I learned a new word today and I think it’s my new favorite. Yes, I have favorite words. Stop judging me.
“Sisu” is a Finnish word, more of a lifestyle, that we have no duplicate for in English. Here’s a rough translation:
“Extraordinary determination, courage, and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. An action mindset which enables individuals to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform barriers into frontiers.” – Emelia Lahti
The Finnish have used it for generations to describe the ability to make it through everything from cold Finnish winters to war. For them, it is a life philosophy to follow. I could go on about the history of it for a while, I’ve read far too many articles about it today, but let’s move on.
I wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that we don’t have limits. It is our own doubtful brains that create them. Down my right forearm, “There’s no such thing as ‘nothing left'” is inked as a reminder that I always have more to give and any limit I have was set by me.
In the English language, we have tons of words for hard work, perseverance, and courage. What makes “sisu” so special is that it confronts the moments that all of your work and courage are drained from your body. When your mind feels hopeless and your body feels broken. It is the power to get up for the thousandth time and keep moving forward.
It suggests that when you’ve met every physical and mental boundary you felt possible, you still have so much power. It obliterates the idea that you can be broken. If you have no limits, no amount of tension that can destroy you, then you can not be broken. Maybe just a little bent.
It reminds me of the moment in movies when the hero gets shot twelve times, straight through the heart at close range, but they still pull themselves up and deliver the final blow to the bad guy, even though it seems impossible that they are even still alive. Now, I realize that movies are not real life, but I think there is a very real feeling of being absolutely defeated, yet we keep fighting.
Like I said, I love words. Knowing a word like “sisu” gives me something to remember that strength is inside of me. The next time it feels like a bomb has gone off in the middle of my life and everything is an overwhelming disaster, all I have to do it pick four letters out of the rubble surrounding me.
I understand why the Finnish live by this word. It’s a beautiful thing to carry a word inside of you, nestle beside all of the strength you’ll ever need.