Justice Sotomayor: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail’

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a pit stop at the Harold Washington Library on Wednesday evening to speak about her new best-selling memoir, “My Beloved World,” one of the very few completely free events offered to the public, stated Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his introduction.

The event drew a crowd of approximately 750 people, many of whom stood in line for tickets since 2 p.m. though the event began at 6 p.m. in the Winter Garden located on the ninth floor of the library.

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Hon. Sonia Sotomayor peeks out from behind the wall during Mayor Emanuel’s introduction.

“I don’t know any other justice that would get this kind of turnout,” said Emanuel, “[but] it’s just a testament to why the president selected her.”

During her speech, Sotomayor talked about her life as a child, her relationship with her parents, overcoming challenges, taking risks and how she finds her center as a person with Type 1 diabetes.

“She’s brought a heartbeat to the Supreme Court,” said the mayor.

Sotomayor, 58, walked on stage thanking the public for attending the event and began by explaining how books, reading and libraries helped  her get over her father’s death when she was a child. She then began discussing the process of writing her book and how her memoir was different than other justices’. “Just talking about the data of my life wasn’t going to touch people,” she said.

In a radio interview with Maria Hinojosa from Latino USA, Sotomayor admitted that it was a question about her childhood from Hinojosa that got her memoir ball rolling.

In a somewhat rehearsed speech, the  author’s most basic piece of advice was ridding oneself of fear and attempting new things, regardless of age, sex or background. Her first read excerpt had to do with mentor-ship and seeing someone do what she wanted to do. It was a confirmation of possibilities, she said, seeing someone like her succeed. “It’s not the idea of reaching a dream,” she said, “but what you can do is enjoy the process of trying.”

Her insight clearly came from the life she lead and even if audience members hadn’t read the book yet, the positive attitude and self-help aspects seeped from her speech. “I disclosed every fear I’ve ever had in this book,” she admitted. “Despite the fear, I just keep going.”

Another piece of advice she repeated: Ask for help. In an NPR interview she explained that she had done it various times while growing up and again while writing the memoir. Sotomayor said she had various trusted readers and experienced writers giving her advice, asking questions and helping shape what this memoir has become. “Most of us fail at what we do because we don’t ask for help when we’re doing it,” she said.

Hon. Sonia Sotomayor walks around the room answering questions from the audience. | Photo Amor Montes de Oca
Hon. Sonia Sotomayor walks around the room answering questions from the audience. | Photo Amor Montes de Oca

Her goal while writing  was to create the best story she could to get her points across. “You try to tell an engaging story,” she said. “You hope that through your stories, people see your messages.”

A clear message that she has expressed since her time in the Supreme Court is that people of the United States should be educated about the differences that exist among the people in the country and work to find the commonalities. A perspective shared in her book expressed this idea and had to do with living in housing projects in New York. She explained that many people have shaped opinions that those living in the projects are drug dealers and criminals. Instead, she shared that she saw “honorable lives filled with a lot of integrity.”

“I wanted the world to see my world,” she explained.

That world includes her chronic disease. Her book begins with the story of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, something she said, took her time to accept. “It takes a long time to forgive your body,” she said. “I work very hard at finding my center. [I know that] if I feel good, I’ll do more. That goes for everyone.”

There were minimal points about her work as a justice, although she did say that it was harder than she had expected it to be. With that, Sotomayor also stated that she has faced adversity in her position as a Supreme Court justice. “As far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go to create equality in this society,” she said. “We got to do it together.”

It was clear by the end of her talk that her life had found its balance and spreading the word is her goal. Her secret to success? Not letting fear stop her. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” she said. “Taking risks becomes a little easier.”

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