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What does it mean to have the right stuff? 

March 28, 2022
Written by Ian Reynolds


One of my favorite films is ‘The Right Stuff’, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel by the same name, also a favorite book. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a gem of cinematography and is frequently quoted. 

The film covers a period of about 15 years leading up to and through the space race. The novel and film closely examine the men selected for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program of the United States.  

What does it mean to have the right stuff?

We get to Tom Wolfe’s definition of the right stuff as not just one thing. It’s a combination of factors related to a category of commitment to a common cause of a difficult challenge. The cause in this instance is winning the space race. 

In one defining moment, demonstrating commitment to the cause, Chuck Yeager prepares to fly the experimental X-1 aircraft despite that he is in serious pain from a prior injury. 

“Even though his side was throbbing, and his right arm felt practically useless, Yeager figured he could grit his teeth and get through the flight”. He would be thrown around violently, so he got a football helmet “he butchered it with a hunting knife until he carved the right kind of holes in it, so that it would fit down over his regular flying helmet and the earphones and the oxygen rig” 

Overcoming physical hardship demonstrates how Chuck Yeager was relentless in getting what needed to be done including the creativity of modifying a football helmet. He was willing to stop at nothing to pursue his goal in proving the capabilities of the X-1. 

Cleverly enough, it is never said outright that Chuck has ‘The right stuff’. What is made clear through the book is that he is the picture or ideal of a person who possessed ‘The right stuff’, even though he never went to space and was not as public a figure like the Mercury 7 team.  

Possessing the “right stuff” is presented as a multifaceted set of qualities and characteristics where commitment, especially commitment to a common challenge, unifies and encourages a group of people to find their limits. But once those limits have been found, those with ‘The right stuff’ will try to reach beyond those known limits. 

Our present endeavor

Our journey together to build great companies will not be an easy one. Space, and even the moon will remain distant for some. Founders, Venture Partners, and supporting team members at Golden Section are all committed to the same cause. But to truly be successful, the journey cannot become myopic in scope or all-consuming. 

Like the men and women involved in Mercury Seven and the missions that came before, we must all strive together to do great things, some might say impossible things. Without a doubt, the journey will take us beyond our known limits into the truly unknown. 

Ian shares more about what it means to be a Venture Partner with Golden Section below

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