Adversities are a natural part of the human experience. Full stop.
We’re all nodding and agree on this, right?
But seriously, how often do we find it unreasonably difficult to speak about the hard stuff. You know, when we feel we are really struggling with something, feeling helpless or inadequate. When we feel we are not strong or good enough. One case, where this is extremely clear, is when we discuss topics that relate to psychological pain or mental illness. (Violent trauma and sexual abuse, that I also research, tend go into this box of uncomfortable topics to not blurt out at a dinner table.) We brag about the cast on our broken leg but go to extreme lengths to hide emotional pain or experiences that relate depression and anxiety.
While we are fragile enough to be knocked down by something as small as a microbe, we also possess enormous strength to overcome seemingly impossible situations. What keeps coming up in my data is that even though the potential of ‘sisu’ is something within the individual, it is often best unlocked through the social dimension: with help from our friends. We hold great power to help each other remain resilient and hold on when things get tough.
Day of Sisu is an Idea Whose Time Has Come
Sisu is an age-old construct that originates from the small Nordic country of Finland. In 2015, we decided to dedicate ONE FULL DAY each year to celebrate sisu i.e. the strength that resides within all individuals, and while doing so, help each other be courageous in the small and big decisions of our life.
Here is just some of the cool stuff that happened last year:
An inaugural Day of Sisu event was held in Helsinki in the presence of about 250 people (check out the great photos taken by Sami Paju) and it kicked off an entire year dedicated to sisu. (A year, which looked absolutely gorgeous thanks to many people, but especially one lady called Minna Hiltunen at Mirum Agency.
One of my personal highlights was to witness the kind, caring and gritty Marco Bjurström MC the event with such exemplary tact and professionalism. What’s extra noteworthy, is that because we were running on a tight budget with not wanting to charge an entry fee and have the event be open to everyone, this Finland’s top host and speaker was willing to contribute his time, effort and talent pro bono (seriously, for hugs). Thank you, Marco. So much admiration and gratitude for you.
During 2015 we teamed up with the acclaimed photojournalist Meeri Koutaniemi and PS-Kustannus to publish a gorgeous book on sisu that features 14 interviews with some extraordinarily stellar and courageous individuals. To celebrate this, Academy of Philosophy threw yet another unforgettable sisu event at Korjaamo in Helsinki. Photos of the book launch can be found here.
Our team together with PS-kustannus organized a photo exhibit to show off the magnificent images taken by Meeri. Within the same welcoming space at Lasipalatsi, we opened a space for people to share their stories of overcoming obstacles and tapping into sisu. During these events, I had the pleasure to host and interview the author of Future Makers Tuuti Piippo, the legendary foreign correspondent, film producer and adventurer extraordinaire Rauli Virtanen and FighBack guru, brain injury survivor Pekka Hyysalo regarding their secrets to overcoming extreme obstacles.
We organized numerous big and small events in Finland and abroad, there were radio shows and TV interviews and our stellar Sonja Strömsholm and Joonas Pesonen from Academy of Philosophy ran training sessions for the upcoming Slush to get them in the sisu mindset. There was even a massive poster campaign that brought Meeri Koutaniemi’s sisu photos to nearly every bus and metro stand in Finland.
We were thrilled to get some very special support from abroad in the form of wonderful sisu greetings by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former US Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck and University of Pennsylvania research professor Angela Duckworth.
Furthermore, the global Hour of Sisu (organized for the first time on March 10th, 2015) inspired encouraging and at times, rather touching testimonials from people all over the world taking action to overcome their (sometimes long-held) fears, and to do things that were more or less outside their usual comfort zone.
Now, it’s the time to revisit that space.
There seems to be so much more strength to us than meets the eye at given moment. Often we don’t seem to be aware of that potential and are bogged down by fear of failure, fear of not being good enough. The Day of Sisu is a call to action to recognize and celebrate the strength that resides within each one of us, and transcends beyond cultural and geographical boundaries.
Sisu and the will to persevere are a universal language.
We at Sisu Lab and Academy of Philosophy believe that cultivating sisu carries potential not only for empowering isolated individuals here and there, but for elevating our collective capacity in a way that is conducive to system-wide flourishing and a better future.
How to celebrate the Day of Sisu from anywhere in the world
1. GET SOME GREAT PEOPLE TOGETHER AND DO STUFF
- Join by organizing an event within your local community on the Day of Sisu, February 28th. This can be a meetup, workout, race, story group or any kind of (big or small) get-together to share your stories on sisu and create pockets of social support within your neighborhood. In 2015, LA-based director Park Cofield organized an event for people to come together to share their experiences of sisu. In addition, he wrote the attached post to share some of his thoughts regarding the topic. These words by Einstein are a good reminder: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”
- If you can’t join a group or get together with friends, celebrate February 28th in your own way (Hour of Sisu) and find support within our sisu communities (-> Sisu – Global or Sisu – Finland (in Finnish), which together consist of over 10,000 members across the world.
- If you are in Helsinki, join the second annual Sisu Day Morning 10K at Kaivopuisto! Details to come at http://www.facebook.com/inspiresisu and http://www.facebook.com/sisunjuhlavuosi
2. JOIN THE GLOBAL HOUR OF SISU ON FEBRUARY 28th
- Join us for another Hour of Sisu Challenge on February 28th! During one hour (e.g. between 5 PM and 6 PM your local time) you are encouraged to do one thing that you know would benefit you, but which you have been putting off. It may be something that makes you feel uneasy or requires effort but which will help you push your boundaries in a healthy, constructive way. The goal is to turn these boundaries (e.g. fear, uncertainty, complacency or desire for comfort) into frontiers. You know your limits and therefore, are the best person to evaluate what this challenge should be. Read on for some further tips.
- Note down your #HourofSisu challenge and get prepared to follow through. Remember, sometimes even just one action might begin a massive ripple effect, and as Wayne Gretzky has said: “You miss 100% of all the shots you don’t take.” BOOM!
Hour of Sisu could involve applying for a new job or a school, signing up for a marathon or some other event that will challenge you, going for your first run, swimming in ice water (just a thought), going out of your way to mentor someone, perhaps reconciling with someone, or taking the first step toward your dream (I quit my secure job two years ago to follow my calling – it was scary, but I have not regretted my decision). Doing whatever it is that you have been wanting to do but haven’t had the guts, chutzpah, ganbaru, sisu, rasmia, courage or the right momentum. Sisu Day is here to give you that nudge, support you and help you support yourself.
ProTip: Don’t quite know what your courageous action could be, or what moonshot to aim for during #HourofSisu?
Well, you want to naturally do something that is meaningful to you. Find something that brings energy to your system. I still remember the exact moment when I read the following lines in a blog post written by ultra runner Rich Roll:
What makes your heart beat hardest?”
Answer this question for yourself. Then move in that direction with every fiber of your being.
Giving this question some serious thought turned out to be a pivotal moment for me. Perhaps meditating on this question will help you find a direction. Take a moment and be honest with yourself.
Here is also a quote by Howard Thurman:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
3. SHARE YOUR SISU MOMENT
- Tweet your Sisu Day feelings with #HourofSisu or #Sisu2016 to inspire the world and get support for your own journey. Challenge a friend if you want to be cheeky.
- Share your stories, pictures and videos at Inspire Sisu (in English) or at Sisun juhlavuosi (in Finnish). We really look forward to hearing from you!
That’s all. No magic, woo-woo or circus tricks needed (unless you want). Just people coming together for good times. Now, let’s get started!
Main photo: Thank you to Sisu Team at Team Up Startup in Tampere!
Quotes to inspire your sisu day (thanks for the resources Jenny C. Brennan)
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace – Amelia Earhart
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
“A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means.” Gloria Steinem
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Howard Zinn
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo Da Vinci
“Sisu denotes extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It relates to an action mindset that enables individuals to take action against very slim odds and reach beyond the observed limitations of their present moment. Sisu begins where grit and perseverance end. As a construct, it is an integral part of the Finnish culture but it is also a universal capacity of humans all across the word.” -Emilia Lahti, 2013
TED talks for Feb 28th
Check the sisu playlist
Lahti, E. (2014). Sisu: Transforming Barriers into Frontiers. TEDxTurku (sisu in 18 minutes)
Chase, A. (2013) Finding Sisu. Rinning TImes
Lahti, E. (2014). Words Make Our Worlds: Introducing Sisu
Tepora, T. (2012). “Sisu”: The Finnish for “Stiff Upper Lip”?
Forbes (2014). The Sisu Social: Can Finns Teach The World To Hang Tough?