Finding Beauty in Uncertainty

by Sarah McLaughlin '23 on December 8, 2022

Editor's Column

Heading into winter break, I considered writing a column titled something along the lines of “Five Ways Seniors Can Make the Most of Their Winter Breaks.” I was going to write about applying for jobs, getting ahead on independent study work, and taking a break to read a novel you’ve been wanting to pick up for a while. Those are all probably still good ideas, and maybe I wanted to write the article as a to-do list for myself, but many of us are so caught up in planning our futures down to the minute that we forget to bask in the unknown.

Poet John Keats coined the term “negative capability” to describe how the greatest writers can create beauty from uncertainty, rather than scientific or philosophical fact. Uncertainty and even downright confusion allows for ambiguity, which in art and writing, can be more beautiful than something that is positively known, because of its many possibilities for interpretation. There is artistry in mystery.

In the same vein, perhaps we can find something to appreciate in the uncertainty that is our futures. Sure, it’s terrifying to not know where you’ll be eating, sleeping, working (and with whom) in less than one year from now (or two, or three, or four). But, to once again cite Hannah Arendt in one of my columns, a vital part of being human is being spontaneous. Unlike animals, we don’t have a defined path from the beginning to the end of our lives. We have the ability to make decisions like changing our majors, dyeing our hair, or traveling to Europe.

So instead of telling you what to do with your winter break, I’ll just tell you to embrace the uncertainty. Try to find the positive in the fact that there are so many things you might do, so many places in which you might find yourself, so many different people you might meet. I won’t say don’t worry about the future, because I’d be a hypocrite; of course we’re all going to worry. But at the same time as it evokes fear, the ambiguity of the future is what makes it exciting.

Apply for some jobs, work on your projects, fill out your planner for next semester. Pick up a good book or two. Update your resume. Cook your favorite homemade meals with your family. Look at your future as a work of art, as an epic poem that has yet to be completed. Your capabilities are not all yet apparent.