Jess Ekstrom explores the “just for today” optimism that she has learned from personal experience and by working with cancer survivors through her organization, Headbands of Hope, in her book Chasing the Bright Side (Thomas Nelson, Nov.).
What inspired you to create Headbands of Hope?
While interning at Disney, I would see kids that would go on their wish trips, wearing wigs and hats while undergoing chemotherapy. I thought it was so cool when they would wear headbands. They weren’t trying to hide what they were going through — they just wanted to restore their self-confidence, and headbands were the perfect way to do that. I remember going on Google to see if I could arrange a donation if someone out there was providing this. When I came up dry, that people hadn’t made that connection yet, it was really the turning point.
What has been especially rewarding about the experience?
One of the most rewarding moments was when I knew it was working. I had been sending headbands to hospitals before I was even selling them. I wanted to be able to see the impact, so that way we could build this business by showing people the need. I got an email from a mother whose daughter had received a headband. She said that before her daughter got the headband, she was in remission and was about to go back to kindergarten, but her hair hadn’t grown back yet. She was afraid to go to kindergarten because she didn’t want people to think that she was a boy. Then, when she got her headband, she came home and laid out her school supplies and the dress that she wanted to wear, and she was like, “Mom, when’s kindergarten going to start?” That, right there, was the validation that I needed to go all-in, full speed, no brakes. If I can create that kind of confidence with one simple accessory, then this is what I need to be doing.
You talk a lot about how powerful optimism is. What would be your best advice for someone trying to get in that headspace?
First is understanding what optimism is. Optimism is not a happiness pledge. I feel optimism is seeing things in their true form and looking for ways to make them better. Then, the second part of that is believing that you can be the one to do it — not telling yourself “I’m not qualified.” And talking back to that negative voice in your head. Ask yourself, “Am I on my own team? Or are these lies I’ve been telling myself for years?” Even though I wrote this book, optimism isn’t something like oxygen that comes naturally to me. It’s an effort I make every day, especially in today’s climate.
What do you hope people will take from the book?
I want people to feel confident in who they are right now, but also have that excitement for where they’re going to go. One thing I didn’t want this book to be was feeling like I was leaving readers with a big to-do list of all the things that they aren’t doing. I’ve read those books before, and you feel almost worse than when you started. I want people to feel excitement at the possibilities. I want people to feel like we’re sitting down with our feet on the table, just talking — I don’t want it to be a self-help lecture. I’m still walking on this journey myself.