Nothing to Fear: 'My Year With Eleanor' Author Empowered by Famously Timid First Lady
Hancock was sitting on a beach in Aruba -- free from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. workdays for the first time in months -- when she got the call that the celebrity gossip website she wrote for was folding (she never discloses which website). The Ivy league graduate-turned-entertainment-blogger suddenly became one of the 80,000 Americans who lost jobs in March 2008 -- a hard reality to swallow, even when chased with a pina colada.
The almost 29-year-old was directionless for the first time in her life. Her anxiety about the future grew every day she spent unsuccessfully job hunting. She thought back to the days when she was a smart-talking, brash intern who wasn't afraid to confront New Yorkers on the subway. How had she gotten here and become a frightened, self-deprecating adult?
In between lattes at a coffee house, Hancock read an inspirational quote on the wall that ended up changing the trajectory of the months ahead:
Do one thing every day that scares you. -- Eleanor Roosevelt
The quote struck a nerve. After cataloging all the things she was scared of that had somehow held her back -- public speaking, making new friends, having free time, haggling at flea markets -- Hancock realized her list of phobias was longer than she was comfortable with.
She buried herself in Roosevelt's books and biographies. Reading the first lady's musings inspired Hancock to follow her lead and turn a life of fear into one of self-confidence and adventure. Supplemented by freelance work, unspent paychecks, cash from her parents and an eventual book advance, Hancock spent the year leading up to her 30th birthday doing one thing every day, big or small, that scared her: from diving with sharks and flying a fighter plane to singing karaoke and spending two weeks without makeup.
Hancock sat down to talk with us about her memoir that hits shelves June 6.
Had you looked up to Eleanor Roosevelt before reading her quote in the coffee shop?
I didn't know anything about [Eleanor] before this project, so I did what we all do when we are curious: I Googled her! I discovered that this person whom I knew to be one of the most iconic and bold women in history had actually been painfully shy and timid as a child and became the woman she became by facing her fears.
This was a woman who was terrified of public speaking and didn't start giving speeches until she was 38 [when Franklin contracted polio and she had to be his voice]. She ended up being one of the greatest orators in American history. I think she gave 1400 speeches when she was first lady. She teaches that even later in life, you can come into your own.
How did Eleanor influence you?
I was at a place where I didn't know who I was and who I wanted to be. Channeling Eleanor pushed me to try new things.
One of the perks of being an adult is that you can design your life in a way that allows you to avoid situations that scare you and make you uncomfortable. It is hardwired into our biological heritage: Being afraid protects us. Our ancestors who were afraid of heights were the ones who didn't fall off a cliff; the ones who were afraid of snakes and spiders didn't get poisoned.
The problem is that now we live in a much safer world, but we still have fears. Avoidance only reinforces fear when we should really expose ourselves to scary situations to prove to ourselves that we can handle it. Courage is a muscle that I had stopped exercising.
Skydiving, shark diving, visiting ex-boyfriends ... you covered a lot of ground in a year. What was the scariest thing you did?
Stand-up comedy more than everything else combined! And I'm not alone: It's one of the biggest fears in America, along with death. Jerry Seinfeld said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than give a eulogy. You just want to be liked. [After I decided to face that fear,] I was looking for any excuse in the book to get out of it, going, maybe it shows more courage to admit you can't do something.
Would you do it again?
Because it was my biggest fear, it turned out to be my favorite. Achieving something when you didn't believe in yourself is a game changer. I did it, and it went well. I would do pretty much everything again, which is shocking! When you do these things, you realize how much of your life is spent worrying about things that are actually enjoyable.
Anything you tried that you wouldn't do again?
I might not shark cage dive again! I tried to have experiences I could grow from, so I didn't eat spiders or do 'Fear Factor-y' things. When I went shark diving, I realized, wait a second, we're supposed to be afraid of sharks. They are monsters. There is no upside to not being afraid of sharks!
So what's next?
I'm moving to the Caribbean. I've always wanted to, although, to be honest, moving to the Caribbean isn't that brave. But again, I think there's something courageous about packing up and moving to an island you've never been to and really changing your life.
Before, my entire life was planned out. After college I had internships, a job at a newspaper, I went to a magazine, a blog -- one thing led to the next. For the first time, I don't have it all laid out for me, and that's exciting. There was a time when it would have terrified me, but it doesn't anymore. It only terrifies my parents.
Read an excerpt from "My Year With Eleanor."
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