Interview with Dharana Portillo

A Conversation with Dharana Portillo, Quality Improvement Specialist

How did you come by such a lovely name?

DPDharana is an Indian name. My parents were very into yoga and they wanted my name to be the meditative sixth step, or limb, of eight levels on the path to consciousness, or Nirvana. It signifies deep levels of focus or concentration towards a serene state of mind, which is very nice but may not suit my personality.


Tell me about your mother. Was she strict or lenient? What attributes do you share with her?

My mother is a very creative person and she also is very grounded and balanced; she knows when to be serious Donna and her momand when not to be. Even as an only child, I was not spoiled and, in fact, I heard the word “earn” a lot and she always told me, “If you want something, you have to work hard for it, nothing is given to you.” When there were achievements or accomplishments, in schoolwork or in life, she made sure to include detailed explanation and acknowledge the hard work, time and effort that went into my earning reward. She showed by example how to integrate a balance between work, dedication and being able to relax, lay low and enjoy your rewards. Those beliefs are now my Donna and husbandmantra in life.

This year you were married and purchased a home. How did you stay focused with so much going on in your life and at work?

I am very fortunate to have found an amazing partner who is my complement. During periods of frustration, hesitation and excitement, he kept me grounded. I had someone to trust and delegate things to, and vice versa, so when he had long shifts as a 911 dispatcher, he knew that I would make the right decisions. We constantly communicated our feelings, our directions and our goals and timelines – which we did early on in our relationship. Finances were an important part of reaching our goal of homeownership so we planned everything and that helped us have energy and harmony, balance, support and union, through the wedding and process of buying our home.

Do you have special tips for money management and economizing?

After I graduated from college, I met with financial advisors and accountants to understand how I could save and have a healthy financial lifestyle. They shared advice and tips so that I could save without having to eat noodles forever. I read, The Total Money Makeover by David Ramsey, and one of the baby steps the book detailed is called “Snowballing.” Its basic principle is to pay yourself first, allowing for reasonable entertainment spending, and still save, pay bills and be debt-free. I incorporated that into my lifestyle and I still use those principles. I’ve always had a budget and I am a saver. Now, we work hard to play hard in a responsible manner, and dream for a future in our house with a family someday, so we tend to not want short-term, fancy-schmancy or unnecessary things. Overall, just be aware of finances and remember to prioritize yourself and talk with professionals – those would be my pearls for anyone looking to economize.

Describe an ongoing and good-natured difference of opinion or outlook, for which resolution is unlikely, between you and your husband.

We are very much alike in many ways but we often approach things differently. My husband is very mellow and easy-going. He takes times to assess things and relax while I tend to over-think everything, bounce around and hurry. On the weekends, I may be intently cleaning or organizing and my husband will hand me a glass of wine and make me sit down, and relax.  He looks out for whether I get enough R&R or sleep.

Cooking. As commuters, how do you do it?

We rely heavily on made products and the microwave but, especially now that we are commuting, we are making a conscious effort to avoid the traps of fast food and non-healthy options. One of our New Year’s resolutions is to have more salad days and making healthier meals. My mom is a fantastic cook and helps us; she cooks and makes smoothies and has said that she takes joy in cooking.

Who is a teacher, mentor or role model who helped shaped who you are today?

I look up to Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama and other people whose backgrounds helped shape them, and I could name men and women who I regard as role models or heroes. Personally, though, it’s always been my mom. She was my inspiration both in ways that I aspire to and in ways that I could learn from. She instilled in me things that she did not herself have in her own background: education, independence and self-sufficiency. She believes in being realistic about circumstances with grace, without blame and doesn’t dwell on minutiae. She taught me, if something is not working, to look at it from other perspectives and find balance in what I do and how I approach life.

How do you measure success? By that measurement, who is the most successful person you know?

Lately I am approaching and redefining my understanding and definition of success. I had a perception of success as maybe living a certain lifestyle, having a particular career path, receiving accolades and having accomplishments. I am starting to deviate from that perception because there are times it is superfluous or not necessarily real. There has to be an understanding, for me, that there has to have been some work, dedication or sacrifice and now I want to know how someone keeps a sense of humanity, happiness as they attempt to reach their goals - is their work ethic driven by love of family or wanting to make a difference. There are people I admire who, once I understand their struggles and what drives them, I admire even more because they nurture and protect their relationships and their goals. When people make a commitment and honor it, and strive for it – that is my measurement of success.

What is the most unDonna-ish, unpragmatic or impulsive thing you’ve ever done?

Scheduling a trip to Spain and accidentally booking everything on the wrong dates and then not seeing the soccer team I specifically went to see. In 2007, I participated in a travel course that was to follow the Crusades so we visited Israel, Turkey (which was nice because I am part Turkish), and Italy and then we had a free week, during which we could go anywhere. I booked everything around a Real Madrid game, not realizing that they were playing away, and I learned about it when I was flying to Spain! My traveling companion had bailed so I was alone, had $75 left of my budget left, and subsisted for a week on bread and turkey. On the last day, since I couldn’t go to the game anyway, I feasted on tapas, sangria and flamenco.

What do you hope for 2018?

Before I applied to UCSF, I went through a period of self-reflection and took a hard look at where I was and where I wanted to be, and I made significant changes that I think helped me find work. I am at a similar junction now and am looking at my skill sets, analyzing what qualities are important and determining what I want. I am thinking about self-growth and self-confidence and, having fulfilled some lifelong dreams this year, I am wondering how I can become a better professional, wife, friend and, eventually, a mother. I want to use the tools my mother taught me but in a more modern way, to review accomplishments, to become healthier, to better my personal lifestyle and to improve the work standards that I’ve developed. I want to be a good mother and raise a child to be everything they could be and, to do that, I have to do the best I can. I want to set new strategies and new goals so that I can become a better version of myself.

Gracias, Dharana, y Feliz Ano Nuevo.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Dharana's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews