Robert Pirsig wrote the 1974 book titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book describes a 17-day motorcycle trip across the United States in which many philosophical discussions are held. It sold over 4 million copies and has been described as one of the most widely read philosophical books ever written. In the book Pirsig coined the term gumption trap.
Considering my line of work, I wanted to explain what Pirsig originally meant by the term gumption trap and relate it to our hero Forrest Gump. And we’ll recall a scene where Forrest could very well have been stuck in his own gumption trap and what he did to shake himself out of it.
Random House defines gumption as common sense, shrewdness, and with a sense of initiative or resourcefulness, courage, spunk and guts. I’ll most simply define gumption as self-initiative. A gumption trap, according to Pirsig, is a loss of enthusiasm for a project. This loss of enthusiasm can derive from either external or internal circumstances. A loss of enthusiasm can discourage one from either starting a project or continuing a project. Pirsig calls the external circumstances setbacks while labeling the internal circumstances hang-ups. Ron Franke’s blog describes Pirsig’s philosophical writing on the gumption trap in even greater detail.
Mostly likely you can think of times when you’ve experienced your own gumption trap and didn’t want to start or continue a project. You probably never called them gumption traps but instead thought of them as procrastination, lack of motivation, I-don’t-feel-like-it, dilly-dallying or loafing. Extreme cases could be called avoidance, bogged down or stuck. If gumption is initiative, then a gumption trap is something – either external or internal – that keeps you from taking initiative.
Recall from the movie the scene when Forrest is sitting alone on his front porch, hat in hand, staring emptily out at the front lawn and trees. Jenny had left him, again, after she returned home for a very happy time in his life. His mother was dead, Bubba was dead, Lt. Dan was off running the shrimpin’ business and Jenny was gone. No doubt Forrest was feeling blue, lacking motivation and bogged down. Forrest was stuck in a gumption trap. We can identify if his enthusiasm and energy for life at that point had waned.
So what did he do? He put his hat on his head, he stood up and decided to go for a little run. The musical score reflects the gloomy mood as he sat alone on the front porch. But as he arises the melodic tempo increases to mirror his uplifting mood. And as he starts to run, slowly at first and then with great speed, the music is much loader and lively. Forrest had broken out of his gumption trap.
How did he do it? Simple. He found his gumption or self-initiative. Later in the movie Forrest says, “Mama always said, ‘Put the past behind you before you can move on.’ And I think that’s what my running was all about.” Forrest started to run to break out of his gumption trap. And the run turned out to be a way to put the past behind.
I acknowledge my own gumption traps. There are projects that have been started but are currently stopped. Others sit idly as ideas, still waiting to be started. Maybe I would benefit from Forrest’s example? Or maybe the Nike slogan, appropriate considering Forrest’s running shoes, ‘Just do it’ perfectly describes how to break out of a gumption trap.
What gumption traps are you stuck in? Where have you lost enthusiasm? What projects need doing? Right Now? Could it be as simple as deciding to go for a run like Forrest did? Or maybe you just need to pick up the phone? Or maybe you just need to sit down at the computer and write your ideas? Or complete that tax return? Why not try being a little more gump-like and just act with Gumption!
Run, Forrest, Run!
Next Blog Title: Forrest Gump & Perseverance!
Next Blog Date: Monday, April 12, 2010