

The answer is, of course, that you would obviously still get results, and often results you didn’t even know you were going to achieve.

Which now leads us to the extremely important question: How the hell do you strategize an upcoming year on systems instead of goals?

Execution is always the challenge in strategy – not necessarily doing it, but figuring out HOW to do it.

I came back to my guiding word, Gumption, and thought about what how person with gumption would approach the solution. They would approach it with determination, shrewdness, and common sense. If one word was guiding my year, why not break my systems down into a few other words that would guide my systems.

In 2014 I will:

  • Write every day. 1000 words. Whether it is a blog post or an article or an excerpt to an upcoming book or a random babbling stream of consciousness nonsense (that may just become something legible one day.) Email doesn’t count, cheater.
  • embrace opportunities to Learn. Whether it is reading on Kindle or pouring through my Feedly reader or watching films or discussing concepts and ideas with peers.
  • Build something that is my own that I will be proud of. Whether it is client reports or new processes for my team or editing work or administrative management.

The most important part of systems? Tracking them. Each night, as I curl up with my Gratitude Journal to jot down the 5 things I was grateful for in a day, I will also note these three things.

Did I write? Did I learn? Did I build?

I’m not sure that these are the perfect systems yet, but that’s the thing with systems. If they are good systems, they change with you. Who knows if something this simple will work, but one thing I’m pretty certain of. Doing something daily is a good habit to get into while creating the systems that lead your initiatives and drive.

Here’s to a 2014 that brings whatever you are seeking into your life. It’s yours for the taking, get some Gumption and go after it.


  1. Good systems. And looking forward to enjoying the results of your creative initiatives.

    Perhaps one way to keep going with the systems is to take less of an interrogative approach. You end the article by stating your intent to reflect on if you have written, learned or built – maybe you should hold back on that as, from my experience, it tends to derail your progress and puts one back into that “goal-setting” frame of mind.

    • Yeah, I considered that a bit, which is why instead of having full out measured goals the reminders are “Did you write” – “Did you learn” – “Did you build?” I might not even use them all 365 days, but instead til I get in the habit of making sure I’m focusing on the system. Over the past year of surrendering to life, I fell in the dangerous pattern of just letting life happen to me, which is an easy way to end up unhappy. Hoping this will strike a bit of a balance, course I’ll be tweaking as I go.

  2. Maisie Smith

    January 6 at 11:53 am

    I love this, Elisa! Having a word to center your year around is brilliant… and “gumption” is an awesome one. When I think of gumption, I think of never giving up, of always finding a way.

    I am centering my 2014 around 3 key words: mindful, gentle, brave. These will guide me through decisions on my quest to make 2014 the best year yet!

    • Thanks Maisie! I’ve been doing it for a while, it really does help with guiding your intentions and decisions for a year. “Is this what I’d do if I had gumption?” “Is this surrendering my control?” “Is that fun?” etc. Props to Jenny Blake and Chris Guillebeau for keeping me on track with it by giving such good write-ups on their sites.

      I like your words as well! As writers, words just matter, huh? 🙂

  3. Hannah Pearson

    February 3 at 4:26 am

    I came across the Finnish word ‘sisu’ the other day – it’s one of those words-which-can’t-be-directly-translated into just one word types, but the definition (from Wikipedia) is: “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu.” Pretty similar to gumption!

    Thanks for flagging up the idea of setting systems, rather than goals. When I wrote my January resolutions this year, I decided that they would be where I wanted to be by the end of 2014 – now I see that I need to put a system in place to get there.

    • I love new words, and especially those “can’t be directly translated” words. Sisu sounds like an excellent addition to my boards and books for 2014, very similar (but beautifully different dimensions as well) from gumption. Thanks for sharing!

      Look forward to hearing how your 2014 shapes up. Good habits and systems are hard! At least that’s what I’m reminding myself more and more. 🙂

      • Hannah Pearson

        February 4 at 8:01 am

        You’re welcome – I think it’s the kind of word that has to be shared once you find it! 🙂

  4. No, completely agree on this one. I came across an interesting point on the 4HWW about being goal-driven or process-driven:

    “The author cited a University of Texas in Austin study of goal-oriented and process-oriented people in the workplace. Unexpectedly, it was not the hypercompetitive Type “A” people who were doing more for the company, making more money, getting more raises and promotions. It was the folks who were enjoying their job.”

    Something to be said for enjoying what you do 🙂

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