Jen Gotch on how she found a second purpose in Ban.do
In 2008, Jen Gotch founded ban.do as a chic headband and accessories company — and it quickly became popular. But after receiving such an outpouring of support and positive feedback from being so outspoken about her own mental health struggles, Jen decided to change things up a bit. She started inserting even more joy into ban.do’s clothing, accessories and other products through motivational mantras and slogans. Jen spoke with our producer Emily Pinto about how she found purpose in spreading joy and empowerment.
Emily Pinto: How do you describe ban.do, for someone who might not be familiar with the company?
Jen Gotch: In my heart I’ve always been a joy-seeker. When we first started out we were making headbands, but I loved the idea of promoting positivity by putting encouraging words on everyday objects. Unfortunately you can’t really put words on headbands — although we tried! There was just so much opportunity to create products that naturally aligned with a purpose.
Our company really exists to help people be their best. We want to offer not just products, but insight and inspiration for our community to pursue betterment across the board — feeling good personally, feeling good professionally, understanding self-care, becoming self aware, and having fun. Those are things we’ve been doing for many years, but I think we were pigeonholed in the “fun” category until we created the mental health necklaces. That gave us an opportunity to really connect people, and make their lives better.
Do any of the slogans resonate with you the most?
“I did my best” is probably the most me. I did an interview years ago, and it didn’t go very well, and I felt awful afterwards. I thought I did a horrible job, and I hadn’t said any of the right things. Then I took a second and I was like, “Well, I really did my best.” I had prepared, gotten a good night’s sleep, and I spoke openly, and that’s all I could have done. After that, I’m really into iron-on letters, and I made a sweatshirt that said, “I did my best,” just for myself. People began stopping me on the street and asking me where I got it. So I was like, “We need to make this!”
You were first diagnosed with mental health issues when you were 23, and you’ve never hidden this part of yourself from anyone. Have you ever felt scared that people would judge you?
No. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that people are scared to talk about mental illness. I don’t know why, but I’ve never felt that way. It’s not that I’m actively forcing this part of myself out; I just can’t keep it in. There are other things I’m not so confident in sharing, but with the mental health stuff, I just never have. I don’t think I even realized that most people weren’t open about mental health issues until people started applauding me for it. People have asked me if I worry that it could impact my business or my personal life, and maybe it’s strange but it doesn’t worry me at all. I assume there are people that are judging me, but 99% of the feedback is positive. So I think I’m doing okay.
Does this openness empower you?
The feedback I get makes me feel stronger, and even more willing to share. It went from me just talking about it on social media — because I like to talk and I was lonely — and then there was a build in the response I was getting. As I continued to discuss these topics that are so hard for a lot of people to talk about, I started seeing it as a responsibility. But in the best way possible. There’s something empowering to that.
When you post about mental health on social media, do you read the comments? Is there anything you’ve seen there that’s particularly resonated with you?
Literally, thousands of them have. I have a hard time receiving kindness, so I find myself being like, “Thank you! I don’t deserve this!” For a long time I was used to people approaching me to say, “I love your products! I love the phrases and colors, and you’re so fun,” which was wonderful. But after I launched my podcast where I speak about mental health, I was at a ban.do event, and I was approached by a big group of girls who were just crying. The owner of our company, who is a good friend of mine, was like “What is happening?” I said, “This is just my life now, and it makes me so happy!”
The willingness that people have to share their own experiences with me, whether it’s in person or over email, or DMs… I sometimes can’t believe that they feel like I’ve helped them just from talking.
What advice do you have for people who are struggling with loneliness?
I have had very long stretches where I felt alone in my suffering. What I’ve just come to understand is that you actually have the ability to access your own peace and love and empowerment within you. We come equipped with these things, but aren’t necessarily trained to understand how to use them. The most powerful thing you can do for yourself is to learn to access the strength within. Because even the best support systems, or the most reliable friends can’t always be there when you need them. So you need to be confident that you have exactly what you need within yourself.
This is a new concept for me — self-trust — but I feel so sure of it. I have weathered the storm for so long, that I know I can make it out the other side. I’ve gotten so much better at accessing my internal joy and peace. I still sometimes get lost, and hate myself, but at least I have faith in myself. But that resilience comes from being 48 and having had so many experiences. At 23, I wasn’t really aware of this, but now I can say, “I’ve gotten through this before, I can get through it again.”
Can you give us a little preview of what to expect from your upcoming book, ‘The Upside of Being Down’?
I call it a self-help memoir. I really wrote it for the reader. So even when I’m telling stories from childhood, or my teenage years, I try to provide helpful information that the reader can take away. The book touches on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, mental health, building a business, marriage, divorce… everything I’ve experienced in my life, told very candidly. But I have a sense of humor about it. Mental health is certainly a through-line, but there’s also a lot about figuring out who you are, and what you want to do, and that change is a journey that does not end.
What was the writing process like for you? Did it come easily?
No! I was not as good at it as I thought I was going to be. I was an English major, I love writing, and I didn’t understand what a challenge it would be. I really struggled in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. Professionally I’ve had everything come easily to me for such a long time, because I created my job so it is literally catered directly to my talents. It was shocking to feel like I was failing and to have to absorb criticism, and ask for help. I realized my own personal and mental limitations, and that there were things my brain just couldn’t do, and that was awful.
I thought writing and working with an editor would make me feel like I was Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, but it was actually more like childbirth. So many people are like, “Oh I wrote a book and it was so easy and here it is and it’s a bestseller!” I don’t know if those people are lying, or if they’ve forgotten how awful the process was, or if they didn’t actually write the book at all!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared on Medium.com