My Year with Eleanor

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Feel the fear and do it anyways.

It is no secret that I love to read. I have countless book reviews posted on FromBrownEyes and it is a safe bet that I am reading about four books at once. A few close friends of mine, Alex and Ashley, wanted to start a book club. Since Alex lives in California, Ashley Colorado, and myself Oregon, we decided to call our club Books Without Borders. The first official book of our club was selected by Alex: Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living. Well, I accidentally ordered the wrong book off Amazon. Instead of You Learn by Living, I ordered My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock. It ended up being a happy accident because both Alex and Ashley had read My Year with Eleanor and it is what inspired Alex to pick You Learn by Living (which, as it turns out, also inspired Hancock to write My Year with Eleanor). Despite the cause, My Year with Eleanor ended up right where it belonged: in my lap.

Here is the Amazon summary:

In the tradition of My Year of Living Biblically and Eat Pray Love comes My Year with Eleanor, Noelle Hancock’s hilarious tale of her decision to heed the advice of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and do one thing a day that scares her in the year before her 30th birthday. Fans of Sloane Crosley and Chelsea Handler will absolutely adore Hancock’s charming and outrageous chronicle of her courageous endeavor and delight in her poignant and inspiring personal growth.

I, personally, found this book so relatable. It begins when Hancock loses her job as her company goes under. After weeks of fruitlessly looking for a new job, Hancock decides that perhaps this is exactly what her life needs. Sitting in a coffee shop, she attempts to write her One Year Plan and finds herself drawing a complete blank. With endless possibilities around her, her list should be blooming. Looking for inspiration, Hancock glances up at a chalkboard and sees an Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Suddenly it hits her. Hancock realizes, “The older I get, the less I challenge myself” and thus begins her Year of Fear.

Hancock notes that,

The luxury of being an adult is you no longer have to do things that make you uncomfortable.

Well, this is extremely true. Most activities require up to opt-in, making it easy for us adults to just skip putting our name on the sign-up list. For the activities that require us to opt-out (a social engagement, work meetings, or class presentations), it isn’t hard to come up with an excuse to ditch, or at least postpone, the dreaded task. So instead of falling right back into her comfort box, Hancock decided to make herself uncomfortable. Just like when I decided to quit my executive position with Target, Hancock decided to take a step back and take a year to challenge herself. With her 29th birthday only a week away, Hancock believed there was no better way to round out the decade than to do one thing every day that scared her, just like Roosevelt suggests.

Here is what she found:

I also knew that while it was brave to do something you think is going to be scary, it is braver to do something you know is going to be scary. And to have faith that, eventually, it will start to be less scary.

I fully agree with this statement. I learned this when I took my first trip of my step back. I went to New York in November of 2015 and spent the week with a friend that I hadn’t seen or talked to in nine years. I knew that there was a lot of potential to have fun, but I was 100% certain that it would be scary. But I really embraced that fear and it set the tone for the rest of my year off. That NYC trip gave me the confidence to visit friends, old and new, in Dallas, Portland, and San Francisco.

But I wish I had heard this quote before I went to New York, flew a plane, or went skydiving:

Fear is just excitement without the breath. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Physiologically, our bodies react to fear the same way we react to excitement – except with fear, we tend to hold our breath. What Roosevelt suggests, and Hancock echoes, is that we breathe into our fear and turn it into excitement.

The idea of breath as an antidote to fear. Even I’d been surprised to learn that fear and excitement are biologically nearly identical (think pounding heartbeat, sweating, muscle tension) but that fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing into it fully.

Next time I find myself in a new, challenging, and scary situation, I will be sure to take a deep breath first, which is exactly what Hancock did before completing stand-up comedy.

I understood why this was different from my other fears. Skydiving, flying a fighter plane, shark diving – these were things I hadn’t wanted to do. Making a crowd of people laugh for five minutes straight was something I’d wanted to do but hadn’t believed I could do.

These really would make for the scariest of challenges: the things you want to do. For Hancock, she analyzes how she has pulled away from society in recent years and that her self-isolation might be a defense mechanism. She had become scared to speak in public, even around friends, and that is why she knew skydiving had to be on the fear list.

While her period of self-discovery allowed for much progress, happiness, and development, Hancock worries that anything over a year would be too much. She cites Eleanor Roosevelt as support for this,

There is a danger in this self-examination. Some people become so interested, so fascinated by this voyage of self-discovery, that they don’t come out of it again. They remain completely absorbed in their self-study. – Eleanor Roosevelt

I personally don’t yet know if I believe this to be true. I think that life is more fun and interesting when there is an underlying intention of self-discovery. But perhaps the fear Roosevelt and Hancock are getting at is the fear of settling. Maybe these women believe that if one is too engrossed in self-examination, he or she will stop being able to slow down and enjoy what they have now. Or perhaps it is that fact that Hancock was simultaneously analyzing the root of her fears, writing an autobiography, and seeing a shrink that made her believe that she was over-examining.

For me, I like a challenge. I like trying new things and redefining my fear. This past year and a half has taught me a lot, and I think Hancock defines it well here:

What I discovered was that, in taking on tangible challenges, I’d grown into someone who could handle the intangibles. That life was not about attaining; it was about letting go. When I looked back, nothing was ever as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was usually better than I could have imagined. I learned that we should take each moment both more and less seriously because everything passes. The joyful moments are just as fleeting as the terrible ones.

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Overall, this was a great book. A very easy and interesting read filled with humor and insights. I would highly recommend it to pass a weekend at home and hopefully it will inspire you to do one thing every day that scares you.

-TM

What is one fear you want to tackle this week? Let us know below.

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3 thoughts on “My Year with Eleanor

  1. Pingback: You Learn by Living – From Brown Eyes

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