You may have heard about the Finnish term/mentality called sisu – described as extraordinary courage, grit and resilience. Like an inner fire driving you to reach almost impossible goals.
Sisu can be seen as a verb, it’s determination in action*.
Sisu is often associated with toughness and masculine power but it also has a colorful and softer side that deserves to be shed some light on. A side that doesn’t take away any of sisu‘s capacity but can actually increase it.
”To be tough as a rock and soft as the clouds – there’s some life goal…”
Sisu comes with the assumption that there will be hardships and discomfort along the way, but you can overcome the obstacles and yourself, and move forward.
Here are some examples of sisu in action. When I think about sisu:
I see someone jumping into an ice-cold lake because it helps her to stay calm, healthy and happy.
I see a group fighting for a cause that may not come true in this lifetime but it can serve the future generations.
I see a person who is told by a doctor that he will never walk again, saying in his mind: “Just watch me.”
I see someone helping another person when others have already left.
I see a person presenting an idea that the audience laughs at but yet he continues and gives that idea a chance. As well as I see someone else performing at a comedy club for the first time and hardly anyone laughs, but she keeps writing new comedy sketches and taking the stage again.
Just do it! But do it in a wise way and together with others when needed
If traditionally sisu is seen as a stubborn and rugged courage, when a person – to achieve a goal – “goes through even a grey rock” (“mennä läpi vaikka harmaan kiven”, another Finnish saying), the colorful and softer side of sisu sees when it’s actually better to go around the rock, or find some other clever solution.
The Split Apple Rock in New Zealand. Maybe someone actually pushed through it with sisu?
Sisu has also been associated with the ethos of managing things by oneself, not needing to rely on others (as they often say in Finland: “Ei tartte auttaa” = “No need for help”) and hiding your feelings (“Ei auta itku markkinoilla” = “It doesn’t help to cry on the market / in real world”, another common Finnish sentence).
The more colorful sisu allows both: acting alone and together with other people, and making things happen plus dealing with the emotions.
As Joanna Nylund writes in her book SISU – The Finnish Art of Courage:
“Sisu gives you the courage to stand alone, if you have to. It makes you someone who doesn’t need anyone else’s approval in order to do the right things.”
“Sisu may be an individual quality, but it’s one we inspire in each other. We are stronger together than we are alone. […] In difficult times, we need to be able to lean on each other and subsequently offer each other that same support. Chances are, on days when a you are running low on sisu, someone near you will be able to top it up again.”
Courage with a twinkle in the corner of your eye
Sisu is also often associated with straightforwardness and seriousness. Keeping a poker face, no matter what happens. The more colorful sisu let’s a person to take the missions seriously but also to enjoy and have fun during the process. And while seeing the forest for the trees, also to see the beautiful trees from the forest – to cherish moments and details on the way.
There are many styles to practice sisu. Like metal music (which is by the way a popular music genre in Finland) can be empowering, so can many other kind of music too. Sometimes it’s disco what gets you going.
A person is going up the mountain. Her heart is pounding and her legs are getting tired. She notices a cone falling, a hawk screeching and a marmot peeking out from behind a rock. She smiles and keeps going until she reaches the top. The view above tastes sweeter after a long, sweaty climb.
At the core of sisu are our values and living bravely according to them, with an appreciation for oneself, others and the environment.
To connect with and to utilize your sisu, you can ask yourself:
What are you about? What things are important and inspiring to you, and what are you doing related to them?
What can you do today to get closer to your values or goals?
How are you maintaining your physical and mental strength in your daily life?
The new, fresh SISU Pastel print celebrates sisu in all its colors
As a reflection of the rugged and manly imago of sisu, often the sisu visualisations have been quite dark and serious too. This new print shows the versatile and playful potential in sisu and uses the 90s pastel shades to do so.
SISU Pastel collection of printed bags, cards and more in Abroadland Art Shop >>
T-Shirts on demand via Redbubble >>
Read more about sisu
Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage – 2018 by Joanna Nylund
Sisu: The Finnish art of inner strength
The sisu within you: The Finnish key to life, love and success
Why Business Leaders Should Follow ‘Sisu,’ Finland’s Equivalent Of The American Dream
What Sisu Can Teach Us About Well-Being