“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. And ten.
I’m not a math teacher, but it’s pretty obvious that ten isn’t a huge number. Yet, here it is. My tenth blog entry. Like most endeavors, it’s not easy when we first begin: every journey begins with a single step (Maya Angelou), If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all (Bambi), just do it (Nike), if you are going through hell, keep going (Winston Churchill), and just keep swimming (Dory). All fine words of advice, and here I am with ten more pieces of writing than I would have had, had I not started the first one. So chalk one up for persistence!
If you’re here reading this, you might have wondered why I have a picture of rocks on a blog that’s mostly about education. It’s actually a photo of the sauna stove in our basement. As the rust shows, it’s well loved. I grew up in a small collection of Finnish farms and everyone had a sauna. In fact, most of those early settlers, like my grandparents, built their sauna first and their house second. Wednesday and Saturday nights like clockwork were (and still are) sauna night. Saunas aren’t a luxury - they are as integral to Finns as breath. There’s so much to write about saunas! Another lifetime ago, I actually wrote a sauna book, sauna poetry, and a sauna play…which was even performed…just in towels. Ha ha. A VHS copy still exists but is stored in a top-secret hiding spot to protect the actors from internet infamy if it ever got out!
The power in a sauna’s heat is the rocks. My dad says the darker the rock, the better the steam. And for some unknown reason, we don’t tell someone to throw water on the rocks, but tell them to ‘throw some steam.’ Likely lost in translation somewhere! But rocks aren’t indestructible and last summer I had to replace some. Many were split, and even more were reduced to colorful mineralized dust at the bottom. Just like a river will slowly break rocks apart through time and repetition, so does water and heat. Ahhh science.
The Finns have a word called sisu. It’s often loosely defined as persistence…pushing through adversity or never ever giving up. I’ve heard it described as the Finns fighting and losing a dozen wars to Russia, but never surrendering. More locally, it’s kind of personified by Toronto Maple Leafs fans, still trying for their first cup win since 1967. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) That’s the way I have always understood sisu, as a physical, mental, and spiritual toughness, but as I’ve done more reading about it, I’m understanding that it is more than that. I find that Emilia Lahti explains it best:
"Sisu denotes extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It relates to an action mindset that enables individuals to take action against very slim odds and reach beyond the observed limitations of their present moment. Sisu begins where grit and perseverance end. As a construct, it is an integral part of the Finnish culture but it is also a universal capacity of humans all across the word.”
I started to think about sisu this week after reading an article about mediocrity. In fact, it was called “In Praise of Mediocre Kids.” Hardly similar concepts on the surface. But as I read through it, the two ideas connected.
"What’s so wrong with wanting our kids to succeed, anyway? Nothing, technically, but nearly half of all college students are struggling with anxiety and depression in pursuit of perfection, Hutchinson tells me: 'They’re incredibly driven…but not all that happy.' While she says there’s no direct causal link, she definitely thinks this 'high-performance, high-productivity culture' is contributing to their fragile states of mind. Kids nowadays have worked so hard to get to where they are that they’re burned out by the time they reach college. Rather than thriving, they’re merely surviving…Hutchinson points to teenagers’ lack of resilience—the ability to face and overcome challenges. The issue is that “we’re not allowing our kids to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Lahti talks about an action mindset, and to me it seems very similar to the growth mindset concept in education. Essentially, we need to see taking risks as a way that we learn; to see failure as feedback needed to grow; to see that effort and attitude shape your results; to see challenges as opportunities, not setbacks. Practice. Perseverance. Persistence. Sisu.
Or as Lahti also says, “It’s about not seeing a silver lining in the clouds, and yet jumping into the storm anyways.” Have a great week everyone.
p.s. Tervetuloa! Welcome! Our sauna is always hot…come over anytime!
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