Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor made history in 2009 when she became the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court justice. In her memoir, “My Beloved World,” Justice Sotomayor shares candid memories about growing up in a Puerto Rican household, and how a girl from the Bronx went on to top honors at Princeton University and Yale Law School.

Sonia Sotomayor's 10 Tips for Success

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that she wrote her memoir My Beloved World  to inspire kids to "see the potential for them to reach anything they want to be." Here are excerpts from the interview that highlight her path to success.

1. Be Disciplined

"The greatest gift diabetes gave me, which is an incredible sense of discipline. When you, at the age of seven and a half, have to get up in the mornings and boil water to purify your syringes ? they weren't disposable syringes back then – and take your shot, and watch what you eat all day and just to be careful with what you do, it's a discipline that helps you in every other aspect of your life…

"Diabetes is just an inherent part of me. It's ever present. I am constantly, the day long, checking in with my own body to find out where my sugar levels are. Every time I eat, I have to calculate how much insulin to take. If I am sick, I have to figure out how high my sugars will raise and what I need to do to combat it. It's ever present."

2. Run, Don't Walk, Through Open Doors

"[Affirmative action] stimulates people to look at you differently, provokes them to do that. The difference perhaps in [my view and Justice Clarence Thomas'] view of [affirmative action] is my understanding and appreciation that at least for me, at that time, when I was being admitted to schools I never would have been chosen for previously, that it opened the door and it gave me a chance to prove myself.

And I tell kids all the time, you can live in other people's negative impressions about your worth or you can chose to say, ok, however the door got open, it gets open a lot of different ways for a lot of different people: the legacy kids who have parents who are alumni, the athletic kids who get in through a different door as well, lots of people get in through a lot of different doors. The real bottom line is what do you do once you're there and if you do something good and prove yourself worthy, nobody can take that away from you."

3. You Don't Have to be the Smartest, But You Have to Persevere

"I tell [kids] something that President Calvin Coolridge said: 'There's a lot of talented people out there, a lot of people with high IQ's and big genius, a lot of well-educated people, but the people who succeed are the ones with perseverance.' And in some ways that's what I found."

4. Understand That Not All Relationships Will Survive

"[My ex-husband and I]started dating and we continued to date through high school and got married just as we were graduating. He decided to forego going to school immediately and to follow me to law school at Yale. He took a job. We lasted through that, through law school.

And then he went on to graduate school and I started working. It was during that work period where my hours were insane, I got up at something like 5:00 in the morning, Kevin drove me to the local train station and then I commuted sometimes close to an hour and forty-five minutes to work and at the end of the day I had to reverse that commute. So I wasn't getting home until 9:00, 9:30 at night. That didn't leave much time for intimacy, and I'm not talking about sexual intimacy.

As hard as he was working, I was having successes at work. My first year at work, I had been among the first group of prosecutors to be moved up to felonies and he was realizing, that for whatever reason, that it was going to be tough for him. He might succeed, but he might not catch up with me."

5. Know When to Step Outside Yourself

"I tell shy children all the time, it's really hard to overcome sometimes but you can use that shyness to your advantage if you can figure out the moments when you have to step out of it and that's really the key to success, which is you don't have to alter your style altogether. You just have to figure out when you need to step aside from it to get something done."

6. Compete Against Yourself

"I try to best me. I set goals…I set the bar. I went to college and in my first semester, I got three B's and an A. I'm not even sure I can remember why I got the A, it had to be because I took a course where I didn't have to do writing… The next semester I wanted two A's and two B's, and I did that. And then I kept increasing it every year so that by my junior year, I was getting all A's. That's how I've done it."

7. Be Patient

"I want to become a great justice. Justice Stevens said to me during my first year in one of our exchanges: 'Sonia, no one is born a Justice, you grow into it.' And I've only been on the court three and a half years. It will take me a long time to reach the goal of being a great justice but I am working at it."

8. Let Your Fear Drive You

"I am often asked, what's the greatest obstacle you ever experienced and I tell them it was my own fear. That's a thing that keeps most of us back is letting fear paralyze you instead of being stimulated by it. To face it, to accept it, to stare it in the face and say, ok, I may fail but it's alright to fail because I tried and I may learn something from it."

9. Don't Go it Alone

"It's alright to say I don't know and to go look around your life to see who knows better than you and go ask them for help."

10. Revel in Moments of Accomplishment

"It is very difficult to describe for people how moving a moment like [swearing in Vice President Joe Biden] can be. I understand because I read the news the next day that President Obama, as he was leaving the stage, turned around to look at the audience before him. I did that walking in because I had never attended an inauguration before — it takes your breath away to see that many people there. Forget who is president or not. But that many people involved in a moment of our nation's history and to be a part of it, at least for me, it's humbling because I feel so blessed to have had that opportunity."

Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

  • Patricia E. Montemayor

    Thank you for bringing Justice Sotomayor on your show. I plan to see her tomorrow at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco where she is appearing and sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

  • Rajiv Narayan

    During the Affordable Care Act case from last year, I read from a couple court reporters that the Justices tend to make up their minds on any given case before oral argument, rendering the latter in some ways moot. Can you recall an instance in which something said at oral argument made you reconsider your decision?

  • Legal question: if a corporation is a person, than why is killing corporation not murder? Why does a corporation have some constitutional rights, but not the basic right to live?

    Justice Sotomayor is an amazing inspiration! Thanks for this show.

    • Guest

      Quite obviously a corporation is not a biological entity. This is perhaps the most compelling reason why a corporation should NOT be considered a person in any way shape or form. For more: http://amend2012.org/about/

      • There are so many reasons that a corporation is not a person, but given that the S. Ct has ruled it one, how do they pick and choose its rights?

  • Justice Sotomayor is an inspiration to all diabetics, young and old alike, that with hard work and commitment, you can achieve anything!

    As a diabetic for most of my life, and lawyer for more 18, I can relate to how important it is that kids get the message to persevere to follow their dreams. It’s helped me be a better parent, lawyer, and diabetic.

  • kathy

    The more I read about Justice Sotomayor and the more I listen to her, I am convinced that the she is a profound inspiration not only to our children but to adults alike. Thank you Michael, for this show, and thank you Justice Sotomayor for your humanity.

  • guest

    I wanted to expand on the last comment I made while speaking with Justice Sotomayor on the air: the comment regarding the need for emotional stability in order to truly flourish. I was nervous, and in awe of this wonderful woman, so lost my own train of thought in the process. My observation is this: that even more important than having a person who believes in you, or a series of mentors, one must have a consistent, peaceful environment in one’s intimate (usually familial) life that provides the container for developing inherent talents, gifts, and making much of the opportunities that come one’s way– an environment that makes one feel emotionally safe, particularly in light of the fact that people differ in the nervous system’s tolerance for conflict and stress. When that reliable emotional haven is missing from one’s life, the road is inevitably rockier for the brightest, most earnest of people. Certainly one can overcome travail through talent, help, fortitude, optimism, persistence, but I do believe that the longer a trauma persists, the harder it to is to overcome and break through in a truly dramatic manner as our Justice did. Thus my observation that it seemed that after her father’s death, and the end to the painful, harsh fights between her parents, she appeared to have turned a corner. A space devoid of incessant conflict gave way to ever increasing excellence in school, and the rest is history. I believe infinitely in her assertion that one can always move beyond much of one’s history, and end up in a much better place than if one had failed to give the effort one’s all. My own life testifies to that. But in serving the child within us that still dreams, and in serving the young rising up, it is important to remember that support must include awareness of this profoundly important emotional component, the cacoon of emotional safety that must be, above all else, consistent, omnipresent.

  • Cer

    I was wondering where the rest of the conversation can be downloaded so far only 27 minutes is available. Thanks !

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