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June 03, 2016

Priyanka Chopra: “I have lived my life on my own terms”

Text by Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra pens a thought-provoking note on the power of choice

Earth. Circa 2016. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No…it’s a plethora of superheroes with myriad superpowers battling to save us from aliens and super cool bad guys. Oh, and while they are at it…they also happen to be ruling the global box office with their wit and badassery. There are many reasons why these films are so successful, but for me it’s a simple theory…every single one of us wants to be a superhero! We all want to possess that power that makes us bigger/better than anyone on the planet…to put on that cape or that mask and have the power to become the invincible versions of our own selves. Each one of us connects with a particular superhero and his powers because he/she manifests our deepest inner desires.

In my personal experience, power means different things to different people…the perception of it is subjective and the use of it is varied. Abraham Lincoln famously said, ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ Power can drive change or create chaos and in some cases both!

Like most people, I believed that power comes with position, money, success, and there is this time in your life when all these things align and you are then able to harness it for yourself. It is a sort of rite of passage in some strange way. But I was wrong about where power stems from — and this learning that I imbibed early on in life has held me in good stead till today.

I have always believed that I am destiny’s favourite child…the one for who the universe conspires to provide the platform to realise my every dream. I thought that all I had to do was work hard, be sincere and committed to every opportunity and this symbiotic relationship between the three of us (destiny, the universe and myself) was enough. If we continued on this path, my life was set and all planned out for me.

One day in 2001, my perspective changed. Fresh from winning the Miss India and subsequently the Miss World titles, I was offered plum Bollywood projects. My family and I had no idea of how anything worked and I had decided that I would still give this a shot and try my hand at something new. A couple of months into the shoot of my first film, I wanted out! I didn’t understand it and I didn’t think I could do this film and all the others that I had given my consent to. So my parents sat me down and told me that I had an option…a plan B, so to speak…to go back to college or try something else if this wasn’t working for me. But, I had to finish this current film because I had given them my commitment and that was something I couldn’t renege on.

That conversation was liberating at one level and a complete eye-opener at another level. I had found my cape and my superpower…it was the choice to do as I wanted to with my life. It was a powerful, exhilarating feeling. Since that moment, I have lived my life on my own terms, doing what I felt was best for me, striving, as I’ve said often, to be the best version of myself. The choice gave me, and only me, the control of my own destiny. So while the universe brought me wonderful opportunities, it was my choice and in my control to make the best of them. Susan Polis Schutz, an American poet, once said, ‘This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.’

The power of having choice and control in your life is a constant. It’s not a one-time ‘fill it, shut it, forget it’ concept. It can allow you to grow both personally and professionally and push you forward in your journey to be who you want to be. In 2010, I was in a very comfortable position in my career as an actor in India. I had interesting characters and concepts being pitched to me which were created specifically for me. It’s easy to slip into a comfort zone. But an opportunity presented itself to pursue a long-cherished dream…of becoming a recording artiste and that too internationally, on a scale and platform that few can dream of.

It was a difficult decision to take, because I would be going from being a recognised face and a successful actor to a relative newcomer in the music business in another geography with an audience that didn’t really know me. What helped me take the decision to pursue this was a strong instinct and the belief in my inner power and abilities, knowing that I could and would deal with the consequences of my decision…good or bad.

I faced a similar situation when I made the decision to take on Quantico. Firstly, it was a switch to American TV (and not film), it had a certain commitment of time, and I would be headlining the show, the first Indian woman to do so for a major network in the US. Again, instinct and belief drove my decision and the power I exercised here was in the choice I made for my debut. I was very clear that I should not be stereotyped because of my ethnicity. I wanted to do something that would recognise and utilise my talents and not be dependent on where I came from. That was my choice…because I had the power to say no if I didn’t believe that an opportunity worked for me. Not because of who I am today, but because of what I want for myself overall.

For women, saying no doesn’t come instinctively. But as I’ve learnt in my entire journey to this point, saying a simple no can actually change your life. Because it will give you the power to take control of your life and to live it as you think best.

So rather than searching for ways to acquire power from following formulae and stereotypes, know that you can find strength, direction and power simply by looking within.

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