Tired of the disconnection surrounding her New York City life, 31-year-old Noelle Hancock decided to give up her $95,000 job, sell her belongings, and buy a one way ticket to a small island in the Caribbean. That was four years ago, and she maintains there are no regrets.
“It’s ironic to feel lonely on an island of 4 million people, but it seemed I spent my life staring at screens: laptop, cell phone, iPad – hell, even the taxis and elevators had televisions in them. I felt stressed, uninspired, and disconnected,” the now 35-year-old Hancock wrote in an essay for Cosmopolitan.
In a Skype interview with the Today Show on Friday, Hancock added that she was looking for something that she couldn’t find in New York.
“I was just looking for a different kind of life where people were still engaged,” she stated.
Despite having a high-paying job and living comfortably in Manhattan, Hancock was unhappy in her life and saw living amongst the competitive atmosphere of New York as a downside, as people were oftentimes overscheduled.
“Sometimes I didn’t see my closest friends for months at a time. Trying to negotiate a time to meet a friend for drinks was harder than getting into college (and the cocktails about as expensive)”
With the constant echo of a vacation in the back of her head, a “stressed” and “uninspired” Noelle had an epiphany one day after a tropical landscape screensaver popped up on her laptop – “stop living in front of a screen and live in that screen,” the realization came.
Since Hancock had no personal or professional obligation, she decided to take a chance at a completely unexpected life. And after an impulsive Facebook question looking for advice on where to live, the Yale graduate ended up on St. John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It was startlingly simple to dismantle the life I’d spent a decade building: I broke the lease on my apartment, sold my belongings, and bought a one-way plane ticket,” she wrote in the essay. “The hardest part was convincing myself it was OK to do something for no other reason than to change the narrative of my life.”
And despite her parents’ strong disapproval, upon her arrival on the island Hancock happily took a job at an ice cream parlor for just $10 an hour.
“The truth is, I was happier scooping mint chocolate chip for $10 an hour than I was making almost six figures at my previous corporate job.
“It was calming to work with my hands. I met new people constantly, talking face-to-face instead of communicating via email and instant messaging. When I closed the shop at the end of the shift, my work was done and my time my own.”
Hancock admits, though, that the occasional doubt does slip in when she witnesses the respective successes of her former colleagues, and she questions what she’s doing with her life – but, she says, the community of travelers she’s met on the island has changed her perspective of happiness.
“Living abroad has exposed me to a different approach to life, one in which you’re not expected to settle in one place and do one kind of job. Perhaps some of us are meant to move around every few years, change jobs and live many different micro lives.”
The article has garnered a lot of online traction since it was published on Wednesday, with over 500,000 shares, and Twitter users commending her story with hashtags like #inspired and #noregrets.
According to Today, Hancock told them she wanted to share her story to inspire people’s “foolish” dreams.
And while she’s aware that most people can’t just get up and move to an island, she still wanted to provide some encouragement.
“I wanted to share this article is to show people that it’s okay to make a new path for yourself, even if it’s a life that other people disapprove of or don’t understand.”
Hancock, who now works as a bartender (a job she’s “always wanted to try”), observes that for most of the 20th century, a large part of the American Dream ideal had to do with increasing wealth and material things – however, she says, this has changed.
“I think that in the last decade or two, people started realizing that ‘things’ weren’t making them happy. Experiences – especially new experiences – make people happy.”
[Image via Noelle Hancock/Today/Cosmopolitan]