"I had my own eyes on myself and other people's eyes on me. It was a lot of pressure," Kelly Rowland tells PEOPLE about growing up in the spotlight 

Kelly Rowland is turning the big 4-0 next year, and with the release of her newest track "Coffee" the star is grabbing life by the horns.

In a bold move, Rowland — who opens up to PEOPLE in its latest issue about all the lessons she's learned through her journey to the top — appears semi-nude in her latest music video.

“It’s really about just owning your sexuality. You should already know how sexy and great you are without someone having to tell you," she says about the meaning behind her music video and the song's steamy lyrics. "As women, for so long we'd do something to be regarded by others, and this song says, ‘I really don’t need to hear what anyone else has to say.’"

With "Coffee's" visuals, Rowland is highlighting "the different tones and textures and colors of beauty that there are, and how rich that is, and how unified we are as women," she says. "That really meant a lot to me. You see, I’m just one person, but I’m even better with other women next to me."

"You gotta remember, I started at 15," she adds. "That was a lot. I was growing up right in front of people. I had my own eyes on myself and other people’s eyes on me. It was a lot of pressure. The hardest part of that journey was actually cutting those negative voices off, and those negative voices were mostly the ones that I was inflicting upon myself."

After decades in the entertainment industry, Rowland has replaced the noise with positive vibes only, and she couldn't be more thrilled about her next life milestone: Turning 40.

"It’s exciting, and it has to get better because my life is always getting better. Of course with every year there comes greater responsibility. We think about everything from our children to our marriage to finances — all of it. By the way, it all stresses me out," she says with a laugh.

"I can’t help but to think about that movie This Is 40, and how I remember seeing that movie and it just scared the mess out of me. I was like ‘Oh my God, is this what 40 is like?’" Rowland recalls. "I had a little panic attack. I was like, 'This can’t possibly be what it is.'"

But for Rowland, turning 40 means addressing important issues like female sexuality and empowerment.

kelly rowland
Kelly Rowland
| Credit: Gregg Deguire/Filmmagic

The issue of representation is close to Rowland's heart. Growing up, she yearned for diverse role models — and now as a mom to her 5-year-old son Titan (with husband Tim Weatherspoon), Rowland is aiming to make a difference.

"I remember seeing the cover of a magazine say ‘This Is What Beauty Looks Like,’ and I didn’t see any minorities on the cover at all," she says. "We weren’t represented at all, and I remember that made me feel a certain way. It made me question my beauty."

"I remember the first time a fan said, 'I’m you when we play Destiny’s Child because we look the same,'" says the star. "This girl was the same complexion as me, and that made me so happy because there’s nothing like feeling seen and being heard. Janet Jackson made me feel seen. Whitney Houston made me feel seen. Their beauty was so taken in worldwide, and it made me feel like there is a space for me.”

When she became the first member of Destiny's Child to branch out and win a Grammy, Rowland reveals she didn't feel worthy of her accomplishments. “'Dilemma' was really the first time I really got a taste of solo success. It felt overwhelming for me at the time," she says. "In retrospect, I don’t remember feeling like I deserved that, which went back to value and valuing yourself and your opinion and your greatness."

kelly rowland and nelly
Kelly Rowland and Nelly

These days, self-doubt is a thing of the past for Rowland, who is more confident than ever.

“I think it’s security within self and not allowing other people’s words to penetrate because so many people have tried to do that in the past," she says. 

destinys child
Michelle Williams, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland

Through her ups and downs, one thing that's remained constant is Rowland's unbreakable bond with her Destiny's Child sisters.

"We love each other. I’d do anything for my girls and I know that it’s reciprocated so it’s just, yeah, we’re not going nowhere," she says.

For more of Rowland's hard-won lessons about marriage, motherhood and friendship, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.