Wondering what career to choose? Needing a change? Downsized, outsourced, or otherwise laid off, and without a clue what to do next?

When student loans hover, mortgage bills bully, and mouths demand to be fed, it might seem like a luxury to consider following in the footsteps of a character you once saw on television, and whose career you have yet to regard as a source of income. Research shows that chance events play an important role in career development, especially in the face of personal challenges and/or limited educational opportunities (Hirschi, 2010).

For example, while reading Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s deeply moving and uplifting autobiography, My Beloved World, I was struck by the role that chance events played in her career choice, i.e., how watching Perry Mason as a child led her to think she could be a great lawyer or judge, and how her lack of knowledge of how to become either -- given the lack of professional role models in her family -- meant that both seemed utterly reasonable options. There was no internal censoring in which some of us engage, either as children or adults, e.g., “I could never do that”.

Yet for Justice Sotomayor, the trajectory from Perry Mason viewer to Supreme Court Justice was not a direct one. As a 10-year-old child sitting in a pediatric diabetes clinic, Justice Sotomayor was given a pamphlet about choosing a profession. The pamphlet declared that a career as a police officer was off limits to diabetics.

Justice Sotomayor, a Nancy Drew fan, concluded that this was a catastrophe. If diabetics were not allowed to become police officers, they certainly were not allowed to become detectives. What is remarkable about Justice Sotomayor is that although she interpreted this information as disastrous, she did not allow it to stop her from trying on subsequent possibilities for herself, such as lawyer or judge, in reaction to watching Perry Mason.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor is an exceptional role model, in her transcendence of the challenges that life presented to her. She is a Supreme Court Justice for our time, and a supreme source of inspiration. Justice Sotomayor also reminds us that she is an everyday person, with an everyday solution to the “Who Am I?” problem, i.e., follow your bliss.


Hirschi, A. (2010). The role of chance events in the school-to-work transition: The influence of demographic, personality and career development variables. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77(1), 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2010.02.002.

About the Author

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D.

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Lifespan Development, Sage Publications.

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