Jazz Jennings, the 18-year-old transgender star of TLC’s reality show I Am Jazz, is known for her unyielding, very public advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. But now, Jennings is embarking on a whole new chapter: She’s headed to Harvard University as a freshman in the fall.

During a recent interview with Thrive Global, Jennings began to tear up when talking about what’s next for her. She has spent her life in the public eye — will she continue her activism work full-force, or will she allow herself some time out of the spotlight to discover who she is as a regular college student? That is just one major question she’s grappling as her life is about to notably change. 

Jennings sat down with Thrive to give a glimpse into her private world — revealing her plans for her future (and her major), how she deals with stress, and the power of reframing jealousy into positive action.

Thrive Global: How do you handle stress?

Jazz Jennings: I manage it just by listening to my inner voice saying what I need to do for myself to take care of myself. Being able to look after yourself through self-care practices is so important, whether that’s listening to a good song, meditating, going outside for a walk, petting your pets — little things like that really help me manage my stress. When I’m in a situation, and I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I really just have to take a deep breath and just get into that place of alignment again where I’m back to where I need to be.

TG: Do you have a mantra you say in those moments? 

JJ: I have a lot of mantras. Sometimes I just say the word “love” as a mantra because that’s a powerful word, and it resonates. Lately, my favorite is more like a “rampage,” where you do multiple positive thoughts one after another. An example of one would be, “I am a magnificent being. I am beautiful in every way, including all of my flaws. I love myself unconditionally. I want to share that love with as many people as possible. I want to help people. I want to help myself. I want to be the best I can be.” Just going on a rampage of thoughts like that for five, 10 minutes nonstop. It’s so powerful, because you’re just doing all these positive affirmations and you can feel it within your being. My favorite spiritual teacher is someone named Abraham Hicks. You can even play one of his rampages if you don’t want to do your own. You can just focus and let the words come through you that way as well.

TG: Have you ever felt burned out? How did you handle it? 

JJ: I am in a constant state of being burned out, not going to lie. The past two weeks I’ve been feeling burned out to the greatest degree. And there were some moments when I didn’t even think I was going to be able to take this trip to New York. Burnout is this overwhelming feeling of being stuck. Feeling like you can’t make changes to your life because you have so many things to do, and you feel so anxious about doing all of those things, and your mind is just like, “OK, this, this, this, this.” And the way I calm myself when I’m in the burnout state is just realizing that I have to take things one step at a time. If I’m focusing on everything at once, then that’s not going to be okay, I’m going to feel that burnout. But focusing on it as one thing at a time really helps calm me. 

TG: As you are entering your next stage in life and going to Harvard in the fall, what do you think about the anxiety and depression that so many college students are dealing with? 

JJ: I’m nervous. I feel like college is going to be a great place for me to step out of my shell, be independent, and build new routines and habits and ways of living. But it’s also a place where I can feel that anxiety and depression to an even greater degree than I do now, because there’s so much going on all the time. You want to be involved in everything, but school’s stressful in and of itself. I’ll be studying for tests and exams and trying to be the best I can be. In high school, I always got straight A’s, because I put that pressure on myself. But going into college, I want to focus on taking care of myself, and building good habits — that’s really my focus. 

What are you majoring in?

JJ: I’m planning on majoring in Gender, Philosophy, and Religion, so Social Sciences. 

TG: What is your relationship with your phone?
JJ: I don’t really like my phone that much. I have good boundaries with it. Currently, it’s in my mom’s purse. She holds onto it. Any time my phone is giving me anxiety, I know I have to put it down and just not look at it anymore. I still do use my phone. I use social media. I text people. But I definitely don’t use it as much as others, because I know that that’s not the real world. That’s not life. I want to experience life, not some virtual reality. Unless you’re using the phone for something positive and for a connection with other people or to make yourself feel good, then just don’t use it at all.

TG: What are you most passionate about right now?

JJ: Right now I’m focusing on sharing my story as a trans queer person, and really just breaking down the gender binary. I know that’s a big thing to talk about, but gender, while it does exist, it also doesn’t exist at the same time. Yes, we have physical bodies. Yes, we have genitalia, and we can look at ourselves and say, “Oh, there’s a man and there’s a woman.” But you can’t define someone by their physical anatomy. Look at me! I can’t be defined by my physical anatomy. Consciousness cannot be defined. And that’s who we truly are, is our consciousness — the thoughts that make us who we are. And that exists in some spiritual place that we can’t understand. I really think as humanity evolves we are realizing that, and just looking beyond the binary and seeing ourselves as beings who can’t be tied down to any sort of system of gender or any binary roles.

TG: What is your advice for somebody who constantly compares themselves to others on social media and finds that doing so brings them down?

JJ: You just need to never compare yourself to anybody else, ever ever ever. Yes, you can look at someone else and be inspired by them. Even if you are jealous of someone, use that emotion to fuel something positive, because that jealousy comes from a place of you wanting what that person has. So when you see that, be like, “You know what? That person’s amazing, I’m happy for them for having those things, and I’m feeling this jealousy because I want that for myself. So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go out and get it for myself.” And that’s what we all need to realize, and we need to take those steps.

TH: What brings you optimism? What brings you hope?

JJ:  It’s the little things that really bring me joy — my animals, my cats. What gives me hope on a grander level is looking at all the good people in the world, you know? For every person out there who is self-absorbed or negative, there’s a person who is amazing, who is trying to spread love. 

When you think about the negativity and all the negative people out there, you can get down on yourself and your surroundings. I think, “What are we going to do about this?” But changing that perspective, focusing on the positive people and the positive things really does make you feel good. Focusing on people who want to create a world that is more loving really motivates me, inspires me and makes me realize that there’s so much hope. So much more than all of us realize.

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.
  • Lindsey Benoit O'Connell

    Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships at Thrive

    Lindsey Benoit O'Connell is Thrive's Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships. Prior to working at Thrive, she was the Entertainment + Special Projects Director for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Woman's Day booking the talent for covers and inside features. O'Connell currently lives in Astoria, NY with her husband Brian and adorable son, Hunter Fitz.