Finding meaning in the moment

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Jess Ekstrom is an inspiration.

When she was a sophomore in college at NC State University, Ekstrom interned at Disney World with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. One child in particular touched her life forever.

Renee had brain cancer. Her family found out right before they were headed to Disney World to meet her favorite princess, Sleeping Beauty. The doctors sent her home, with heartbreaking news that she would only have two weeks left to live. Ekstrom showed up at their door, dressed as Sleeping Beauty and they spent one of Renee’s final days together. Renee then passed away.

“This was the moment everything changed for me,” said Ekstrom.

At just 19 years old, she started Headbands of Hope, an organization that donates headbands to children with cancer who have lost their hair. For every headband sold, Headbands of Hope donates one to a child with cancer. Recently, they hit an achievement of donating headbands to every hospital in America. In fact at SAS® Global Forum 2017 where Ekstrom was keynote speaker at the Academic Summit, SAS purchased 600 headbands to share with attendees, which means 600 children will also receive headbands.

Ekstrom found her passion, but she is the first to say that finding work that is meaningful, isn’t always easy and it doesn’t have to mean working for a non-profit. All that is required is doing work that matters to you.

How to build worth and find meaning in what you do

1. Create.

According to Ekstrom, this doesn’t mean you have to invent the latest craze or the next iPhone. You just need to solve a person’s problem.  “I decided to look at the world through a lens that I could fix it,” she said.

Ekstrom explained to Academic Summit attendees that people don't just start huge companies to make money. They create them with the basic desire to solve people’s problems. Also, it’s a lot more effective to identify demands or needs instead of creating new ones. You don’t have to start a company or a business to solve a problem. Landscapers, coaches, software developers, SAS programmers, teachers—they all solve problems every day. In fact, at SAS Global Forum 2017, one of our main goals is to listen to users’ problems and work to solve them. “When you create solutions, you learn the value of your work,” said Ekstrom.

2. Learn.

Did you know between the ages of 2-10 you learn a new word every hour? Do you ever feel like you’ve stopped learning? Well, don’t stop!

Pushing yourself, stretching your brain and learning something new are key in building worth. It doesn’t mean you have to succeed at everything you do. Ekstrom made sure to note that mistakes often teach you more than your successes ever could.

3. Identify achievements vs. success.

Have you ever thought of the difference between the two? Ekstrom defined achievements as getting what you want and sited examples like getting a new job, a promotion at work or an award. These tangible milestones are part of your work/life, but what about success? That’s the intangible. That’s one of those things you can’t feel.

With Headbands of Hope, Ekstrom set some pretty lofty achievements for herself – hit $1 million in sales, give a TED Talk and appear in Forbes magazine. She made all of those achievements happen, yet she still wasn’t happy. “All those things, all the achievements are not my success,” she said.

So what is the real success? It’s the look  on a child’s face as they warmly smile, giggle and put on one of her headbands.

What’s going to make you feel excited? It’s probably not going to come from a title or a paycheck. It’s going to come from knowing that your time and achievements make you feel the way you want to feel.

Jess Ekstrom discusses Headbands of Hope

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Ginny Inman

Ginny Inman loves telling people’s stories. Having studied at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and earned her master’s degree from North Carolina State University, she uses her experience to communicate through writing and video production for SAS’s internal communications team. She enjoys using creative communication solutions to build projects from the ground up for SAS employees around the world.

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