In a December 1817 letter to his brothers George and Thomas, the poet John Keats set out in a single sentence his now-famous concept of Negative Capability: “that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
While Keats was writing about artistic achievement and not struggling through a global pandemic and lockdowns (although he did suffer from tuberculosis), whenever I’ve found myself in times of uncertainties, mysteries and doubts I’ve always found this concept to be helpful.
Learn to live in uncertainty is not advice you hear too often from the self-help gurus, Twitter pundits, or Instagram and YouTube influencers. Most people want certainty. Most people crave certainty. Many people fall apart when faced with uncertainty. Uncertain about the future, uncertain about tomorrow, uncertain if the world will fall apart even more, uncertain about this, uncertain about that, to mask or not to mask, to open or not to open, where’s that goddamn vaccine!
Because nobody can predict the future (doesn’t matter whether you’re an economist or an astrologer), we live in uncertainty every single day, whether you choose to ignore that fact or not.
Uncertainty is a motherfucker. And yet…
Some people actually thrive in times of uncertainty. Nassim Taleb came up with concept of antifragile, that is “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”
If you’re fragile, you break under pressure, if you’re robust you can survive under pressure, but if you’re antifragile you actually gain under pressure. As UFC fighters like to say, pressure makes diamonds.
Airbnb is an example of fragile. Once the worldwide lockdowns and travel bans were implemented, lots of Airbnb hosts found their little empires of short-term rentals collapsing.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called “’A Bargain with the Devil’: Bill Comes Due for Overextended Airbnb Hosts,” detailing various anecdotal examples of people who basically mortgaged their futures for a portfolio…