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Wolfpack Writers: Jess Ekstrom

"Chasing The Bright Side" book held in air in Talley Student Union

Jess Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, graduated from NC State’s Department of Communication with a bachelor’s degree in 2013. Her book Chasing the Bright Side explores the power of optimism and how we can overcome challenges in our own lives. We caught up with Ekstrom to learn more about her time at NC State and life as a writer, entrepreneur and motivational speaker.

headshot of Jess Ekstrom
Jess Ekstrom

What motivated you to tell your story?

After I started my company Headbands of Hope while I was at NC State, I started to get asked to speak a lot. Speaking has become a huge part of my career as an entrepreneur, but I always felt like that one hour on stage wasn’t enough time for me to tell the full story. Writing Chasing the Bright Side, I was able to go more in depth and dive into this topic of optimism that has played such a key role in my life. There were stories (like revealing that my uncle is Bernie Madoff) that I wasn’t ready to tell on stage but was able to explain in the book, along with the story of Headbands of Hope. I wanted to tell a real, transparent story about the rise to success because I think so much of what we hear are the highlight reels. 

How did the process of writing this book differ from the other roles you’ve taken on (entrepreneur, motivational speaker, etc.)?

I absolutely loved the writing process. I’ve always loved writing, but in writing Chasing the Bright Side, it was so cool to have a specific thing I was writing for. I enjoyed the resources and team support of Harper Collins Publishing. I also loved narrating my own audiobook. It was a challenging experience but also cool to read my own words out loud. Apple even picked my audiobook as their must-listen of the month!

How did your NC State degree impact your career?

When I got the idea for Headbands of Hope, it would have been so easy to make the argument, I’ll just wait until I graduate. But one of the things I love about NC State is that they’re not trying to build perfectionists. They’re trying to build a community of doers. NC State made me feel like I could begin right where I was standing instead of waiting for the “perfect” time. Success is not about having it all figured out. It’s about believing in something better and having the courage to begin where you are. NC State taught me that. 

What was your favorite class at NC State?

I have so many favorite classes! But my favorite professors who really left a mark are Mindy Sopher, Maria De Moya, Ryan Hurley and Kami Kosenko. 

In one sentence, what would your advice be for a budding entrepreneur?

A ‘no’ is not life-ruining, but a ‘yes’ could be life-changing … so you might as well make the ask! 

What book should everybody read before the age of 21? 

I hope Chasing the Bright Side! But one of my favorite books is That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix. I was thrilled when he endorsed my book!

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelf?

I read so many silly, fluffy books to decompress. They’re basically books that are like Hallmark movies. I think it’s important to not constantly consume information, but give your brain a break to process. 

What’s next for you? Another book, something else?

I’d love to write another book. In fact, I’m in the early planning stages now! But for now, my husband and I are traveling around in an Airstream trailer doing speaking engagements, going to children’s hospitals for Headbands of Hope and seeing national parks. So I’m just trying to enjoy nomadic life on the road! 

This post was originally published in College of Humanities and Social Sciences.