Gumption: The Practical Woman's Guide to Living an Adventuresome Life + An interview with the author

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A while back I got an email about a book called Gumption: The The Practical Woman's Guide to Living an Adventuresome Life by Shelagh Meagher and it instantly caught my eye. As I mentioned in my post about Camp Wanakita, I'm trying to do more things outside of my comfort zone. If someone asks me to do something, I'm trying to say yes (within reason). And this year, I want to do things I want to do instead of just thinking or talking about doing them.

If you have something you want to do, or have always wanted to do, and don't know where to start (or you've talked yourself out of it time and again), Gumption is the perfect book for you.

Welcome to the start of a more exciting life

That's how the book begins. Wouldn't you be captivated? The thing about this book is that, as the title mentions, it's a practical guide on how to get stuff done. There are no grand statements with no back-up. No high expectations you must put on yourself to do this thing you've always wanted to do.

Meagher offers a simple, six-step practical program focused on teaching women how they can do the things they’ve always wanted to but haven’t yet dared. Planning is key here. Many times we think about an adventure only to get too overwhelmed about the possibilities or we feel we lack resources to get it done. Meagher walks readers through each step starting with a simple question: What do I want? She wants you to write this stuff down and think about what it's going to take to get off the couch and Get on with it (a saying she refers to quite often in the book).

I loved the book. I love step-by-step guides on how to make things happen. There are real-women stories of adventure successes along with a Gumption Workbook to help readers through the challenges that are keeping them back from succeeding.

As a little treat, I asked Meagher some questions about the book and she was so kind to respond and send a few photos of her own personal adventures. Read more below.

1// In the windowless window of an old ruin of a villa we bought in Italy and spent years renovating before finally giving up on it. The story is told in the blog
2// Ocean kayaking: I had always been terrified about being stuck in the plastic skirt thingy and not being able to escape should it turn over. This was my first time ever. You'll notice the water is flat as a pancake!
3// With my guide during a trip to Mongolia
4// Trying to learn how to milk a yak

What inspired you to write Gumption? What have you learned from writing it?

Gumption started as a conversation with my daughter in an airport. We were talking about what makes some people more adventuresome than others, and whether it was only an inherent trait or if it could be learned. I though it would be very cool if it were a learnable skill. The idea really caught my interest, so I started interviewing women about daring things they'd done and how they managed to do so. Not big-name women, just regular wives and moms and such. It quickly became apparent that there were a lot of common tools and approaches, regardless of the nature of their adventure. So I knew there was something useful I could create.

Personally, I thought when I started that I was a really adventuresome person. But I quickly realized that there were big areas of my life in which I was a total wuss, and the creation of the Gumption program therefore became quite a personal journey. I was my own best lab rat for every exercise in the book! In particular I became much more daring about putting myself out there. Singing lead vocals in a rock band, for example - that was a huge step for me and something I'd been too scared to try before I started writing Gumption.

What do you hope readers gain from reading it?

I have a fervent belief in the benefits of personal expansion - the way accomplishing something outside our comfort zone makes us feel alive and brave and filled with possibilities for our lives. I hope that readers will dare to do something they didn't think they could pull off before. Any little thing will do, because when they do that one thing they'll have the tools and the proof to do more. And that means they'll be living an expanded, enriched life. Yay.

What is the first step women should take toward realizing their dream/adventure?

Allow themselves to want something. Women tend to put everyone else's desires before their own. We think that wanting something just for us is selfish. So they need to get their heads around the idea that their personal expansion is a gift they give not only to themselves, but to everyone around them.

Planning is a big part of your book. Why do you think it’s important for women to plan their adventures?

If you're trying to do something that doesn't take much in the way of logistics, such as taking up belly dancing, for instance, the planning effort is naturally going to be a lot less than for, say, sailing solo across the Atlantic. But regardless of the scope, the planning process - thinking through the possible pitfalls and how you're going to deal with them - helps us get to action with confidence. If your dream is just a vague, unplanned thing, the danger is that you get to the point of departure and freeze, because you haven't a clue what might be coming. Planning avoids that problem.

Why do you think it’s so difficult for women to be adventurous?

Women juggle a lot of diverse obligations and responsibilities, and we live in perpetual fear that they're all going to come tumbling down in a great mess we don't personally keep them up. So we tend to avoid trying anything that might rock the boat. The most oft-stated reason for not doing the thing they dream about (based on research I fielded last year) wasn't fear or lack or money, or lack of capability. It was time. We devote our hours to work, children, spouses, aging parents, friends, etc - but not to ourselves.

I loved your phrase “Get on with it!” Can you tell our readers more about where this phrase came from and why it’s so important?

My mother used to say this all the time, whenever somebody was being a wimp or procrastinating on something scary. "For heaven's sake, why don't they just get on with it?" was her universal response. If we had a family crest, that'd be the motto. My mom came from pioneering stock, so she had a lot of gumption and she instilled it in us (I'm one of four sisters). I guess I'm channeling her when exhorting my readers to get on with it!

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? Favourite adventure? Besides the horse jumping adventure you mention in the book, what adventure would you never do again?

Craziest, hmmm that's difficult because I'm actually quite practical about my adventures, as the book title suggests. I guess I wouldn't buy another Italian ruin - a girl can only handle that kind of financial loss once in her life! And I wouldn't skydive, now that I know my body just doesn't bend the way it needs to for good airflow - glad I found that out in an air tube rather than while hurtling through the sky from 2500 feet up.

My favourite adventure was absolutely the trek across the Mongolian steppes. I waited four decades to make that sucker happen and it exceeded my wildest dreams about what it would be like. At one point I was standing at the top of a small mountain there, staring all around at this incredible landscape, and the feeling of having actually made that dream come true, having carried it around since I was 12 years old, was overwhelming.

What is still on your bucket list? What is the next adventure for you?

Here's the surprising thing: I don't have a bucket list. The Mongolian trek was one of the few things I'd wanted to do for ages. Usually, I just get ideas in my head and if they stick around for long enough, I see if I can figure out how to do them. The biggie that's been lingering for a while now involves living in other people's houses for a year...I'd like to house-sit in a variety of countries for 6-10 weeks at a pop, just long enough to get an idea of what life is like in that situation, without having anything planned out except the first one. The next would be whatever came up in the right time frame. It's kind of a colossal experiment in the meaning of 'home'. But there are a lot of logistics to plan for, even without an itinerary, so it'll take some time to pull that one off.

So what do you think? What's something you've always wanted to do and what's holding you back? Start with some Gumption and let the adventure begin.

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