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What I learned about focus from “The Name of the Wind”

In any fantasy epic or coming-of-age story there is a large portion dedicated to growth and learning. The main character struggles to learn a new skill, or overcome an enemy, or find some missing piece of information.

Oftentimes they don’t simply struggle, they toil over it. They spend months or years of their lives laser focused on this one goal, this one true north, and nothing can deter them from reaching it. No matter what side story unfolds, what distractions come their way, they always find their way back to that true north.

But this post isn’t about that true north, it isn’t about the goal they are setting out to achieve. That’s a topic for another time. This post is about the journey. The day-to-day struggle the hero goes through on their way to their goal. It’s about the toil.

I just finished reading book two in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles series, The Wise Man’s FearThe series is an account of the life of Kvothe, a legend in his own time. A large portion of the two books so far has been focused on the toil. Kvothe starts as a child in book one and progresses through his teenage years in book two. Years pass by, and you get a very clear view into exactly what he went through.

Focused Effort

Note: Light spoilers ahead, nothing series at all but there are general points made about the story.

Large portions in both books are dedicated to focused effort from the main character. Whether it is learning the art of artificing, toiling in The University’s library for days at a time, or learning to play the lute he is always picking up a new skill and dedicating massive amounts of time to it.

A large portion of book one goes through his childhood schooling, and the sheer amount of time he put into learning while traveling with his family of troupers. This sets the tone for one of the most prevalent themes in the series so far, dedication to mastery through daily toil.

It continues through the second book when Kvothe trains with the Adem mercenaries for months. It seems like his life passes in 3-4 month chunks of hyper-focused effort on one specific skill or outcome. Then it is added to his arsenal and something else will come up to grab his attention next.

I think we can learn from this. It’s something I struggle with every day.

A Question For You

When was the last time you focused on one specific thing for more than 3 hours a day? If you work, can you even say you are really focused for that amount of time?

One specific difference between Kvothe’s situation and ours is the time period. The series is in medieval time, where people travelled by horse and fought with swords (or magic). When Kvothe was in a place, there was nothing to take him away from it. He wasn’t checking Twitter or Facebook every two seconds to see what his friends were up to back at the University. He was primally focused on the task at hand, there was nothing else.

Well… there was a girl, but nothing else.

These books hold very strong allegories to pursuit, focus, and dedication. They aren’t just visible in the books, they are woven into the fiber of Kvothe’s being.

What gives him the purpose and drive? Was it just the way he was raised? Is it his reckless and soul-encompassing dedication to his true north goal, which for spoilers sake I won’t give away here?  Is there more to it?

It feels like the answer is yes, yes, and yes. There is no one correct answer, but they all work together to drive him forward through suffering, boredom, and distraction.

The good news for us is this means we have less of an excuse. If you can’t check one reason off the list, make up for it with the other. Were you not focused and driven growing up? Find a goal so strong it helps will a work ethic into you.

It’s easy to get into the weeds, and I’m starting to because the scope of the book and the different themes it covers are wide and long. But this theme of tunnel-visioned focus runs so deep that I couldn’t get away from it.

Especially today where social media is rampant, attention spans are barely minutes long, and everyone is always looking at what everyone else is doing, the word focus has been diminished in our vocabulary. 

I know it has in mine.

So how do we fix it? I’m not sure to be honest. But I have a few ideas to try out:

  • A strong, true-north goal
  • Momentum – Small actions building into habits day after day
  • Cut off the outside – Less social media
  • Action over thinking – Do the thing instead of thinking about the thing
  • Uncomfortable and scared – Being okay with these

None of those are easy, but I’m sure they are a start.

Who would’ve thought a fantasy novel would hit so deep.

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