After an advance screening of Second Act on Monday in N.Y.C., producer and star Jennifer Lopez engaged in an illuminating discussion with a panel of fellow women entrepreneurs which included her producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Full Picture CEO Desiree Gruber, writer and businesswoman extraordinaire Arianna Huffington, and Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (aka pioneer of the Inclusion Rider) Dr. Stacy L. Smith.

During the conversation, Lopez opened up about the role that New York City has played in her career — it’s the setting of several of her films (including Second Act) and has served as a recurring theme and point of reference in much of her music.

Desiree Gruber, Jennifer Lopez, Arianna Huffington, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Dr. Stacy L. Smith

Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

“I always felt like a little girl with her nose pressed up against the glass looking at the emerald city, all of this stuff that was out there,” she said of her relationship to Manhattan, “but The Bronx seemed so small, like that was going to be my whole life.”

The Bronx native revealed in her InStyle December cover story that if it hadn’t been for “certain ambitions” of hers, she “might have gotten married after high school and had kids and decided to get a job at a bank in Castle Hill, like my aunt did.” But with a little help from the 6 train, the Latina superstar created an entirely different life for herself.

“At a certain point I just got on the train and started exploring the city,” she continued. “It was like going to outer space, how far it seemed. And I was trying to think of the name of my first album and I was almost done. I was at Elaine [Goldsmith-Thomas’s] house and Tim Robbins was there … and he said how did you get from being this girl in the Bronx to making your first album and doing all these movies and all this stuff? And I said ‘On The 6.’ I answered him literally and he was like ‘That’s what you should name your album.’ It’s that idea of that person that still, New York symbolizes that for me. It’s so the root of who I am and what I take everywhere I go. I think that’s why so many of my songs and so many of my movies — like Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner — it’s about [that] kind of everywoman, those outer-borough girls who have these big dreams and are trying to get there … the “Jenny from the Blocks” and “I’m Reals” and all that. Definitely New York and The Bronx are very in my soul.”

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Lopez also candidly discussed her struggles with self-esteem, revealing that despite her early career successes, she still often felt unworthy.

“I don’t let the opinions of others really influence how I think about myself, and that took a long time, because in the early part of my career I did and it made me feel really bad about myself,” she began. “So I came out and my first song went to no. 1, my first album went to no. 1, and my first movie went to no. 1, and I was like ‘yeah, I’m killin’ it.’ And then everyone was like she can’t sing; she can’t dance; she can’t act; she’s just a pretty face; or her butt is big, or whatever they were saying about me, and I started thinking ‘yeah, that’s true.’ And it really hurt me for a long time. Despite the hurt and the pain I just kept going. I just couldn’t allow myself to let that become who I was. I was like ‘no, I’m going to make another record, I’m going to make another song, I’m going to make another movie; I’m a great actress; I’m a great singer; I’m a great dancer. I’m great at this stuff and I’m going to keep going.’ And I did. And that’s all I did — I kept going. And I just started working harder, harder than everybody else. And I saw that I was working harder than everybody else, and it started paying off, but more than that I started believing in myself, I started believing in the fact that I wasn’t an impostor, that I wasn’t a fake, that there was a reason I kept doing this and people kept hiring me. It was like ‘OK, maybe I am good at this …’ But it took time and it took me to believe in myself.”

Though much of her growth came from within, she admits to leaning on many people along the way.

“It was different people in my life at different times that were like ‘You are good at this,’” she said. “‘Cause then I’d go into studios and I’d be like ‘Well I’m not a great singer,’ and they’re like ‘What are you talking about?’ and I was like, ‘Well I don’t sing like Aretha Franklin,’ and they’re like ‘It doesn’t matter. You sing like Jennifer Lopez and people love it,’ and I’m like, ‘They do?’ and she’s like ‘Yes.’ It’s moments like that that you remember. People, they just plant a seed for you to look at yourself in a better way. And it’s those moments that just — you keep going.”

And thank goodness Jen did, indeed, keep going. Her inspiring new film, Second Act, opens nationwide Dec. 21.