sisu and the art of surviving against all odds

In our society as it exists today, there is often an unhealthy idealization and hero worship that takes place when we see others accomplishing and overcoming difficult things. We make demigods of those whom we see as being above ourselves and we seek to associate ourselves with those we see as above the norm.

The underdog team winning the championship.

The woman with naught but a high school diploma and who somehow manages to build a fortune 500 company from the ground up.

The actor who lived in a van on the beach for years until finally getting that big break and becoming the A-lister.

The once personal assistant who builds a brand bigger than the one she once assisted.

The soldier who gets shot a dozen times doing what seems impossible in battle, walking to the medevac, and somehow surviving.

The man, woman, boy, or girl who marches to the beat of their own drum whatever way that drum beats.

The amputee who learned to walk and run again and the utterly devoted wife by his side.

We see these people as something above ourselves. Something separate. Something stronger, more resilient, just… more. Whatever they have it is more than what we have, we are certain of it.

Except that they don’t. They’re people. Like us. Ordinary people.

What they do have is sisu.


Sisu is a philosophical ideal and concept hundreds of years old borne in Finland from the idea that one can go far beyond one’s own limitations to survive against all odds.

Against all odds.

Most of those demigods society worships have done something or other to survive or accomplish something against all odds, whether those odds were for getting the big break in the hit flick or surviving when all thought they would perish. So what makes them so different than the average human that they are deemed worthy of our adoration. Is it just that they did what seemed impossible?

Sisu encompasses a host of character and personality traits that psychologically create the kind of person who survives when there is no logical or rational reason for their survival and success:

Stoic Determination: a philosophy of personal ethics informed by a system of logic and its views on the natural world wherein the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world, and treating others fairly and justly.

Tenacity: the quality of being determined to do something in spite of difficulties and hurdles.

Grit: a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state that promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

Courage: the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, death or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.

Resilience: the ability to successfully cope with a crisis and to return to pre-crisis status quickly by people who develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during a crisis and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences.

Hardiness: a personality structure comprising the three related general dispositions of commitment, control, and challenge that functions as a resistance resource in encounters with stressful conditions. Commitment is the tendency to involve oneself in activities in life and the tendency to having a genuine interest in and curiosity about the surrounding world (activities, things, other people). Control is the tendency to believe and act as if one can influence the events taking place around oneself through one’s own efforts. Challenge is the belief that change, rather than stability, is the normal mode of life and constitutes motivating opportunities for personal growth rather than threats to security.

I like these words, the personality traits, and what they imply.

I like what they stand for in the positive type of strength that doesn’t seek to have power or control over others.

I like the feeling I get when I think about them.

And I like to think that I might have a little sisu in my bones and perhaps that is why I’ve been so able to survive when every odd has been stacked against me for so long.

⁂  ⁂  ⁂

“Courage.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Jan. 2019,

“Grit (Personality Trait).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Dec. 2018,

“Hardiness (Psychological).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 June 2018,

“Psychological Resilience.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2019,

“Stoicism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Jan. 2019,

“Tenacity.” Impartial – Meaning, Definition, Usage of Impartial, 11 May 2009,

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