Category Archives: Family

Failure is Not an Option

by Satu Runa // Friday, July 5th, 2019

What happens when you achieve the goals society or your parents had for you, but they don’t align with your own dreams? Is it better than living in a constant struggle while pursuing your own goals? If you’re the ambitious type, when you are lagging behind your personal goals, it makes you reexamine your life choices, and inevitably: the impossible dream you chose to pursue.

satuballetI’ve always rejected conformity with the force of a hurricane. I come from a family who hits the academic life hard, pushing degree after degree, much in favor of the respectable family life (job, house ownership, kids). We strive for success, mainly in academia, medicine, or law (typical of most South Asian diaspora in the West), ingrained early on as the best choice offering the most out of life, paired with marriage and children.

I had a tremendous amount of support from my parents to pursue a life in the performing arts, and I am forever grateful. However; simultaneously, there’s always been a concentrated effort to lure me away from it (partially due to the fact that it’s not the most financially rewarding career- I can’t blame them). After chatting with some of my peer cousins, I wondered about the differences between the path of either pursuing the goals your parents wanted for you verses pursuing your own specific dreams- particularly if they don’t match up. I’ve known since watching Jesus Christ Superstar on TV for the first time at age seven that I wanted to be a performer. This dream has never altered, I’ve only adapted to this tumultuous industry by expanding my skill set (as a writer, director etc.). There is also the crushing force of society careening young career women into a life dedicated towards a successful marriage and rearing children. Then there is also the commodified lie that you can “have it all.” That’s only true for a select group, and it always involves making loads of money to support it. For those of us millenial freelancers who hardly survive check to check, it’s a choice between family life and pursuing your career dreams. No amount of mental conditioning can overcome this economy we’ve inherited.

Satu Runa (former co-owner, Keeping It Reel Productions)

Wearing multiple hats (writer/director/producer slate) with my previous prod. co. in 2012

I’m lucky that I developed other skills early on in order to survive, because I’m using them now to pay the bills and to move into directing films, primarily. The whole journey of pursuing a life in the arts is tragic for most who never see true success, but for me it would be immensely more tragic if I never went after what I wanted and instead lived someone else’s dream. If I found out I was going to die tomorrow, I’d rest easy knowing that I truly went for it despite pushing against the relentless tides of reason and conformity.

To pursue the dream, or to live a life of security?

I must reveal one Earth shattering moment that happened a few days ago. I saw a post with an Alan Wilson Watts quote (the British philosopher, author “The Meaning of Happiness,” 1940) that cracked my mind open like a cantaloupe. It read:

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

This goes against everything my family stands for, as we are ambition defined. Both of my parents achieved the impossible. “Giving up” is not in my vocabulary. But when I saw this quote, it struck me: Just knowing that I could “give up” at any moment was bolstering. I really could just walk away from all of this, 16 years of running, pushing, hustling. It’s been utterly exhausting, but I could leave it all behind. Today. I could jump on a plane and go live in a log cabin in the middle of the woods and just “exist” for a while, or forever. It never occurred to me that I had permission to stop.

Letting go of the idea that there’s a ticking clock of some kind is the most freeing experiment. For women, we always have the ticking reproduction clock. I’ve done my best to ignore it because it’s the single greatest injustice that humanity has ever known. I’ll never stop striving to be free from the restraints of my biology. There are socially constructed rules that hold me back, and then there is very real biological reality holding me back (must procreate by a certain age, or die trying). For the time being, I’ve gained a tiny bit of illumination this week, and I intend to gain more. I’ll set myself free by ridding myself of impossible expectations. I know, without a doubt, what I enjoy doing while here on this Earth, and I will always strive to do just that. I want to create. Everything else is just someone else’s expectation of me. I suppose that’s worth striving for, and I’ll never give that up.


Raised Right

by Satu Runa // June 16th, 2019 

         On the first Father’s Day since my father’s passing, it warrants reflection on his impact on my life. I’ve spent the last ten months grieving, reflecting on who he was, and how important his influence was to the world and to us as a family. Today, I think of how much of his personality and soul resides in myself.

To understand my father, you need to understand Finnish culture. He was a farm boy who ventured on to become a world-renowned cardiologist. He lived through WWII, and the Winter War between Finland and Russia (1939-1940). He started his new American life in Minnesota. Following a visa mishap and a new job opportunity, he continued his journey in Nova Scotia- where he met my mother. A renaissance man, he loved composing poetry, tending to orchids, piano, travelling, and woodcarving. Towards the end of his life, he battled an exorbitant amount of physical pain due to cardiovascular disease, the subject of which he was an expert. He knew exactly what was going on inside his body, to the final moments. 

I knew my father as someone who had strength of mind. He never let the little things bother him, and he seemed to handle the big things in stride. On the surface, one might think that nothing ever bothered him. But he had the most open heart, and he cared deeply, about everything. 


Capturing precious moments on one of our many road trips. Circa 1989.

I watched him closely in the final decade of his life. There were only a few hours in the day where he had enough strength to do his tasks, and he never wasted a moment. After giving up alcohol and having the most disciplined, heart-healthy diet, he trained his mind to handle emotionally painful things- in the style of the stoics. This helped him overcome the physical pain and boredom in his final years, when he couldn’t see well enough to read books or newspapers, and became nauseated by computer screens. But the human body and mind can only take so much pain and boredom, and even the strongest among us succumb to it eventually.

It was his unwavering support and belief in me that carries me day to day. I was raised to be the best version of myself possible. It felt like I had ultimate freedom and independence from day 1. I grew up in a safe, isolated, Nova Scotian cove with few neighbors. I was allowed to wander- anywhere- by myself. My father never questioned my ambition. He never made me second guess my pursuits or my career choices. He never tried to control me or tell me how I should be living my life. He simply provided me with the bedrock of having trust in my abilities. He never pressured me to find a husband, have children, or get married. I was unencumbered by such demands. He encouraged me to pursue meaning through my life’s work, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this fabulously feminist input of my Silent Generation father [note: he didn’t start out this way, I credit my mother for shaping him up. It was she who threatened to leave if he wasn’t on board with her getting her masters, in which he quickly changed his mind. By the time I came around, he was perfect! Thanks Mom].  It could also be the fact that he was a raised on a farm. In agricultural families, everyone works and everyone’s job is equally important. Ego must be set aside for survival. He had pride- for his family and his work, but he had absolutely no trace of an unhealthy ego. 

He passed on to my family what is arguably the most valuable export of Finland: sisu. There is no word in the English language for “sisu,” but loosely translated, it comes to this: When you are up against the wall, here comes a third wind: the will to carry on, against all odds, to persevere with absolute courage in the face of extreme adversity. In other words, guts. The Finns have it. It is ingrained in us. I am beyond thankful for this beautiful energy he has passed onto us. This is what has prepared me for unforeseen obstacles: battles, sickness, pain, failure, death, and the unknown. But I never have self-doubt. I may doubt certain choices, strategies, or others who fail to see my strengths, but I never, ever doubt myself. I am simply tasked with finding ways to make myself stronger and sharper in every way, for myself, and thus, for the betterment of humanity and the loved ones around me. 

I am one of the lucky ones. I may not have anyone to call anymore to say, “I love you, Papa.” But it doesn’t stop me from being proud to be his daughter, to carry so much of him in my heart, in my expressions, in my soul. It takes a lifetime to strengthen the mind, but I got a fabulous head start, thanks to my awesome dad.  I keep going, because he did. In the face of extreme adversity, I march on, because of what I am made of, and because of who I am.