John Keats, the poet, lived in the land of the pea-souper. He knew a thing or two about getting around in the fog.
But when, as a young adult, he gave up a career in medicine to write poetry, he didn’t expect the fog in his mind to be quite so thick.
Keats had set himself a hard task. Writing any sort of poetry – even bad poetry – is hard. But Keats wasn’t interested in just any old poetry. He wanted to create immortal ideas and images that would span the centuries.
He was ambitious and determined to get ahead. He tackled his work with enthusiasm and vigour. It wasn’t long before he had produced his first book of poetry. He presented it to the reading public with a sense of pride and achievement.
Unfortunately, the reading public didn’t see it quite the same way. They hated it. The book failed to sell.
And then the fog rolled in. Self-doubt clouded his mind. Keats started to wonder about his ability to achieve his lofty goal.
Maybe he had been too ambitious. Maybe the ideas that seemed so immortal to him were not really that good. Or was it that he just couldn’t express these great ideas properly?
Was it all worth the effort? Hours and hours spent trying to find just a single word. Days and weeks looking for a phrase. Maybe he should chuck it in and get a real job.
Anyone who seriously tries to get ahead knows what it’s like to get caught in the mind fog. You can’t see your way ahead any more. You’re lost, discouraged, and little voices start telling you it’s time to turn around and go back. If you can find the way!
Mind fog is an occupational hazard for people trying to get ahead. By the very nature of trying to get ahead, you have to stretch the boundaries. You have to go where you have never been before. You have to head into unmarked territory without a map or signs along the way.
This was where John Keats found himself very early in his career. But in a flash of inspiration he saw the way through. Studying the life of his idol, Shakespeare, he made a profound discovery. He later wrote:
“At once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”
John Keats came to realize that even the greatest of minds encounter the fog. What makes these people great is that they don’t panic. They don’t try to get out of the fog or flee from it. They learn to live with it. Keats called this “Negative Capability” – the ability to live with doubts and still work at getting ahead.
If you are caught in the fog, don’t jump to conclusions about what you can and can’t do. Keep working, keep striving and, most of all, keep an open mind. All great minds have spent time in the fog.