Picture yourself climbing a mountain in a cold, driving snowstorm; running a marathon in the blistering summer heat, or putting in an all-nighter to hit a client deadline. Now ask yourself, ‘what do all of these situations have in common?’
They all take perseverance. They all require you to dig deeper and push through the mental and physical limits that we put on ourselves. It takes vulnerability to put yourself in these situations, but it is grit and determination that allow us to push past these boundaries to achieve our goals.
Let me start by saying that I don’t think of myself as tough. Even though I played a plethora of contact sports even at the collegiate level, my younger brother could always kick my butt and to this day, I’m sure he still can. Although I was bigger than he was, he had a fire in his belly that could overcome the physical mismatch. In Finland, they call this "Sisu [see-soo]."
While its origins are Finnish, sisu really describes the ability of humans to persevere through incredibly trying circumstances by tapping into an innate character that is buried deep inside all of us. Sisu reveals itself only when we are pushed to our perceived limits. It is in these moments that we find a new depth of strength and energy that allows us to continue forward towards our goal.
Many would argue that some people are born with sisu and some are not, but I don’t agree. I think it is all shaped by experience. My good friend, Shannon Rusch, really opened my eyes to what the mind and body can overcome if conditioned for it. When you open up your mind, admit your current limitations, envision a path for forward, and fully commit to that direction, anything is possible. Anything else that gets in your way is just an excuse. Believe me, if anyone had an excuse, he did. His childhood was riddled with one tragedy after another, but he made a conscious decision to push past these setbacks and joined one of the most elite fighting forces in the world, the US Navy SEALs.
The first step is accepting that you are going to be really, really uncomfortable. The journey is going to test you, but how do you know your boundaries until you explore them? I'm not talking about engaging in high-risk behaviors that keep your mom up at night. While they may have physical elements to them, the boundaries I'm talking about are of the mental variety.
In a world that is changing as rapidly as our own, being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a prerequisite for success. But how do you build the calloused mind that David Goggins talks about in his book, Can’t Hurt Me? You eliminate excuses and preconceived notions, take ownership of your current situation, and move forward in a new direction. Both David and Shannon talk about the importance of setting a goal, throwing it way out into the future, and then focusing intently on the incremental task at hand. Willpower can only take you so far. Presence, truly being in the moment, is key to success. It allows you to slow down time, clearly and calmly assess the situation and respond accordingly to your environment. Of all things, spearfishing taught me the most about being in the moment...yes spearfishing.
First, I love to sportfish. The physical and tactical challenge of reeling in a big fish and savoring your day’s work over fresh sashimi on the back of the boat was something that I loved to do...until I tried spearfishing.
Spearfishing completely flips the script and puts predator and prey in the water together [to this day I’m still not sure which is which]. For a boy from the midwest that is terrified of sharks, jumping into that water was about as uncomfortable a thing as I could imagine. You are truly swimming in their world now and are vulnerable from all directions. The water might look calm riding in the boat while sipping a Corona and waiting for a strike, but beneath the water’s surface is a completely different story. It is both physically challenging [swimming all day, while holding your breath and free diving as deep as you can go] and mentally challenging [your senses need to be on extra high alert as your eyes are constantly scanning in every direction looking for what lurks just beyond your visible range]. But what you learn is that after a while, you become comfortable in this new environment. Your muscles relax, you begin to enjoy the ebb and flow of the waves and the way the fish dance with the current, but at no point has your awareness dropped. You’ve merely gotten comfortable in an uncomfortable environment. You’ve become present.
The pursuit of sisu is a never-ending journey and a reminder that no matter how hard you push yourself, there is always someone out there somewhere that is pushing themselves even further. In his hilarious and motivating book, Living with a SEAL, Jesse Itzler shares what it is like to have one of the toughest men in the world, David Goggins, move in with him and his family to train him for 30 days. One quote that will stay with me forever is that “when the mind wants to quit, we are only at about 40% of our body’s true capacity.” Think about that statistic the next time you are ready to quit. It will help you push through that discomfort because you know you have twice as much left in the tank.
Developing mental toughness and taking ownership of your situation is critical to success. You must push yourself to take on new challenges and test your physical, mental, and emotional elasticity. Exercising and testing these dimensions will give you perspective, context, and confidence that you need to be present in every situation and win in an uncomfortable world. If you don’t fully commit to challenging yourself and choose to stay on the sidelines, you will always be an observer and change will happen to you, not for you.
Where I want to be, and where I think you should be, is in the action. It is in the flow of the game of life where opportunities are truly discovered and that is where you can realize the change you want to see in the world. If there is one thing that training for my first marathon at age 40 taught me about life, it is that every uphill has a downhill and if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and failing forward you will discover your sisu and always reach your goals.
Now, on to challenging my next preconceived, self-imposed limit...
About the author: Ryan is the oldest of four siblings that represent the fourth generation of leadership at OFS. He has worked in every capacity except Finance over his 15+ years with the company and currently oversees Sales + Marketing for the family business. He is passionately curious and never idle, constantly exploring ways to the change the alchemy of his team, the company and our industry. His greatest accomplishment is the three beautifully wild children he and his wife created. He loves to be outdoors and exploring new places that push his boundaries.