51% Finnish. 100% Sisu.

At the end of each day, she lifts her bag over her shoulder and goes out the door, relentlessly heading to the gym, never giving up. He struggles to understand the professor who continues to expand the course just enough that it is hard for him to keep up, but he keeps going. Life has dealt their family a few hard blows, and their child’s health is a concern; they go regularly for tests, prepare special foods and focus on his care. The nurse sees that a community in the remote countryside of the Caribbean needs regular medical care, communication facilities and proper schools even though there is little funding and a major distance to get supplies. She paces herself as she rounds the curve in the road, staying in the middle of the pack until it is time for her to sprint ahead and beat her time; it took a lot of practice and dedication to get to where she is.

What do all of these people have in common? Perseverance. Each and every one of them persistently focuses on a specific goal, a cause that they believe in, and no matter what barrier gets in their way, they are committed to that goal. It’s not all about winning; it’s the challenge, faith, knowing that things can get better. It’s also hard work.

In Finnish, they have a word for perseverance, “sisu,” literally meaning “guts” (hard to translate into other languages). Sisu is what keeps you grounded, whole and steadfast. It is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Wikipedia explains: “Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu.” When I grew up, my mother (who says I am 51% Finnish) told me that sisu is in your core, it is who you are and who you will always be, it is your centre. In eastern terms, it is your positive “chi,” your energy.

In a world that is distracted by quick attention-seeking vehicles, TV, movie stars, cell phones, games, the newest app, social media and dating sites, it is sometimes hard to be persistent or focus on a goal. We want instant gratification, an instant win or a find-a-marriage-prospect in 12 episodes (Think: The Bachelor / The Bachelorette). If people focus on the goal and don’t do the work, like a tree with no roots, the results won’t last long. The gyms are packed in January and February, and then the herd thins out until you’re left with those that really want to train. Every guy has a set of weights or some exercise equipment hidden away for that day when he will get buff.

Persistence can be painful, may not be exciting, is definitely not immediate, but it is so fulfilling when the goal is reached. It means you have worked hard, challenged yourself and made a difference.

To be persistent, set a manageable goal, take your time and work towards it. If you have a problem or reach a plateau, work through it; failure is not destruction. Refocus, rebuild and change strategy. Keep your mind open and allow for change. When working out or building a business, you can run into problems until someone shows you a different way, a way that will take you past your barrier and give you a better understanding. Above all, don’t give up; your goal may take time. Have faith in yourself, do the proper research and get background on what you want to do. Don’t be afraid of not succeeding; work at it. Don’t ever be embarrassed.

Years ago, I worked on putting a travel insurance plan into Air Canada and Aeroplan. It took me 5 years, but eventually I succeeded (it certainly helped that the incumbent made a mistake; we needed to have a solution available so the client could make the decision to change).

A baby takes nine months. A good relationship can take years.

A word of caution: Too much persistence can be as negative as none at all. Know when to stop, say no or change directions. In life, balance is the natural order.

3 Comments on "51% Finnish. 100% Sisu."

  1. steph says:

    Always providing me something to think about before my weekend begins… Thanks, Robin!

  2. Bibian A. says:

    Great blog, Robin! Persistence in good doses can definitely lead to success! It’s important to encourage others to be perseverant but keeping in mind that not everyone has access to the same possibilities. Your combination of empowerment and compassion is very relevant when advising perseverance.

  3. Jake says:

    Interesting mention of the word sisu. But I think the idea of perseverance=success is a little too commonsense to be useful for anyone. As in Finnish use of the word, it can be used in a good way and a bad way. More useful information is how to discern when sisu should be applied and when it shouldn’t.

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