What is Finland’s secret ingredient? – Sisu explained

Many years ago, I fell in love with a Finn. We moved in together, got cats, bought a home together and got married. Living with a Finn exposed me to many aspects of Finnish language, life and culture. Our home is full of Iittala, Marimekko and Artek. We enjoy enjoy eating “poro” and drinking lonkero. We ski in Saariselkä and we fly Finnair A350s whenever we can. Finland is part of Europe, but in so many ways, very different. It’s not just the snow and cold in winter, and the midnight sun in summer, there is certain sense of cultural uniqueness that you learn about over time. The most powerful aspect of this is summed up in the Finnish word, “sisu”. I was originally writing this post on how sisu can help you at work, but on reflection, it’s not just for work, it’s for everything in life! So what does it mean?

Even for a Finn, it’s a pretty tricky thing to explain succinctly. There’s no direct translation for “sisu” in English. Rather it is covered by a number of English words: courage, perseverance, stoicism or emotional resilience. Some suggest that “gutsy” is a good translation, given that the word “sisu” comes from the word for “interior” or “entrails“. It’s easier to envisage from behaviours, and it’s more like a state of mind. After a decade living with a Finn, here’s my 4 observations on how to develop your “sisu“.

Reflect: Finns like to pause before action, to think about what they want to achieve, and to reflect on an occasion when they were successful. Every challenge feels like a new challenge, but in reality, you’ve faced something similar before!

Push harder: Giving up is such a waste of energy, and not an option. Sometimes it’s healthy to step outside your comfort zone, get the pulse racing and be even bolder! By doing something that makes you feel scared, you build up your courage, and it’s then no longer scary. Next!

Reflect again: Sometimes, we feel like we’ve tried every angle, explored every option, and it’s time to quit. Finns see this as a point to take time out to reflect again. By pressing the “pause” button for a moment, you can get your head straight, and work out a new way to tackle the challenge.

Keeping moving forward: We’ve all surprised ourself by achieving more than we thought we could. Better result in an exam, outperformed our previous best at the gym, looked after the teething toddler and STILL nailed it in the client meeting after only an hour of sleep. Each time you do more than you thought, you build your “sisu“, so

Sisu” doesn’t just happen, you’ve got to work for it. You’ve got to keep working at it. But the good thing is that once you get it, with every step forward, you build it more. And I can assure you, it’s worth the effort! It’s helped me through challenging work and family situations, and was particularly helpful when I recently faced mental health issues.

So whether you are struggling at home or at work, maybe follow the 4 steps to start building your “sisu“, and help you move forward and deal with every challenge that life throws at you! And succeed!

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