Our Lives with a Theory: Reflections on John Holland’s New Autobiography

By Carley Peace and Deb Osborn

In writing his autobiography, John Holland hoped to provide “a personal account of [his] research experience that would be helpful for students and new researchers” (p. 40). Below, a graduate student and a professor describe how this behind-the-scenes look at Holland’s life and work enhanced their understandings of RIASEC theory and provided professional inspiration.

A Graduate Student's Perspective

As a graduate student and aspiring researcher, I was pleasantly surprised that this eminent psychologist wrote much of his autobiography with newbies like me in mind (Rayman & Gottfredson, 2020). Holland reflected on the circumstances and people that made the success of his RIASEC theory and Self-Directed Search (SDS) assessment possible, all with startling candidness and a sharp humor that made me laugh out loud on several occasions. I enjoyed the read, but I also came away with valuable new insights:


A Professor’s Perspective

As a professor who has been teaching RIASEC theory to graduate students for over two decades, I greatly enjoyed reading Dr. Holland’s description of his theory in his own words, especially how the theory was developed, and learning more about the man behind the theory. He certainly wasn’t perfect, and expressed some views that are very different than my own, but this helped paint a more human-like portrait of him and his personality. Below are some of my take-aways:

Thank You Dr. Holland

In short, we found Holland’s autobiography to be a valuable resource for graduate students and experienced professionals alike. We encourage graduate students to read and return to Holland’s account as they navigate the many career decision points ahead, particularly regarding research. Similarly, we encourage professors to apply knowledge gained from reading this resource to both the self and the classroom. Thank you, Dr. Holland, for your honesty, insight, and the reminder “…to use your competencies and interests to satisfy both your goals and those of the organization” (p. 88).My Life with a Theory by John L Holland



Rayman, J. & Gottfredson, G. (2020). My life with a theory: John L. Holland's autobiography and theory of careers. National Career Development Association.




This book is available in both print and ebook (PDF) in the NCDA Career Resource Store.

For more on Holland's autobiography, see:

My Life with A Theory: John L. Holland's Autobiography and Theory of Careers - Book Review by Brian M. Montalvo (2020)

A Review of “Essays Celebrating John L. Holland’s Autobiography and Contributions to Career Theory, Research, and Practice: A Festschrift” - By Taelar Bybee (2023)


Carley Peace Carley Peace is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and School Psychology at Florida State University (FSU), where she works as an Instructional Specialist at the FSU Career Center and teaches undergraduate career development courses. Her research interests include cognitive information processing (CIP) theory and the intersection of career concerns, mental health, and personality. She can be reached by email at cpeace@fsu.edu.



Deb OsbornDeb Osborn, PhD, is a Professor and Co-Coordinator of the Combined Counseling Psychology and School Psychology doctoral program at Florida State University. She has been teaching career development courses for 20+ years. She is a fellow and past president of NCDA. Dr. Osborn’s program of research includes: identify predictors of and best practices for increasing positive career outcomes and decreasing negative outcomes; applying career-related theory (especially Cognitive Information Processing theory) in research and practice; designing and using assessments in career services; and exploring the role technology can play in enhancing and extending services. She can be reached at dosborn@fsu.edu


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