Embracing the Unknown

Charlene Norman
3 min readAug 21, 2023

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As I get closer to completing my manuscript, I suddenly have an epiphany.

We all like to know the ending BEFORE we finish the beginning!

I haven’t even finished the book, let alone mapped out all the plans behind the book, and I am jumping to the endpoint. Worse, I’ve done this a million times before.

And I’ll bet you have too. In school. In your career. In your marriage. And in your business. We always need to finish mastering the beginning, yet we get so focused on how the result should/would/could/will play out.

At a rudimentary level, our world is a culture of performance and immediate answers. With a focus on positive capabilities. Which has led to an unbearable pressure to be fast, decisive, and always correct.

Yet we both know that there is an equal and opposite wrong for every right. (I am taking a bit of liberty with Newton’s third law, so stay with me.)

Because life is all about equal parts

Good and bad, we know we can’t have all the good without some bad. Yet, we’d love to sail past ALL the bad and get right to the good, wouldn’t we?

More than 200 years ago, the poet John Keats wrote a letter with a powerful concept. Something he called ‘negative capability.’ He believed we humans would do well to learn how to be ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts — without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

Say what? In my world, that means being comfortable with not knowing, steering through the very messy middle and trusting that everything will eventually work out. And that has everything to do with managing and even mastering negative capabilities.

And it is so freaking hard to do!

So, here are a few things to ponder.

We need negative capability the most when there is a lack of something. Specifically, not knowing what to do, not having adequate resources, and not trusting or being trusted. And let’s be honest. When all three things are present, IMMENSE is the pressure to act quickly, decisively and always correctly. And far too often, we see that the results of our actions could be so much better.

A better way is to acknowledge that there is an equal and positive HAVE issue for every negative or NOT issue. While it is very true that we may not see it right away, here is a perspective on how we might.

When we look at negative capability as the ability to NOT do something, the positives automatically emerge.

  • To not jump to quick conclusions or impulsively react
  • To not give people information or answer that create false certainty
  • To not engage defensively with ambiguity or change
  • To not neatly shoehorn ideas and experiences into preconceived boxes

In other words, negative capability is all about discarding the future tense of your desire, forgetting both what you knew and what you want, and leaving space for a new idea to come forth. (so says the psychologist, Wilfred Bion.)

Here’s to learning to reconnect our positive and negative capabilities together.

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Charlene Norman

Inspiring good humans to make a difference for all on Planet Earth. Podcast host, author, and community leader. Fanatical about change for the highest good.