Like modern-day explorers ascending K2 or reaching the North Pole, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Brian Chesky and Arianna Huffington have what the Finnish call sisu, a flair for turning extreme adversity into advantage. Where sisu flourishes, entrepreneurs report higher levels of hope (unshakeable self-belief), optimism (expecting good things to happen), perseverance (commitment to the purpose and not giving up easily), and resilience (ability to adapt to obstacles and recover quickly).
The Science of Sisu.
A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by researcher Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam supports this hypothesis that extreme adversity can unlock sisu and turn you into a courageous doer. Daily life is full of obstacles: a construction site blocking the usual road to work, a colleague's background chatter interfering with one's ability to concentrate, a constant barrage of emails distracting you from your daily routine, or a lack of resources standing in the way of realising an ambitious plan.
Obstacles Are Opportunities.
Embracing obstacles provides an unexpected motivational boost, pushing you to deliver more than is expected. The stakes are higher but so are the rewards. Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, equally credits obstacles as a big part of his success. He writes in his personal blog:
If you want to understand Airbnb, you have to understand our beginnings. Our story started with a problem that those struggling financially know well. In October of 2007, my roommate Joe Gebbia and I were living in a San Francisco apartment, and we couldn't afford rent. That weekend, an international design conference was coming to town, and all of the hotels were sold out. So we had an idea: why not turn our place into a bed and breakfast for the conference? We inflated airbeds and called it the AirBed & Breakfast.
Today, Airbnb stands at the forefront of the sharing economy with more than 20 million people using its service and winning Inc. magazine's "Company of the Year" title. If Chesky and his co-founders had given up at the first major obstacle, there would be no Airbnb, as we know it.
Success is Never Linear.
Success is never linear. Take Failcon founder Cass Phillipps. She helps entrepreneurs to learn from their failures. The company's motto is "Embrace your mistakes. Build your success." Picking yourself up off the ground after yet another setback gets tiring after a while. FailCon aims to turn failure into a process for rapid learning and growth.
The Final Word.
Obstacles that block your way can actually open paths that are new and better. They are essential to success helping you to transcend self-imposed limitations, transform barriers into frontiers, and see beyond the limitations of the present moment. Next time you face a seemingly insurmountable challenge embrace the wisdom of sisu.