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Sisu: You need more than Grit

Ever felt like quitting the race, ending the relationship, putting your papers down, absolutely hopeless, tired and full of pain?

Are adversities not part of our life? What will ensure that we keep moving and challenge the peak of our abilities and stretch? Run that last mile the fastest? Give that extra effort to continue the passion amongst each other? Go beyond the call of duty?

Think of “Sisu”.

I read about Sisu in GRIT by Angela Duckworth. She clearly thought that Grit and Sisu are different.

Emilia Lahti is a Finnish sisu researcher and a social activist. She describes sisu as the enigmatic power that enables individuals to push through significant hardships. Sisu is extraordinary courage and determination in the face of adversity. At the core of Sisu is the idea that, in each of us, there is more strength than meets the eye.

On May 7, 2018, BBC ran a story “Sisu-The Finnish art of inner strength”.

‘Sisu’ in Finnish means strength, perseverance in a task that for some may seem crazy to undertake, almost hopeless.

The New York Times ran an article in 1940 with the headline “Sisu: A Word that Explains Finland”.

BBC tells us that, the word is also frequently used to explain Finland’s sporting achievements and feats of physical endurance. Veikka Gustafsson became a national symbol of sisu in the 1990s, when he became the first Finn to climb Mount Everest in 1993. By 2009 he had climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000 m peaks without supplementary oxygen.

Having become the embodiment of sisu, who does Gustaffson admire as having sisu? “If I think of the Sherpa people in Nepal, they have lots and lots of sisu. And I think the Balti people who were helping us in the expeditions in Pakistan. They also have lots and lots of sisu,” he says.

When you are managing multiple roles, sometimes things become harsh. As a runner, a lot of times adversities hit me too. I want to quit. I have seen those sleepless nights, those moments of frustration, soreness in the legs, tired eyes and heavy heart.

But I have also seen a one legged man cycling on Mumbai roads, the same man running past his fellow two legged fellow runners, a blind man completing the hill marathon and a man with fully bandaged lifeless arm and still running.

Why? What makes them do this? How do they do this? Is courage and grit enough?

On the other side there are people who are scared to initiate. Who are afraid to push themselves. People don’t ask. People don’t practice hard. And still they think that quiting is an option! They should definitely learn to sisu.

I have a firm belief that books and reading brings more learning when set against a context in mind. The one legged man and the blind man were context and GRIT was the reading material. Sisu makes a lot of sense now!

Sisu is like a power reserve which can push you beyond your capabilities and give extraordinary results.

Surely, there are downside too. Sisu reflects stubborness. Emila calls it ‘silent relentlessness’. Sisu can also make it difficult to admit weakness. Hard to ask for help. Persevere for too long and you can end up burned out. But Emila says, combine Sisu with compassion and see the outcome.

I believe that our grit combined with a small pinch of Sisu and compassion can help us recover from many of the adversities.

The next time that alarm goes off and you don’t feel like getting up, think about the blind man. The next time you want to switch off, think about the one legged man and his daily journey to office. The next time, that part of your brain asks you to stop and quit, repeat S…I….S….U and go for the kill.

Give your last breadth.

Finish the race.

Finish on a high.



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