"Kill sisu!" - Self-compassion for corona anxiety


At the Light in the  Darkest Hour webinar organized by EntreFox in November 2020, we heard experts from different fields talking about entrepreneurs’ well-being. Psychologist Juho Mertanen from Mieli ry, welfare experts Katja Heikkinen and Reetta Raitoharju from Turku University of Applied Sciences, and therapist and entrepreneur Lesley Rawstorne presented at the event in English. The application in practice of what was heard and learned in the speeches was discussed in small groups.  One significant contribution and idea of the discussions was that “Finnish sisu” is not necessarily the best way to move things forward in the exceptional circumstances we live in. We need more self-compassion, not a daring push forward at the expense of our health and well-being. In addition to self-compassion, many people now need a professional’s help in maintaining mental health. Under no circumstances should routine health checks be missed.

Entrepreneurs are a tough bunch, that’s clear. However, the coronavirus pandemic has put many successful entrepreneurs and those previously managed on their own to their knees. Not all business activities can be transferred online, and for some companies, different restrictions and new rules are poison.

The purpose of the restrictions is to save lives and eventually guide us out of the pandemic with minimal damage. The pandemic has now been going on for a year, and there is no quick way out, although vaccinations raise hopes that the situation will improve in a few months. For many entrepreneurs, the situation is getting complicated. The general vibe is darkened by the feeling of unfairness when different sectors have been treated differently. For example, musician Paula Vesala has publicly highlighted entrepreneurs’ distress in the cultural and event industry and said that entrepreneurs have even expressed suicidal thoughts. Those of us who remember the recession of the 1990s and its consequences are now very concerned.

The authorities and politicians should take the messages seriously. In the EntreFox project, we have urged entrepreneurs to ask for help at a low threshold. However, one must get help when it’s requested. If no one answers, we’ll go deeper and deeper in the spiral. At the same time, it is worth looking at Finnish attitudes and values. Do we still value doing too much alone and biting the bullet while working, even if a couple of teeth have chipped?

The pandemic has shown in very concrete terms that a person or company’s success is not only about yourself – one’s own coping, the best ideas or perseverance. Sometimes you don’t have the strength when the conditions are overwhelming. Webinar participants’ concept of “Kill sisu!” is worth taking as a provocation. There is sure a need for sisu. In many cases, you have to get things done, but at the same time, you have to take care of recovery. And of course, it would be great everyone could also find genuine joy in life, despite all the restrictions.

Instead of mutual competition and suspicion, cooperation across different social borders is needed. In an uncertain and utterly new situation, the best or right solutions are not always found immediately. Society’s resilience is now measured by how we view our own and others’ fumbling and unfinished business. Are we going to learn and move on, or are we going to stay and blame ourselves or others? Pandemics come and go, and crises always produce innovation and new ideas. At the same time, the negative consequences of crises must be carried together.

Entrepreneurs have every right to express their bad feelings if necessary. Listeners can be found, for example, through Mieli ry:  https://mieli.fi/en/contacts


Tytti Steel

The writer is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.