• Jada Pinkett Smith explores her own journey to developing self worth in her new memoir, "Worthy."
  • After a long career in the public eye, the actress, producer, talk show host and musician says working on one’s relationship with oneself is the most important endeavor.
  • It took her decades, and many ups and down in professional and private life, to discover the keys to this personal success.
Jada Pinkett Smith in conversation with CNBC's Carl Quintanilla at the Workforce Executive Council Summit in New York City on Nov. 14, 2023.

Jada Pinkett Smith knows what it is like to be in the spotlight.

A long career in Hollywood has spanned several early turns on popular TV shows, indie film breakout performance in "Menace II Society," and attainment of blockbuster status in films like "The Nutty Professor" and across three "Matrix" movies. She also has executive produced, including "Annie" (2014); hosted "Red Table Talk"; and along the way, made music.

But with accolades often comes criticism, drama, and even scandal. Pinkett Smith, now in her early 50s, is no stranger to the ups and downs, and self-doubt, that come with celebrity and being under constant public attention. She writes about finding her inherent, impermeable self worth despite it all in her new memoir, "Worthy." 

From her childhood to her early career and through motherhood, and even to the Oscars' infamous slap, Pinkett Smith has been sharing many aspects of he journey to self-love, a success that she says eluded her for much of her life.

CNBC's Carl Quintanilla spoke with Pinkett Smith at the recent CNBC Workforce Executive Council Summit in New York City, where she offered advice on how to build a positive relationship with yourself, and with those around you. 

Talent is not enough

One of the first things that Pinkett Smith touched on in her interview was the importance of intrinsic self love. When she first entered the Hollywood scene, Pinkett Smith found herself to be well-trained and capable of achieving success in the acting world. Still, she lacked a sense of self love. 

"I did not have a level of self love about me, so that was the thing that needed to be healed. And being young, I didn't really understand the difference between the two," Pinkett Smith said. 

She has become open about mental health challenges endured during her career, and at the CNBC interview, as in other recent appearances, spoke openly about suicidal feelings. Developing a level of self love that goes beyond one's talents and capabilities is something that was important for her on her journey to attaining a status more valuable than celebrity.

Criticism matters — when it leads to self reflection

Pinkett Smith is no stranger to criticism, and she writes about it in "Worthy." 

Throughout her career, the star has faced backlash for everything from an early chip-on-her-shoulder attitude in Hollywood that resulted in some private counsel from Warren Beatty, to her opinions on marriage and her romantic relationships. 

To develop self-worth, Pinkett Smith had to devise a strategy for reorienting herself in relation to criticism. 

"Negative criticism, when criticism is given not to be helpful, but to actually tear you down, a lot of times for me and my process, I had to look and say 'Why is it that you're allowing this stranger's words to affect you? How do you feel about yourself?' And then I check in on that and I'm like 'Oh, I actually think that's true, and that's why that's bothering me," she said. 

Once she comes to the realization that there may be a reason why the criticism is impacting her, she interrogates it even further. 

"So let's check into that, 'Why do you think that's true?' So this becomes about me and me. What this person has said has just been a mirror, a reflection to reflect back to myself, how I feel, and that's the issue. Not what the person said, how I feel about myself because of what the person said." 

Getting your relationship with yourself right is one of the most consequential efforts anyone undertakes in life. Your relationship with yourself, Pinkett Smith says, is the only one that you can truly control. 

"People are going to say whatever they need to say and most of the time it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with them. So the only thing you need to deal with is how you feel about yourself. And once you get that in order, leave people to it. Leave people to it," she said. 

The Oscars 'Holy Slap' and a lesson on loving others

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith attend Apple Original Films' "Emancipation" Los Angeles premiere at Regency Village Theatre on November 30, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Quintanilla also asked Pinkett Smith about the notorious altercation between her husband, Will Smith, and Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars. 

Pinkett Smith recounted that, at first, she believed the interaction between the two men was a stage fight, a skit, intended to amuse audience members. It was not until she reconnected with her publicist, as well as Smith's publicist, later on and was told that Rock was not pressing charges that she understood the blow had been real. 

The "holy slap," as she now calls it, presented another lesson on love to Pinkett Smith, this time focused out into the world. Personal demons had kept her from loving herself properly for decades, but she also came to realize she had been ungenerous in accepting the demons inevitable inside those around her. 

"That was one of the moments where I was like 'I will never leave this man's side' after so many years of contemplating and doing so. I realized in that moment that in order to love someone, you have to love someone completely, and that means embracing that person's shadow. In relationships, we always want people to show up in their most ideal form and that's just not possible, and we really punish and beat each other up for being human," she said. 

Pinkett Smith and Will Smith had been separated since 2016. She told Quintanilla that they did not enter the Oscars as husband and wife, but left the event and its aftermath stronger and back together. 

"I was like 'Ah, okay Jada, this is your lesson, this is where you have to learn how to love yourself and love Will in the light and in the shadow,'" she said.

Start by dismantling expectations

Because of her life in the spotlight and focus on self-work, the conceptions of others appears as a recurring obstacle for Pinkett Smith. Attempting to fit into a box created for you by someone else is a surefire way to prevent happiness, she says. 

"If we're constantly worrying about fitting in the ideas that people want us to be, and if we're constantly worried about how other people feel about us versus how we feel about ourselves first, you're never going to be happy," she said at the CNBC event. 

It may feel scary at first to dismantle the expectations that the people around you may have for you, Pinkett Smith says, but being truly authentic takes courage and it's something people do not speak about enough. It's natural to fear the potential loss of people in your life when you begin to defy their expectations, but being your authentic self also opens up the potential to find people who truly love you for who you are, not who you are pretending to be. 

"When you have the courage to authentically love yourself, it really doesn't matter how other people feel about you and you will find your tribe and find your clan," she said.

Developing self worth is not easy. It's a lifelong process and no amount of fame and money will produce it. Putting in the work is the only way to develop a positive relationship with yourself, Pinkett Smith says, and self worth that is truly unshakable. 

"Trust me, it is easier said than done. But that's the work! That's the work. That's the work. That's what self worth is all about," she said. 

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