“Sometimes the main difference between people who do big things and the people that don’t is just the courage to begin where you are.”
These are the first words you see when you stumble across the website of serial entrepreneur, boss babe, author of Chasing the Bright Side (coming November 5th!) and Founder/CEO of Headbands of Hope, Jess Ekstrom.
Such a simple statement, but a powerful one. Jess, at only twenty seven, has founded a company that’s impacted children all over the world. She’s donated half a million headbands to cancer patients. She’s launched a course called Mic Drop Workshop dedicated to empowering women to speak. And she’s only in her twenties.
Everything, she says, truly begins when you start right where you are.
For Jess, that beginning was in college. In her junior year, she interned for the Make a Wish foundation where she met girls who were losing their hair to chemotherapy. Rather than hide behind hats or wigs, Jess noted, these girls embraced their appearance. That confidence sparked something in Jess. She wanted to create self-confidence through fashion—through headbands—and started looking into companies that gave cancer patients headbands. When there weren’t any, she decided to create her own.
And that’s where everything began.
When she talks about the beginnings of Headbands of Hope, Jess says that her vision wasn’t perfect. In fact, she hadn’t done any planning—no Excel spreadsheets, no budgets, no real vision for how things would work—she was simply captivated with purpose.
And in her opinion, sometimes that’s all a truly successful business, goal, or dream really needs.
“Sometimes as we grow in our businesses and lives we can almost become paralyzed with perfection, where every move that we make has to have our mental checklist behind it, where we have to know exactly what’s going to happen next,” she says, “But when we believe in what we’re doing, we’re ready to be vulnerable and just begin—that’s where true entrepreneurship begins.”
“I had no idea what I was doing, but I believed in what this business could do for kids,” she says, “When you’re so charged with that purpose, you figure it out.”
Headbands of Hopoe, since launch, has truly grown. One of the most exciting milestones, Jess shares, was when her company had donated headbands to every children’s hospital in the nation, as well as fifteen other countries.
But she’s honest about the ups and downs, too.
“You don’t really hear about the A to B,” she says, referencing how our society often glosses over the ‘hard parts’ of building businesses/successful careers.
“I really wanted to humanize the hustle and be transparent about the speedbumps and hiccups you experience along the way.”
“Failures aren’t indications of worth,” she says, “They’re indications of growth.”
This desire to be transparent and talk about failures was the drive behind her book, Chasing the Bright Side, which tells not only her story, but how she got there—the good, the bad, and the downright painful. In fact, Jess shares about a huge, internationally-headlined scandal her family was involved in and how it changed her.
Because of what her family went through, and her realization that anything can happen to anyone, she completely shifted her outlook. “There are two ways you can look at life,” she says, “You can choose fear of the unknown or possibility—I hope that people choose possibility.”
This possibility is the driving force in her work, the motivation that keeps her going, and what she tries to teach through her book, resources, workshops, and speaking events.
When she talks about growing a business, starting something you believe in, or chasing a dream, she says that it’s not about having it all figured out—it’s about believing in that possibility and starting.
“My whole life up until probably about two years ago. I thought confidence was the people with the skillsets, the most prepared, the ones with the knowledge,” she says, “But really, the people who are successful aren’t the ones with skillsets and fancy accolades. They’re the ones who have the confidence to figure it out.”
And in Jess’ opinion, that confidence comes from knowing it’s possible and moving forward, one step at a time.
“No one was born knowing how to fly a plane or do their taxes,” Jess says, “Everyone had to start somewhere. And that somewhere is optimism.”