Newly laid-off celebrity blogger Noelle Hancock had no clue what to with with her life when she abruptly lost her job while vacationing. Returning to New York City, she spent days haunting coffee shops, ostensibly working on applications and actually just trapped in worry about the state of her life. Then one day inspiration struck in the form of a quote she saw by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor was painfully timid as a child, yet her commitment to facing her fears challenged Hancock to live a “Year of Fear” before she turned 30. Hancock chronicles her adventures from fighter pilot fighting to stand up comedy to facing old boyfriends in My Year with Eleanor.
For a journalist, Hancock’s writing wasn’t great, but I blame that more on the fact that she was trying to string together some loose anecdotes into a coherent book. What would’ve been entertaining and inspiring over a series of articles turns repetitive. Numerous chapters in the middle feel like a large stretch to connect with Eleanor, and most of Hancock’s conquered fears miss the point of Eleanor’s wisdom (ex. streaking naked down her hallway and diving with sharks). I also think she could have spent more time serving others as Eleanor did instead of focusing on herself – it came across as self-centered rather than self-improvement. Unfortunately, the one instance where I believe she could’ve done more good for herself, in conquering her sleeping pill addiction, is glossed over.
Coincidentally, I finished My Year With Eleanor just as Hancock’s newest written piece in Cosmopolitan began raising a stir. In it, she discusses how she gave up her $95,000 per year job to live as a bartender in the US Virgin Islands. The article faces the same issues that this book does, namely that she’s quite privileged to be able to live like that. In her book, she doesn’t really work for a year and somehow survives in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Additionally, an investment from her parents help her reach her goal of climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m not saying that she didn’t work hard, but as a Yale-educated upper-middle class individual, she did have a lot of unique opportunities.
I will admit that I find Eleanor Roosevelt quite amazing, and learning more about her efforts to be braver definitely is motivating me to inch outside my comfort zone though I have a long way to go. So good for Hancock for doing the same – I sincerely hope it helped as I empathized with her social anxiety. But this is not the quality of memoir of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project or any of A.J. Jacobs’ annual challenges, which are highly humorous and well-written reads, and you would be better off reading a book wholly about Eleanor if you want a true inspiration.