End the Tyranny of Fearing the Unknown

I picked up the book and turned to the back cover, then quickly looked around to be sure I wasn’t seen. Bookshops were different in 1988. People didn’t flock to them in droves and linger for hours, enjoying lattes from the in-store café, as they do today. Shopkeepers noticed teenagers and kept a close eye on them.

This was back in the day…

Before the rents in New York City tripled…then tripled again.

When there were more bookshops than bookstore chains…ala You’ve Got Mail, (the 1998 film with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan).  

I also didn’t want to be seen by anyone who knew me.

I was a college sophomore then…and had gotten bitten by the sorority bug. My close friend, Dee, from home, and I went to the same college. Dee had been interested in pledging from Day One on campus. I, on the other hand, was ambivalent, at best.

You see, Dee had had some twists and turns in her early life, and through her journey, she had been encouraged and supported by a local chapter of a sorority. Her life was so impacted by their commitment to her that she was determined to become affiliated with the organization and eventually, give back to others.

I knew her story and began to observe the Distinguished Ladies, the sorority members, on campus. They were the ones running the voter registration drives, collecting food for a local food pantry, and offering informative workshops on balancing your studies and campus life.

They were about something…so, I took a closer look.

Back to the bookshop.

I was looking at a recently released book that illuminated the history of the sorority that Dee was so enamored with...and I was not far behind her.

That fall, I joined Dee at an informal information session about the organization. After that, I attended a few formal events. And finally, had submitted my paperwork to pledge.

I was not one to be distracted by a challenge. But for some reason, the thought of pledging had my anxiety levels on high.


To understand this, you need understand the black fraternal movement and how things are done…or at least, how they were done. (It has been a looong time since I’ve been involved with a pledge process.)

Historically, black fraternities and sororities did not broadcast how potential members were initiated. There were no public activities outside of coordinating your dress with the other pledges who were “on line” with you. (Note: On line is not the same as online, which refers to the internet. LOL.) On some campuses, pledges “marched the yard” at night singing songs. Other than that, it was all a mystery…on purpose.

THAT had my nerves on edge. The unknown elements of the process had me guessing and downright afraid.


That whole season of my life came to mind as I’ve been steeped in my recent research on fear, as I attempt to understand this “natural instinct” that keeps trying to stifle my entrepreneurial flow.

I was also reminded of a quote that I had stumbled upon some time ago, by the French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. He said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” (Emphasis added)

That was it!

Things were getting clearer…

It’s not often that what I find fans the fire of fear; it’s what I expect to find. I concoct scenarios of fact out of the fear of the unknown. I dwell on the “what ifs” and waste time ruminating on negative possibilities that more than likely will NEVER happen.

This is not just me, I know.


Researchers found there to be a direct relationship between fear and knowledge. The more we know about an experience, the less likely we are to fear it, is their summation.

In 1944, Kurt Reizler outlined this phenomenon in the American Journal of Sociology. In the article, he describes society’s “collective insecurity” as the “nightmare of modern industrial society” evolved. People just didn’t know what life would be like due to the international crisis of World War II and rapid national changes.

What would Reizler say of today’s technological society?

With all the access we have today to information (knowledge), why are we STILL so fearful and anxious (and increasingly so) of the unknown?

Dare I suggest that our preoccupation with knowledge…of everything from what’s going on in global, national, and local news to what’s happening with every “friend” on Facebook…is one of the factors driving our society to distraction? (Yes...this is becoming a sociological issue.) And our appetite for knowing it all is being piqued by a fear of not knowing.


Nobody wants to be out of the know, right?

But this pursuit of a form of omniscience simply eats away at our productivity and keeps us in an almost paralyzed state. How many times have I gone on a news website or social media to find out one thing and end up falling down the information rabbit hole??? Only to emerge thirty minutes later (on a good day) wondering where the time has gone.

Oh, and don’t have me research a topic…hours pass as I attempt to master the subject.

Information overload. Drinking from a fire hydrant.

As if knowing more somehow secures a favorable outcome. Not necessarily. Sometimes knowing more is just knowing too much.

And as my grandmother would say, “Sometimes when you know too much, you just know TOO MUCH…and you think you know it all! So be careful what you look for…” (Be sure to read her words with your best Georgia accent to get the full effect!)

In my younger years, pledging was the only big unknown that I feared. I was not concerned about my future. (This was before the perfectionist bug bit me. I'm in recovery, y'all!) But I faced my pledge experience with grit, and pressed on.


Turns out, in my head, it was a far worse experience than it turned out to be. I learned some lifelong lessons in that process and the subsequent years of sisterhood that followed. The greatest of which is: It’s all about your mental game.

You know, what’s going on in your head…your mindset.

Be clear on your foundational beliefs because your beliefs shape your thinking and give you hope when you’re facing a challenging season.

Recognize that you cannot know it all, and get comfortable with that. What you don’t know, you can learn! Or you just don't need to know it!

And do not, for any reason, allow fear of the unknown to hold your future hostage and lull you into inactivity. You’ve got amazing genius to unleash in the world!

Until next time...




Make a decision to do one thing right now to protect your mind. Choose one of the suggestions above or others you may know. And follow your decision with discipline. You can do it! If you can, share your progress.