A few weeks ago, I saw ex-celebrity blogger Noelle Hancock on “Today.” She had written a book that peaked my interest. After falling victim to the Recession and a shrinking journalism market, Noelle found herself without a job in New York City. One day, sitting in a coffee shop, contemplating what someone who used to detail the ins and outs of Kim Kardashian’s love life does now, she saw a quote on a chalkboard:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I’ve seen those quotes on chalkboards. I’ve seen the ones at the bottom of emails. A tiny piece of a conversation or speech that is pulled out of context for the sake of inspiration. You may not even read the quote, just remember that it was in pink chalk this morning as you picked up your latte. Whoever put the quote up may have never intended to change your life. But it just might.
Noelle took that quote and did what very few of us would do if we had no sense of direction: she turned it into her beacon.
In My Year with Eleanor, Noelle shares with us what it is like to face something each day that makes you afraid. She spent time focusing on how she could conquer fears like swimming with sharks, surviving stand up comedy, and reflecting on her relationship with her boyfriend. She makes a revelation that many of us will never have: just because you face your fear, it doesn’t mean you stop being afraid. You have to keep facing them.
Just as I would expect from a writer, Noelle also did her fair share of research on Eleanor. If you’re going to take a quote and revolve your life around it for a year, you might as well look a few things up. Eleanor was her husband, especially after his paralysis. When he couldn’t travel to see troops or voters, she went. They had a tumultuous relationship, but you still saw she maintained her individuality even in supporting him. That fierce hunger for learning and personal development is what made Eleanor such an amazing woman to read about in between Noelle’s adventures.
While there are plenty of books with women “taking a year,” don’t dismiss this one. You read the funny moments when Noelle takes milkshake orders from patients on an oncology ward with her sassy, waitress alter-ego, then the poignant moments knowing that small treat is the one light these patients may have at all. You discover Dr. Bob, her therapist, is like Jiminy Cricket, always the voice of reason (and has the jazz hands to prove it). She even takes her own labyrinth walk, something that I experienced once at Grace Cathedral. This walk can shake you to your core as you realize that you may get turned around, but you will always find your way.
There are a great number of hysterical stories Noelle has to share in her book (like rapping in a karaoke bar), but I think my favorite is at the end as she climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro. You need to understand that a journey of self discovery is often the loneliest journey you’ll ever have, but it is all about your own strength. There are some things in life that only you can do, and while others may help you along the way, you are the one taking the steps. We read as Noelle does just that, and you ask yourself, “What steps am I afraid to take alone?”
What if you had a year? What if you didn’t wait until there were no more distractions and decided, “Today, I will conquer my fear”? What would your year look like?
Noelle Hancock’s book My Year With Eleanor is available from Ecco Books.