Editor's Note: The new "Faith & Work" series will profile Christians who are influencing the culture in their professions. The series will examine how Christians can apply the Gospel into their lives and develop a Gospel-centered worldview to positively influence the common good and better serve their profession and industry.
Holly Hoffman, a finalist who finished fourth in CBS's reality television show, "Survivor Nicaragua," just released a new book, Your Winner Within, Own your Power, Your Attitude and Your Life, to help others "survive in the real world."
"What I learned from being on the reality show, I have been able to apply to the real world of survival," she says. From her experience on the show, she learned what really mattered to her – her faith, her family and friends, and finding an inner strength she didn't know she had. "Life is not always fair," she says. "My faith makes me realize that there is always a reason [for a life experience] and if God brought you to it, He will get you through it."
A few years ago after all of her three children left for college, Hoffman decided to "step out of her comfort zone," and applied to be on "Survivor." After sending in one application, one audition DVD, and having one casting call, Hoffman was accepted to the show for season 21, which took place in Nicaragua. At age 44, she was one of the oldest to be accepted out of 100,000 people who applied for the highly coveted spot.
Her athletic tenacity enabled Hoffman to make it through a difficult first few days on the show. She explains that she "had a bad start. I wanted to quit day 5. I had a bad attitude, I was not believing in myself and I had no determination." She had to make it through 39 days in the middle of the jungle with very little food and shelter.
It was exceedingly difficult. People were attacking her character and she didn't have the support of family or friends. She felt alone. At one point after being taunted by a fellow contestant for being from South Dakota, she filled that contestant's $1,600 pair of shoes with sand and threw them into the ocean.
Ultimately, however, she made it past the first five days, and chose to stay in the competition by relying on her inner strength and on God. She was then able to overcome disappointment and challenges, including a fire that destroyed her team's hut and possessions. "When I realized I needed to make some changes and start believing in myself, I was able to further myself in the game," she explains. She dug deep within and persevered.
Her grit paid off. By the end of the show, she was the last woman, the last person in her age bracket, and the last member of her tribe to make it as far as she did. In fact, Jeff Probst, the producer of the show said he had never seen a cast member "do a 180" like Hoffman did.
During the series, she lost 22 pounds and suffered physical hardships. When she arrived home, her family was stunned by her condition when they first saw her at the airport.
After placing fourth, and once home, she thought she would lead a "normal life" in her town of Eureka, South Dakota, but God had other plans for her. She gained an additional role in her life (on top of being a wife, daughter, mother, and swim coach) to provide inspiration and motivation to others struggling with their own hardships. As a result, she wrote a book and speaks nationwide, offering "survival skills" to others.
She focuses on "Six Key Words" in her book and throughout her talks: attitude, determination, confidence, desire, faith, and perseverance. "Feel it, know it, show it, believe it," she says.
"Inner strength is a combination of faith along with attitude, determination, desire confidence and perseverance," Hoffman explains. "Ultimately you are the one who has to pull yourself through challenges in life, but you are never alone. Sometimes you may feel alone, but with God's strength through prayer your inner strength will pull you through."
After her experience and talking with people throughout the country, she says, "I have learned that a true survivor is someone who is battling cancer, who has lost a loved one, who has lost their home in a fire or flood, or someone with any adversity who perseveres; because it's really how we survive hardships in our lives, that once you get through them, you are a stronger person."
She hopes to impart to others that anyone "can do anything in life [they] set [their] mind to. When you face your fears, you gain strength and courage. Don't let your past mistakes define your future… nobody can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new end."
She says, "never let the odds keep you from doing something that you want to do. It's too easy in today's world to give up because people think already in their mind you know I can't do something or I can't finish this or it's too easy to just walk away from something. But when you tell yourself you can and you use your inner strength to do that, you don't have to give up."
Her faith was essential to making it as far on the show as she did. Hoffman said, "When you have nothing or no one else to rely on, you have to rely on your inner strength, which comes from your faith. I had no cell phone, I could not call my husband or our children, I had no computer, and I couldn't email a friend. I relied solely on God.
"I would often walk down to the beach and pray. God gave me the strength to get through the cold evenings in the pouring rain. He gave me the strength to walk without the strength of food in my body. He gave me the strength to keep going. In life we face challenges and when we do, we get strength from others, family and friends, but when it comes right down to it, it's between you and God. He is the one who gives you your inner strength to keep going."
Her advice to anyone struggling with facing their fears or taking on new challenges in life, is to "step out of your comfort zone and believe in who you are – everyone has a winner within ourselves – we just need to find it."
Finding the "winner within ourselves" is a joint mission, she explains. "The only one who can help you survive and thrive in life is God. It's amazing how a challenge can turn into an opportunity – never let fear decide your fate. Prayer works, prayers are not always answered but God always has a reason. We may not always know that reason but He does! Have Faith in God and yourself and you will survive."
Hoffman is married to a South Dakota legislator and one of her daughters was a former "Miss South Dakota."