July 2011

Facing fears with the First Lady

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“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Most people reading that quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, if at all disenchanted with themselves for leading less than robust lives, would feel a momentary rekindling of their “inner warrior” attitude. They would take it as a gentle reminder and might silently vow to wrest more out of life, to challenge themselves more frequently, to be a little braver and bolder. But when Noelle Hancock sees it written on a chalkboard in a coffee shop, she adopts it as her mantra—literally! My Year With Eleanor is a delightful memoir of her journey out of fear and anxiety with the former “First Lady of the World” as her imitable guide.

At the book’s opening, Hancock has been seeing a therapist, Dr. Bob, for about a year (a decision that came about, she writes, “when I realized I knew more about Jennifer Aniston than I did about myself”); her lucrative, but less-than-soul-fulfilling job as a blogger for a celebrity-themed website has just gone kaput; and her next birthday looms ahead. When she discusses the Roosevelt quote with Dr. Bob, he says, “This could be a good project for you. You should run with this,” and ultimately, she does.

Delving further into Eleanor Roosevelt’s writings, she is moved and inspired by Eleanor’s life story: her early timidity, her heartbreaks and sorrows, and her eventual triumph over immobilizing insecurity. Buoyed by Eleanor’s example, on her 29th birthday, Hancock begins a year-long struggle to “do one thing each day” that scares her before she turns 30. With no paying job, and her parents still wishing she’d go to law school, she kicks off the project by taking a trapeze class, and after much heart-pounding trepidation, she finally hops from the elevated platform and takes her first “exhilarating and dreadful” plunge toward self-confidence.

With unwavering and witty self-analysis (and Eleanor’s “mentoring”), Hancock embarks on an uncomfortable but never-a-dull-moment voyage of self-discovery and daring. Sometimes her challenges are more physical—sky diving, hiking Kilimanjaro and taking fighter pilot lessons—while some are fear-provoking on other levels—like singing karaoke, doing stand-up comedy or volunteering in a cancer ward. But whether she is confronting terrifying sharks in a diving cage or her tangled feelings about her boyfriend Nick, she demonstrates how thrilling it can be to face your fears. I double-dare you to read this book!


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