The Transformative Way
A portfolio of your hopes and dreams
for changing yourself and changing the world
UC Santa Cruz
At the beginning of this quarter, I have come to you with the following proposition: I am
Bill Gates, and I want to give millions of dollars away to visionaries, innovators, and
social entrepreneurs with bold, exciting ideas to make a difference in the world. I am
willing to give you all the money that you need to pursue your life’s dreams, if you can
show me that you have an excellent plan.
You will write up your blueprint during the last several weeks of the quarter. (See the
accompanying document, entitled “Santa Cruz blueprint.”) You will be part of an actual
million-dollar competition, where we are looking to fund the best ideas for transforming
America -- or for transforming communities around the world and tackling global issues.
Winners can get up to $90,000 in seed money, as well as connections and mentorship.
However, in working with undergraduates, my colleagues and I have found that many
students aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives. Many people feel lost; many
people feel like they have no particular talents or good ideas; many don’t feel very
creative or innovative.
That’s why we have you create this portfolio. This is a collection of your own aspirations
for the future. Think of it as a strategic plan for your life. It is subject to change, of
course, but it is a fascinating snapshot of where you are in 2008.
That’s why so many students have said that this is the most meaningful, powerful
assignment that they have ever done for any class. These questions are meant to help you
explore what you really want out of your life.
Therefore, you only need to do the exercises that will be most valuable to you. As I
mentioned on the first day of class, I don’t think you should be doing busywork. Every
exercise that you do should be powerful and meaningful, helping you reflect on what is
most important to you. If you do this portfolio well, it should be an inspiring and
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
- Ancient proverb
Many people don’t know what they want out of life. In the first section of this portfolio,
you will identify your greatest strengths, talents, and interests. You will start to create
your vision of the ideal future.
1. List the things that make you happiest. What gives you the greatest sense of
fulfillment, personal satisfaction, and sense of self-esteem? When are you so engaged and
absorbed in an activity that time seems to stop? What are the times in your life when
everything has seemed to flow, and you were in the peak state of joy?
Be as creative with this assignment as you can. Don’t just write a short paragraph or a
meager list. These are the things that most drive your passions! You ought to get fired up
and motivated by this assignment. If you love creating art or taking photographs, then
include an original work. If you love singing, record a CD. If you have a story of an
amazing time of joy that came out of hard work when you struggled to achieve something
great, then tell that story. Have fun with this!
2. What are your greatest talents and your signature strengths? (Note: you may wish to
take the signature strength test on the Authentic Happiness webpage:
This is your chance to take an inventory of your best qualities. Indeed, it is valuable to
recognize the ways that you excel. What makes you special? How do you stand out from
other people? What unique gifts do you have to offer the world?
3. What are the greatest experiences of your life? What are your finest moments and the
accomplishments of which you are most proud? What have been your peak experiences?
Extra credit: Play the game of two truths and a lie. Make three outrageous or unusual
statements about your life. Two of them must be true; only one will be false.
4. List everything that you wish to achieve and experience in your life. Write down as
many goals as you can – at least 100 goals for your life. Dream big! Go wild! Don’t
compromise at all: write down all of your dreams and aspirations here, no matter how
ambitious or idealistic. Pursue your passions and highest visions!
5. How can you combine your strengths, talents, passions, and dreams? What would be
your ideal vision of life? Write your autobiography from the perspective of 30 years in
the future. Be as detailed as possible. The more specific you make your dreams, the more
likely they are to come true.
6. What is your vision and mission statement? This may seem like a tough question if you
are still struggling to figure out what you are doing with your life. But it is a powerful
exercise in discovering how you want to spend your limited time on the Earth. In order to
help you define your mission, you could start by answering some of the following
What are your most important values in life?
What most inspires you and motivates you to take action? How would you most
like to make a difference in this world?
If we gave you $100 million, tax-free, what would you do with your life? (In other
words, how would you spend the rest of your life after graduation if you were
independently wealthy and did not have to worry about money?)
If you discovered that you had only two years to live, what would you do in that
time? (Imagine that you would be completely healthy over the next two years.
What would you want to accomplish before you die?)
What have you always wanted to do, but have been afraid to attempt?
What one great thing would you dare to dream if you knew that you could not fail?
(In other words, what one great goal would you choose to pursue if you knew that
success was guaranteed?)
Another innovative way to figure out your vision statement for your life is to imagine that
you are a character in a novel. Why did the author place you here? Every scene, every
detail, happens for a purpose. What is your purpose here on the Earth?
7. Create a magazine cover story about you having succeeded. You have become famous;
your project is a huge success. What have you done? How did you get there? Again this
is a creative exercise in imagining the future. You could envision yourself as TIME
Magazine’s person of the year. Why has this prestigious honor been bestowed upon you?
Explain it in detail, as if you were a reporter writing this story for a prestigious magazine.
8. What is your three-year plan for achieving your goals? Where would you like to be
three years from now? What would it look like? Work backwards and create sub-plans
for every year, and every three months.
9. What are the immediate goals that you plan to achieve this quarter? This is your
statement of public commitment – your contract with yourself, your peers, and your
professors. Remember to use the SMART system for setting goals:
It is best to have goals that are challenging, and just beyond your current reach. You want
to push yourself to achieve new levels of success!
10. For many people, it seems overwhelming to confront their large, ambitious goals.
Therefore, it is best to break down the larger goals into smaller steps. Each day, you
should ask yourself: “What is the most important step that I can take today to achieve my
bigger goals?” For each major goal, list the one or two things that you can do
immediately to take action and see a bit of progress. Ideally, it will be something simple –
something that only requires a commitment of 30 minutes of time. This will help you
overcome the temptation to procrastinate.
This is an exercise that you can do every day. If you make it a daily habit and ritual, it
will provide you with tremendous help. For the purposes of this journal, you may just
include a few days of these daily sheets to help you get into the habit.
11. What are the most creative things that you have done in your life? What were the
ideal conditions that fostered this sense of creativity? Feel free to include creative
examples in response to this question.
12. What are your favorite creative inspirations? What are the best movies, books, art
works, songs, or other hobbies and creative activities in your life? Why and how do these
things uplift you?
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life
which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
-- Henry David Thoreau
13. What are the biggest challenges that you face in your life? In other words, what are
the things that push your buttons? What issues cause you the greatest sense of anger,
sadness, anxiety, fear, unhappiness, or stress?
These are actually the greatest opportunities for personal transformation! Figure out how
you can transform each problem into an opportunity. For each issue, create a realistic
strategy for how you can best respond in an optimistic, confident way. Figure out what
has worked best in the past. Rather than getting stuck in the “paralysis of analysis,” trying
to figure out why you have this problem, think about strategies that have proven
successful on those rare occasions when you have managed to overcome the challenge.
Then take the first steps towards implementing those strategies; take action! Do your
strategies work? How can you keep improving them?
14. How optimistic are you? How well do you respond to adversity? When a problem
arises, do you tend to see it as personal, permanent, and pervasive? Do you feel like a
helpless, hopeless victim, with little control over the situation? Do you “catastrophize,”
imagining that things are just going to get worse? Or do you respond well to adversity?
Do you see it as an exciting challenge to overcome? Do you have a strong sense of self-
efficacy and empowerment, where you believe you can surmount any obstacle?
15. What are the negative thoughts that get in the way of achieving your full potential?
Can you dispute these thoughts? See appendix A.
16. Let us know how your transformation team has been working out. Has it been helpful
for you? Are there ways to make the experience much stronger, so that people feel a
greater sense of support and mutual accountability?
17. We talk a lot in this class about the difference between authority and leadership. In
what ways have you tried to exercise authority over other people? In what ways have
people tried to exercise authority over you?
By contrast, what are personal examples that you have seen of excellent leadership?
Where have you exercised strong leadership in your life? In what ways could you
improve your skills as a leader? What do you think are the most important qualities of a
great leader? Please feel free to draw upon what we have discussed in class.
18. Were there people who were particularly strong influences on your life and your way
of thinking? Who are the greatest heroes, mentors, and inspirations in your life? These
could be people who are living or dead, famous or obscure, people you have known, or
people you have only read about in history books. How and why have they touched you
Create a mental map of the specific people who have most influenced how you see the
world, and how you act – whether for good or for bad. Who are the voices in your head?
How do these different influences constrain you or embolden you to live your life in
19. What are the risks that you need to take? What actions do you fear, but will help you
get closer to your dreams?
20. How can you increase your luck? Remember some of the exercises from “Luck
School” – first, connect with four inspirational mentors, people you respect greatly.
These could be old friends with whom you have lost touch: people who are doing
wonderful things in the world. It’s likely that you will find lucky breaks by talking to
people outside your normal circle of friends. They will know of opportunities that you
wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
Second, try to go outside your comfort zone: participate in activities that you normally
wouldn’t try, where you are going to meet new people and have new experiences. This
will also increase the odds that you will get lucky! Write about whether these new friends
and activities have led you to any moments of serendipity or fortunate breaks.
21. What are the areas where you most need to improve? Evaluate yourself honestly. In
what ways are you performing well and achieving your goals? How can you do much
better? Ask other people for feedback about your strengths and weaknesses, too. This is
known as 360-degree feedback – getting constructive suggestions and advice from people
all around you as to where you are succeeding and where you need to improve. You may
have blind spots where you cannot see your flaws and foibles. This exercise will help you
22. What are the crucial conversations that you need to have with people? How could you
use transformative communication techniques to approach important issues? Go out in
public and try to use these principles of transformative communication. Do they work?
How could you use them more effectively?
23. What is your family history? Trace the geographic journey that you and your
ancestors took to get you here today. What are some of the most interesting and notable
parts of your family’s history? What part of your family tradition, culture, ethnicity, or
heritage most resonates with you?
24. When have you or members of your family faced persecution, discrimination,
harassment, victimization, or some other form of injustice? How did you or your family
members work to overcome these hardships?
25. When have you or members of your family experienced positions of privilege? What
are the gifts and opportunities for which you are grateful in your life?
“I claim to be no more than an average person with less than average ability. I have not
the shadow of doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would
make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.”
26. What is your own experience with social change? Have you ever been involved in
any campaigns to make a difference in the world? It’s fine if the answer is no. Just
explain why you haven’t felt a need to get involved. If the answer is yes, talk about your
own experiences. Go into depth; this is like your autobiography of social change.
27. What do you think are the most effective methods of social change? What are the best
ways that individuals can make a difference in the world? What people or organizations
have you seen (either in real life, in your studies, or in the media) who have made the
most impact? Why have these individuals or campaigns been so much better than the
rest? Analyze the factors that you believe will lead to effective social change.
28. What are the causes in which you believe the most? Why? Explore your motivations
in depth. What makes you so passionate and committed to these issues, when so many
millions of other people don’t seem to care? Is it because of a personal experience that
you have had? It is because of the way that you were raised?
Here are some related questions: What do you think are the biggest problems in the
world, in the nation, in your local community, and on the Santa Cruz campus? Why do
these problems concern you so much? What makes you most upset? If you could devote
your life to solving one social problem, what would it be? Why?
29. What would it take for you to rise up in action? How bad would things have to get on
the Santa Cruz campus before you would be willing to risk getting arrested for your
beliefs? What would the headlines of the local newspaper have to read in order for you to
drop business as usual and put everything on the line?
30. What is your clinical project for social change that you are working on for at least 40
hours this quarter? Why did you choose it? What motivated you to get involved with this
issue? What do you hope to achieve?
31. Do you feel like you are making a real difference in your clinical project – your
campaign for social change? Do you feel like your work is valued? Do you feel like you
are a necessary part of the social change project – to the point where your participation is
vital to the project’s success? How could the leadership of the campaign be better? How
could you exercise more leadership?
32. Evaluate your clinical organization and your campaign. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
effective do you think the organization is? How could it improve? Give specific
33. Did any of the lessons of this course apply to your clinical project for social change?
If so, how were they relevant? If not, explain why not.
34. How will you recruit other enthusiastic people to help you accomplish your goals of
social change? How do you tap into other people’s passions? How do you find out what
makes another person tick, so that you can motivate and inspire them, and hopefully work
Conduct 3-5 “one-on-one” meetings with people who will help you achieve your goals
and advance your agenda on the course project. Have powerful conversations with these
people. Don’t just talk about yourself; ask lots of questions to try to engage them about
their personal interests and agendas. Remember to make yourself vulnerable; open up
your heart to them, and you will be much more likely to make a deep, lasting connection.
Don’t just go into the meetings seeing what you can get from another person; it’s equally
as important to ask how you can help them, and how you can give to their cause.
Then type up the summaries about what you learned. Explain why you chose to engage
with these particular people, discuss what valuable information you discovered about
them, and talk about whether you succeeded in getting them to help you. Be sure to ask
them for contacts and references to other helpful people as well.
35. Who are the people who can help you achieve your goals and dreams? Identify the
most important contacts and references that you need. Include people who have already
achieved great things in your area of interest. Imagine that you could choose any people
in the world to be your mentors and guides. To whom would you reach out? What would
be the ideal social networks in which you would like to travel?
36. What are the books and resources that will help you achieve your goals? Be as
thorough as possible. Research exactly what you need to accomplish your dreams. Often
the knowledge, expertise, and ingredients for success already exist; you just need to find
access to these resources!
37. What is your experience with conflict? How have you dealt with difficult people in
the past? How have you dealt with people who have opposed you? Think about one or
two especially difficult situations of conflict that you have faced in the past. Would the
transformative “win-win” model of conflict resolution have changed the dynamics? How
could you have solved the situation using these ideas of negotiation? Would there have
been opportunities for “social aikido,” transforming enemies into allies, hatred into
goodwill, and conflict into collaboration?
Now think about a current situation of conflict that you may be facing in your life or in
your community. (If your life is completely peaceful and conflict-free, you can think
about a larger issue in the community or in the world where there is a very antagonistic,
divisive, “us versus them” mentality.) How could you apply the problem solving
techniques that we have discussed in this class to bring the opposing sides together in a
way where everyone feels victorious? Be creative and innovative.
38. Finally, evaluate your work in your portfolio. Did you challenge yourself to achieve
new heights of excellence? Did you push yourself to make progress in personal and social
transformation? What are the tangible results of this project? How can we support you in
the future, helping you to pursue your passions and achieve your dreams?
Remember: We are available and willing to help you go out and change the world, long
after this quarter has finished. We hope that you will see this as only the beginning. We
encourage you to keep working at the process of personal and social transformation. we
look forward to the day when you have started your own thriving businesses and
nonprofits and social advocacy organizations; when you are winning the Nobel Peace
Prize or humanitarian human rights awards; when you have made a difference in many
people’s lives and empowered others to go out and change the world, too.
We end with these two quotes about success, which may already be familiar to you, but
which always remain inspiring:
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
-- Attributed to Emerson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate;
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing
enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
-- Attributed to Nelson Mandela
SOCIAL CHRYSALIS SHEET: Transforming your negative thoughts
Your negative thoughts:
How do you feel when you believe these negative thoughts?
What would it be like if you didn’t have these negative thoughts?
Is there anything that you can do about this problem? If so, what action can you take to
transform the situation?
If there’s nothing that you can do about this problem, consider the following quotes:
“Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?”
“When you argue with reality, you lose – but only 100 percent of the time!”