How I Overcame Fear of the Unknown

fear of the unknown

When I left home at eighteen, I knew nothing about the world. Or about myself, for that matter. My education at that point consisted of 12 years of primary and secondary schooling and 18 years of my dad yelling at me. As far as I knew, my existence was fairly normal.

I volunteered for airborne school, a strange combination with the personnel clerk position I was to be trained for. But I ended up being assigned to a Special Forces unit.

The Army taught me to challenge myself. I got to experience things I’d never have the chance to do otherwise. As a personnel specialist with Airborne training assigned to a Special Forces unit in the 1980s, I had the privilege of spending a month in South Korea when the unit flew over for a field exercise.

One night, one of the senior ranking sergeants in my unit invited me to go to dinner with two soldiers from the South Korean army. One of them was older, like my senior sergeant, and the other was a young sergeant like me. The two older men led the way. As we walked down the pitch black street without a single lamp, myself unable to speak a word of Korean and my international counterpart likewise unable to speak English, my friend reached over and took my hand and smiled. As our fingers interlocked, I reminded myself not to do anything that might cause an international incident while thinking to myself how weird it felt to be in that predicament.

Years later, after completing college and spending some time making my living in the world, I decided to join the National Guard. I thought it might be a growth experience to attend officer candidate school. I was more right than I ever knew.

As events would happen, I ended up serving in Iraq in 2005. It was not a mission I’d have volunteered for, but I didn’t fight too hard to be relieved of it either. My life has largely been a series of me placing myself in odd circumstances just to experience something different. I never fully realized what the point of many of those experiences were until I found myself in a sweltering desert surrounded my people with whom I had little in common.

I once took a job as a hustler selling perfumes on 100% commission. I wasn’t good at it, but I learned what it was like to walk up to a total stranger and try to convince them to trust me on nothing more than a smile and a few fancy words.

Not knowing anything about real estate, I took a class and learned how to flip properties. I helped an older woman get out of a mortgage before she lost her house and helped a young couple buy their first home while pocketing a few bucks in the process. I then used what I learned about real estate to purchase my first property, a townhouse, and I have since converted it into a rental property.

Life is a series of unknowns. If we knew the script going in, we might decide to never walk out on the stage.

By forcing myself into experiences that likely would not have come my way on their own, I learned to overcome fear, remove self-doubt, and take each moment as it comes without anxiety. I’ve had to learn to embrace total darkness so that I might hope to find the light. As a result, my life is full of bright lights.

27 thoughts on “How I Overcame Fear of the Unknown”

  1. Allen,

    I have also thought many times that if we knew the script going in, many of us us would not walk on the stage.

    Many people are taught that the more control they have the more powerful and valuable they are. The truth is, the only control any of us have is how we respond to the people and situations around us. Even then, we have no control over whatever happens after we respond.

    The rest is just the illusion of control.

    By definition, the unknown presents itself to us as something we are not in charge of. I think there is a really good reason for that. It’s telling us things are happening the way they are supposed to. Many times we don’t need to know the details until we directly experience them. We have to fully admit to ourselves we have no control (and that is a good thing) before we can consciously embrace the unknown.

    The unknown usually steers us in a new direction, or gives us a brand new way to experience the “same thing”. I enjoyed reading your post.

  2. Thanks for that, that was great. It comes at a time of uncertainty & embarking on a road not traveled. It makes me feel better about doing it. When one is in this situation all they usually think about is fear & negatives but by reading your story you showed me how to embrace it with a possibility of much brighter today:) Here I go…

    1. Dave, I would say that change IS adventure. You either embrace it or run from it. I hope you’ll take that inspiration and find the change in you. The world is a vast playground. Enjoy the ride or shrink. :-)

  3. Allen:

    My takeaway on your story is that you accept changes as adventure. You learned to overcome your fear of the unknown by accepting that you had a lot to learn. You overcame your fear by taking action where others would have surrendered to their fear.

    Thank you for inspiring the rest of us.

  4. Awesome post, Allen! There’s nothing in my past I regret, other than those who got hurt as a result of my choices. Then again, it toughened them up and made them more ready. And I forgave everyone did me dirty, so I’ll accept that same courtesy. :)

  5. Allen, Thanks for sharing your story and congratulations in overcoming your fear. In my opinion, your reward is the bright lights that many don’t get to experience. The unknowns is what makes life exciting.

  6. You know, I really needed to read that, this post came at a very opportune time for me, when I realize it is I who have been plagued by inertia and unwilling to take on new challenges, and as a result things have gotten progressively worse and I find myself locked into a life of depressing similarity. And I’ve wondered exactly what does it take for me to find that spark of adventurous curiosity that once made life so exciting for me? I realize that it comes down to risk aversion, first and foremost. And this can create a loop where further risk aversion brings about a deepening funk, serving only to prevent necessary action to break the cycle. I also can relate to your story as well. I was the same person who left home for the Army in 1986, and in 1987 I was lucky enough to find myself in South Korea for a month too (Team Spirit), and later I found myself spending a month in Japan and Thailand as well. How lucky I was to experience those places in my youth! I like your attitude, and hereby pledge to view the uncertainty of trying new experiences with the same excitement I viewed traveling to Asian countries as a teenager.

    1. Thanks Danny. You must have been in South Korea the same time I was – Operation Team Spirit. I joined the Army in 1984, right out of high school. I left in 1987. I hope you find that adventurous spark again.

  7. Hey Allen, thanks so much for this article! I’ve been recently grappling with this same fear myself, having taken the jump into the unknown only to find myself right back where I started again.

    As coincidence would have it, I just published a post about taking the road less traveled, and though i don’t like to link to my own posts in my comments, I think this is a bit too fitting to pass up, I’d love to hear your thoughts & guidance:


    1. Great story, Scott. Keep chasing your dreams and keep your head up. Your ship might never come in, but if you just sit on the dock and wait for it you are no better off than the man who chose to go in search for it from the bow of a cruise ship. You can comfort yourself along the way by sampling from the bar and enjoying the ride.

  8. mahavir nautiyal

    I read a poem in Hindi the meaning of which is that only those who have the courage to dive deep into the ocean- come out with a pearl. I , like a fool, kept sitting on the beach, fearful of getting drowned.

  9. The unknown is always a great place to visit, it is how we grow and move forward in life. Life is an adventure and it is better to embrace the unknown rather than sit back in fear always wondering the what ifs. Fear is only in the mind and will grow stronger unless faced.

    A great post Allen, it reminds me of a book I read years ago called ‘The Road Less Travelled’

  10. Love the idea of not over planning your life. Perhaps we should view life as a series of creative experiments rather than the linear progression we’re often duped into believing?

    1. Good idea, Peter. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.”

      I’ve never really seen it as a linear progression. But it could be a wandering path. ;-)

  11. Allen,
    I really enjoyed this article. It’s a great reminder to trust what situations are presenting themselves to us. When we gather our courage, step forward into the unknown, great potential and growth happen.

  12. Allen,
    Thank you…your story was a great read and it reminded me to keep taking on challenges …ESP those that put me out of my comfort zone, I think we grow best when we challenge ourselves more. I needed to hear this since I am contemplating on moving to a new city where I know no one after grad school in May. I can only hope that life will be kind, but I need to expirience the south.Your attitude is refreshing, I might add!

  13. Hey Allen,
    thank you for sharing your story. I’m 18 and I have a fear of the unknown. I’m scared that things might not turn so great for me. There is so much I still haven’t figured out yet and I feel like time might just run out for me. But thank you for showing me that it is ok to take chances and look for opportunities where I may never have looked. There is so much out there and so much to do.

  14. Anu, never fear!

    18 is a great year. You have your whole life ahead of you. Be humble and receptive to the opportunities that are presented to you. Don’t feel like you have to jump on them all. The benefit to being your age is you can choose your opportunities with great care. Don’t rush it, but don’t shrink from that which you are not familiar either. Except every new challenge with delight and confidence that you’ll come out on the other end a much better person, wiser and with a better knowledge of yourself than before.

    Good luck in life. I’m sure you’ll succeed. :-)

  15. Hi Allen,

    Wow. What a wonderful life you experiences. All the unknowns and fear you face are fascinating and motivational beyond words.

    I hope to have half of your experiences if i may say so. Why not learn Korean language?

    BTW, i’m learning to challenge myself to reach my goals which is impossible but attainable.

  16. I love this post and it’s exactly what I needed today, funny how that works out.:) I know what you mean about placing yourself in uncommon circumstances, but I am torn with this idea. How much do you leave up to God, the universe and your inner guide and how much do you seek out these uncommon circumstances. In other words I know I want to grow as a person, become more financially stable, find love, etc…I mediate and pray on it, is that enough or should I be seeking out these things?

    1. Hi Erin,

      Those are great questions. There are no clear cut answers, but I wouldn’t put myself or anyone else in any physical danger or do something that might threaten your financial or emotional security. I’d also make sure that you have a bona fide interest in something before you do it. If you have no interest in teaching overseas, for instance, don’t do it just for the experience. Do it because you have a real interest. If you keep a clear head, you’ll find that opportunities often open themselves up to you, so you don’t have to go looking for them. It’s then just a matter of recognizing the opportunity when it presents itself.

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