Survival Lessons was written after Hoffman was diagnosed with cancer and she longed for a guidebook to help her through her trauma. It is filled with affirmations, none of which are too mawkish and maudlin to connect with the reader. Hoffman is direct, citing personal examples, and is also encouraging in her message of hope.
This book is about choices, giving empowerment to the reader. This piece of advice really connected with me, as I'm still reeling from a family incident that left most of us in tatters:
"Only answer the phone when you want to, and then, give yourself permission to say you can't talk, especially if it's a relative. Make up an excuse. There's someone at my door, a bear is in the living room, there's a meteor shower spilling over my front lawn. Or just tell the truth. I'm tired. I'm sick. I'm at a loss. I'm not ready to talk. Call me later, tomorrow, next month. Better still, let me call you back."
This next piece floored me. I don't want to get too personal, but let's just say that I was told for a long time - most of my life, really - that my instincts were wrong. I have no desire to have children, I never wanted to get married (although I'm glad I did, only because I adore my husband), but I always dreamt of having a great career. Hoffman describes how this yearning is nothing to be ashamed of:
"People say no man on his deathbed ever said he wished he spent more time at the office. I disagree. I assume Pablo Picasso would have said exactly that. Jane Austen would have agreed. When your work brings you joy, you cannot get enough of it. People who turn to work during times of trauma aren't necessarily workaholics; they're in love with what they do."
Ultimately, what Hoffman is telling her readers is to let go of things that are holding them back. Be honest and strive for joy. Seek out pleasure. Live a little:
"Go get a tattoo if you've always wanted one...Stay in your pajamas for days...Buy a pair of kick-ass boots...Volunteer at the museum and be alone with the Egyptian artifacts early in the morning before anyone else has arrived."
Live your life. Love your life. Choose your life.