Sanjana Chekuri

coffee date #1 with sanjana chekuri

premed student, cofounder of Happy2Thrive, fashion model, kickass dancer

me: starbucks strawberry açaí refresher | sanjana: homemade chaí
location: sanjana chekuri’s basement, new jersey

You know that person who is at almost every one of your family parties and you glance at each other from a distance, give a quick nod, say a shy “hello,” and then split off into your own groups while the adults do their thing? That’s how Sanjana and I were. We rarely talked to each other at these family parties and often only mingled with our set of people from our own groups.

Later, Sanjana joined the dance company that I’ve been a part of for several years already at that time: Arya Dance Academy. She joined the junior troupe and that’s when we started having the most conversations. It was inevitable at this point. After all, we carpooled and would drive for an hour and a half to get to the studio and then would proceed to spend up to 7 hours in practice. I never thought our friendship could go any further than the superficial conversations we had in the car and during dance practice, however, I was wrong.

IIFA 2017 propelled our friendship into something more memorable. We both had our pre-puberty faces, insecure mindsets, and eagerly looked for a way to not get lost in the chaos that we were thrown into. During the audition process for IIFA, I remember Sanjana clutching to the wall as her tears streamed down her face. She was nervous asf. I mean who wouldn’t be when you had all the top-notch Bollywood choreographers/Arya instructors sit across the floor in front of you and watch them stare you down as you made your way through the audition act? It was a very stressful situation. I dragged Sanjana up from that wall and pulled us both into the audition. We somehow made it through the act, cleared the auditions, attended the grueling rehearsals that followed, and eventually danced on the MetLife Stadium stage alongside Bollywood’s top celebrities. It was a life-changing experience.

It was during this time that Sanjana and I really connected. We would walk to the abandoned Yoga studio downstairs and rehearse our parts, frantically cross the street to indulge in some Taco Bell, or walk that extra half a mile to get our eyebrows down in between practices. It was during these times that our conversations shifted from being superficial and forced to mature and vulnerable. By the end of our time at IIFA, we both realized that we needed each other in our lives, so we kept in touch (she only lives 15 minutes away from me, so it wasn’t that hard to maintain our relationship lol).

As the years progressed our friendship stayed pretty stable. We continued to crush on cute guys, indulge in spontaneous dinner outings, sit in the parking lot with our car seats reclined all the way back and let our toes dangle from the windows, text each other motivational messages, go to the gym, and even have participated in a pageant and fashion show together. We were so alike, yet so different, which is what made the friendship so fruitful.

We did fall apart in the middle. I attribute this to my inability to stick with someone for a long period of time. I can’t pinpoint the reason behind this, but I am so grateful that we were able to reconnect last year when we worked together to launch our 501(c)3 nonprofit, Happy2Thrive. That spark never died, in fact, I think it just strengthened because we both had grown so much over the years in between and became much more wiser and mature.

Sanjana has evolved to be an eloquent, confident, and most of all, secure individual (did I mention that Sanj is also a fashion model?! HOW COOL IS THAT?!)


  • No matter who the person is, you can learn from them.

I asked Sanjana if she ever gets intimidated by people who may be more confident than her. She said she likes to be friends with a “wide range of mentalities in the relationships” she forms. When she’s friends with people more confident and mature than her, she says “there is so much wisdom for me to take away from them.” At the same time, being friends with people she can offer wisdom to allows her to “feel grateful for being able to carry that forward by impacting someone else.” WOAH. It sounds so simple, but in reality, it’s so complex because humans tend to stick with people who have similar mindsets. We don’t like change. Hearing Sanj talk about how she actively seeks to form relations with people who differ from her lit a lightbulb in my head.

  • Combatting the feeling of envy involves a simple tweak in our mindsets

“No human can be envious or not envious. It’s a process. You’ll fall into both.” Sanjana Chekuri, 2020

I am a culprit of feeling envious of others all. the. time. I’ve definitely gotten far better over the years, but it still sucks when you fall into that trap of comparing yourself to others and then acting as though you’re superior by justifying to yourself that that person did not deserve whatever success he/she received. It just makes you feel like absolute shit afterwards. Sanj can attest to this because she was also a culprit of envy in the past, but now she has discovered a new mindset. Her self-worth no longer depends on other people. Instead, Sanj takes every moment of her friend/colleague/family member’s success as a learning opportunity. When you perceive something as knowledge, then you automatically feel gratitude and acceptance, so there’s no room for envy.

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