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From skydiving to streaking: Writer challenges herself to living a year of fear

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” After getting laid off, that's exactly what Noelle Hancock set out to do. She documented all of her adventures in her new book, "My Year With Eleanor." Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” After getting laid off from her job, that's exactly what Noelle Hancock set out to do over the course of one year. She documented all of her adventures in her new book, "My Year With Eleanor." Read an excerpt.

I was lying on a beach in Aruba, mulling a third piña colada, when I received a phone call announcing I’d been laid off from my job. The call came, ironically, on my company cell phone. I’d brought it with me to the beach in case something came up at work.

Something came up.

“They’re shutting us down!” squeaked my coworker Lorena.


“The whole website has been closed down.” She sounded like she’d been crying. “We’re all out of a job.”

I sprang forward on my lounge chair and struggled to free my butt, which had sunk between the vinyl straps. “What are you talking about?” I shook my head in disbelief.

“They called us into a meeting and announced it this afternoon. It took everyone by surprise.”

“Why didn’t anyone call me?”

“They’ve been trying, but the office has some kind of block on international calls. I’m calling you from my cell,” she said, dropping into a low, conspiratorial whisper. “I thought you’d rather hear it from a friend first.”

“But this doesn’t make any sense. We’re doing so well!” Our online readership had been steadily climbing. Just last week, our website had drawn a million page views in one day.

“Something about cutting costs.” Her voice was a little loose. I listened closely and heard loud conversations and Bon Jovi in the background.

“Are you at a bar?” I asked, confused.

“Yeah, the whole staff is at that Irish pub across the street from the office. Listen, I have to get back. I’ll call you later, okay?”

When I hung up the phone, I saw my freshly tanned fingers tremble slightly. I stared straight ahead without really seeing anything.

“Who was that?” Matt asked from the lounge chair next to me.

“That was the office,” I said dully. “I’ve been laid off.”

“Wait — what?” Matt threw down his newspaper. He swung his legs around so he was facing me.

“They’ve shut down the entire company,” I continued in that odd emotionless voice. “Announced in a meeting this afternoon.”

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

He grabbed my hand and I felt the faint squish of sunscreen. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to meet his gaze. I was stuck in one of those trances where it appears some invisible hand has smeared itself over your world. And, in a way, it had. It could’ve been an impressionist painting: Girl Without a Job Sitting by the Sea, oil on canvas, 2008.

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock.
My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock.

A ringing sound jerked me out of my daze. I turned and watched Matt grope inside our beach tote for his cell phone. As a political reporter for the most highly regarded newspaper in the country, Matt was also accustomed to answering work calls while on vacation. Just as he found it, the ringing stopped and a chime sounded signaling he had a voice mail.

He peered at the caller ID screen under the glare of sunlight. “Crap, it’s work. My editor probably wants me to make some calls for that story that’s running tomorrow.” He ran an anxious hand through his thick brown hair.

“I’ll be fine. Go call him back. I need a moment alone to process this anyway.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not leaving you like this.”

“Like what?” I said, forcing what I hoped was a convincing smile. “Sitting in a tropical paradise? Seriously, go make your call.”

Matt scurried off toward our hotel room, casting a few worried glances over his shoulder. When he disappeared around the corner, I let my smile fade. I felt as though I’d been riding in a car and the driver had unexpectedly slammed on the brakes. Everything had stopped. I was shocked and confused, but also embarrassed for the person I was a few minutes ago who didn’t see this coming.

My eyes drifted to the stack of celebrity magazines next to my chair. The one on top was splayed open, Aruba’s aggressive trade winds flipping its pages, creating a mini moving picture, the famous Jessicas, Jennifers, and Kates of the world morphing into one other, much the way they do in real life. I’d been reading the magazines for work. For the last several years, I’d worked as a pop culture blogger, churning out stories on a half-hourly basis. In turn, celebrities provided me with constant material by getting married, getting divorced, getting arrested, getting too fat, getting too thin, or just leaving the house for coffee. Yes, the job was fairly absurd, but at nearly six figures, so was the salary.

Twenty feet away, palm trees waved fiercely. We’d been told not to put our chairs under them because coconuts can drop and bonk people on the head, knocking them unconscious. I had a sudden urge to move my chair over there. Instead, I stood up and crunched through the sand toward the hotel. I marched down the steps of the hotel pool and plowed through the shallow end, bouncing from leg to leg, like a moonman on a spacewalk, until I reached the swim-up bar.

This vacation had been a reward to myself — for those days I arrived at the office at 6:00 a.m. and didn’t leave until 9:00 p.m., for working on Christmas Day, for making myself care who won The Bachelor. For the first time in months, I’d started to relax. That was obviously shot to hell now. I needed to get out of my head for a while, and I needed reinforcements. Settling in on one of the submerged stools, I waved over the bartender who’d been taking care of us for the last few days.

“Okay, Hector, we have a situation,” I said. “Bring the bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a shot glass.” I briefly relayed what had happened. He nodded understandingly and poured a shot for me and one for himself. We held our tiny glasses in the air.

Clink! The liquor burned a fiery trail down my throat. He immediately poured a second shot. Next I adopted a large family of piña coladas, forcing Hector to add rum until they turned brown. Forty minutes later Matt found me passed out on a lounge chair wearing Hector’s baseball cap that said, “Aruba: The bar is open!”

From "My Year With Eleanor" by Noelle Hancock. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.