I just finished reading the second book in an eventual trilogy that’s already, in its unfinished state, found company amongst the most epic, popular and influential fantasy series of all time. The series is the Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss, and in addition to being a thoroughly engrossing story, it hits on some larger themes (beyond the expected good vs. evil, etc.) that have me thinking.

My Name Is Fail

My Name Is Fail, by Flickr user ~db~ (CC by-nc-nd licensed)

In Rothfuss’s universe, the most powerful of all the magics is in naming. When someone is able to understand a thing so fully as to grok its utter essence, he can manipulate that thing by naming it. The first book of the series is called The Name of the Wind, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to use naming the wind as an example. When one can name the wind, one can call a storm, or one can calm one.

Naming a thing is powerful, dramatic stuff.

In my session at Hello Etsy Portland last month, I asked the participants in the room to take a couple minutes to think about their fears, and to write them down. And then I asked them to share. It may not be as dramatic as controlling the weather, but there is an undeniable power in naming – out loud, with others.

But just as it’s no small feat to grok the utter essence of the wind, naming your fears requires a degree of honesty and courage beyond simply writing a list of things that make you uncomfortable. All of us can say wind, but only a few can name it, and then only some of the time.

Naming our fears in a way that allows us to control them requires understanding them all the way down to their subtlest essence. We’re all afraid, to some degree or another, of failing – and each of us has a different definition of failing. To properly name your fear, you need to spend some quality time with that fear. Is it a money fear? A pride fear? A competition fear? A success fear? A judgment-of-others fear? Are you really afraid at all? Maybe you’re just feeling pressured to follow your business idea but your heart isn’t really in it. Maybe you feel like there’s too much to do and so you’re doomed to fail. You can only properly name something that really exists, and only when you fully get it.

When Rothfuss’s character names the wind, he’s only able to keep hold of that name for a limited time. So he must use the time wisely, and so must we when we name our fears. We don’t want to start living in those fears. We need to grok them – to feel them up and down, let them wash over us, smell them, taste them, commune with them – and then we need to step away from them so we can dismantle them, jump over them, burrow under them or simply pucker up our lips and blow them away.