Sisu: A Finnish Word for Entrepreneurs & Startups


I’m always on the lookout for inspiration, and fortunately, I can find it almost anywhere. It’s one of the reasons I love to travel. Since the senses are heightened around new circumstances, it’s an opportunity to reconnect to the world sensorially.

For this reason, one of my favorite destinations is Finland. It’s one of the few places that I feel totally submersed in culture. I don’t speak the language, other than a few words, yet I have found a great respect and love for the country and its people.

Full disclosure: Im a quarter Finnish and have had the opportunity to reconnect with my Finnish relatives. As I’ve gotten to know the country through my relatives, I’ve begun to really appreciate their society’s culture and values. The country values its people and offers many socially responsible programs, like free higher education. Its weather has also had a profound impact on its people. Winters are are cold and there is a hardiness to the people as a result of dealing with that cold. The Finns use the word Sisu to describe their character.

According to Wikipedia, the true meaning of the word Sisu:

“Cannot be translated properly into the English language.  Loosely translated to mean stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilienceperseverance and hardiness, expressing the historic self-identified Finnish national character.”

Sisu is a great ideal that can be found at the heart of every entrepreneurial endeavor: contained within its English translation is the combination of guts, grit, resilience, determination, and bravery. It takes a combination all of the above to take a concept from idea to reality. Those who have changed our world had Sisu within them.

The words importance to me is not only because of my ancestry, but also because it is a word first introduced to me by my father. As a kid, I’d often hear him say, “You have some Finnish Sisu in you.” This was especially true when, as a swimmer in college, I false-started in the championship heat of the 100-yard butterfly. In a letter he wrote to me, my dad again referred to Sisu when sharing that he was proud of how I reacted when the chips were down. He was referring to the fact that in that same swim meet, I came back and swam my best time ever in the 4×100 freestyle relay to help win the meet for my team.

Sisu refers to mindset. In her book “Mindset,” Carol Dweck talks about two types of mindsets: one is fixed while the other is growth-oriented. By fixed, Dweck means that a person might think that they are born with a certain amount of talent and it won’t change. If you can’t sing,  for example, you never will. A growth mindset is focused on learning: I can’t sing… yet. The yet is the most important part of the growth mindset. Perseverance, from my perspective, means one is not ready to give up yet, and therefore Sisu can be considered a growth mindset.

As a consultant, I’m specifically interested in helping people perform at peak levels in both business and in life. Sisu is a huge part of my practice because it brings the word “yet” into the equation.  I typically work with people who are risk takers and need support while taking those risks. They often haven’t gotten to where they want to be…yet. To get them there, I use a combination of sports psychology and positive psychology tools to help those individuals persevere in careers that are traditionally inconsistent or involve risk taking. Sisu is instrumental to keep them moving forward and positive in achieving their desires.

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