I founded Headbands of Hope during my junior year of college after my internship at Make-A-Wish. I found that girls loved to wear headbands after they lost their hair to chemotherapy.
Therefore, for every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund childhood cancer research.
Before I graduated in May 2013, HoH was featured on the TODAY Show, TOMS Shoes Website, Fitness Magazine Online and it became my fulltime job. But more importantly, I gave thousands of girls a reason to smile while undergoing treatment.
I didn’t study business or dream about becoming and entrepreneur. I became an entrepreneur because something grabbed me. Then I had the choice to keep living my life or grab it right back.
When a decision like this enters your life, I believe you need to do two things: Define what success means to you and find your inner “crazy.”
Let’s start with getting crazy. I have a quote on my wall by Steve Jobs, “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”
If there’s one quote infused in every decision I make, it’s this one. I think craziness is directly linked to passion. Passion is an emotion that compels us to do irrational and sometimes amazing things. If passion didn’t exist, no one would ever leave the comfort of their own home or risk everything to start a business.
If you’re crazy about something, there’s nothing in the world too big to stop you. It takes that extra kick of passion to help you jump the hurdles and reach further.
I found my craziness in one girl who wished to meet Sleeping Beauty but was too ill to travel to Disney World. I came to her house dressed as Sleeping Beauty and spent the day with her. When she passed away a week later, I remembered she was wearing a headband, just like dozens of other girls who lose their hair to treatment. All it took was that one moment to turn crazy. I cancelled my study abroad trip for that semester and poured my bank account into Headbands of Hope. It takes two seconds of crazy to change your life.
If you think you’re crazy enough to grab inspiration back, then we move on to defining success.
The moment I open the door to a girl’s hospital room with a basket of headbands and see her smile, that’s when I feel my success. There’s no numerical number I hit or competitor I beat. It’s just that feeling that I get where I know that all my hard work is making an impact and changing a life. The moment a girl looks in the mirror to see her headband and finally feels pretty is my definition of success.
The most effective way to make a social impact is by loving what you do and believing in every ounce of it. Understand that being crazy about your cause is necessary. And remember that success cannot be counted, it can only be felt.
Jess Ekstrom is the 22-year-old founder of Headbands of Hope and Headwear of Hope. Both companies give head products to kids with cancer with every purchase.