What the heck is "sisu"?

Dear Venturer,

My imagination carried me to visions of polar bears flying through the air, when a friend in Finland shared via Messenger with me the concept of Polar Bear Pitching. A yearly event where talented entrepreneurs give their pitches to potential investors, while standing waist deep in ice cold water on a stage carved in the frozen Baltic Sea. I had just said to him, I signed up for our own local Polar Plunge in Chicago. An annual event in March, that requires jumping in Lake Michigan, to raise funds for the Special Olympics. I'm feeling fairly confident about my own plunge because, on a recent visit to Finland, I did just that. Jump in the chilly Baltic Sea, after my sauna.

Finland is known for its' sauna culture, endless nature and commitment to design. It is also where my mother's family roots are from. When I planned my trip this past October, these were the things I sought to experience, while getting to know the people. Yet, I learned much more.

The word "sisu" is a Finnish word that translates into determination, perseverance and drive. It is an inherent characteristic found in its' people. 

Throughout Finnish history and everyday culture, sisu reveals itself. Looking back, as I traveled from Oulu to Kaustinen and Helsinki, it is found when reading about their determination to fight off the Red Army and maintain independence from Russia during the Winter War of 1940, later the Continuation War.  I unraveled it with ancestors that survived the potato famine of 1866, to the next generation leaving its shores for a belief in a better life in America. My great grandparents, were among them. Sisu is found in the people's daily commitment to nature, clean air and the outdoors. It is found in the beauty of Finnish design, its' architecture and everyday items. As Tapio Wirkkala, Finlands most well-known international designer, said "If the mark of the designer's sweat can be seen in an object, that piece has failed." Sisu also explains why Finns have one of the most successful school systems in the world. 

These last few months, as American leadership challenges our own values and vision for a better life here, many of us search for a new place called security. But, there is one valuable lesson I've learned when traveling, that security is found in compassion. 

Now is the time to travel, more than ever. Because when we do, we learn about ourselves. We open to learning about others. Soften to our differences. And, find peace in our similarities.

Embrace sisu with me in 2017. To discover a bigger world. And, a better you.

Happy Travels,
Lesley Ames
Chief Venturer, BonViage

Travel Q&ALesley Ames