Last month I went to this fascinating talk by Pieter van Kets who has completed a heap of crazy adventures including rowing across the Atlantic single-handed and finishing the Centenary Race to the South Pole. I can’t stop thinking about how impossible these feats seem to me, and yet Pieter, a seemingly ordinary school teacher from East London has achieved them. How did he survive those terrible storms? Where did he find the mental strength to conquer the Antartic?

Wondering about this lead me to SISU. SISU is a Finnish concept that doesn’t translate into a single word- it’s a combination of grit, courage, perseverance and the determination to keep going against the odds. The Finns believe that it is a national characteristic that built them as a nation when in the Winter War of 1939 to 1940, they withstood the invasion by Russia and retained their independence. I’m sure Pieter van Kets has SISU in bucket loads.

This SISU can apply to us ordinary mortals too. We can tap into our SISU when we take a consistent, courageous approach to challenges that seem beyond our capabilities. We have all seen this in people who have had awful accidents and learn to walk or talk again when science has said it would never be possible. SISU is a reserve of power that enables extraordinary action from ordinary people and, like all our abilities, the more we practise it, the more we develop it.

It’s SISU that enables a woman in her fifties, from a disadvantaged background, to graduate with a doctorate. It’s SISU that keeps you at it until you finally achieve the Maths grade that you need to get into the course you want to study. It’s SISU when you complete the marathon despite your cramping legs. It’s SISU that keeps you building your own small business when it seems everything is stacked against you.

You can be inspired by thinking about historic examples of people doing seemingly impossible things and by thinking about the times you yourself have managed what you once thought was impossible. Next time you feel you have reached the end of the road, and everyone is telling you it is enough, then think SISU, dig deep and don’t give up.


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