Ashley Jones

Founder of Love Not Lost

Ashley Jones is the founder and executive director of Love Not Lost, a nonprofit on a mission to revolutionize the way we heal in grief. From losing her daughter to a terminal illness to growing Love Not Lost, Ashley has a lot of experience in death and grief; something she never thought would be in her bio. Yet, she’s learned how to process, heal, and grow through the pain and wants to help others do the same. She’s a TEDx speaker on ‘How we heal in grief’ and has been featured by various media outlets, including the BBC.

Where did the idea for Love Not Lost come from?

When my daughter, Skylar, was diagnosed with a terminal illness at 2-months old, I was shocked how unprepared I was emotionally. I realized that no one ever taught me how to process pain… society had only taught me how to numb myself or avoid it. But pain and grief to this degree you can’t ignore, and I struggled to find tangible, helpful support.

A friend of ours gifted us a professional portrait session while our daughter was still alive. We said goodbye to Skylar just before her second birthday, and to my surprise, the photos were the most helpful tool in the healing. They not only created a safe space for me to feel my sadness, depression, relief, anger, lonliness, and all of the other emotions tangled up in grief, but they also gave me a way to hold her when she wasn’t here to hold.

As a photographer myself, I wanted to give that gift to others, so I started volunteering portrait sessions to anyone I heard of facing a terminal diagnosis. Every family I served had a powerful story of how the photos helped them grieve and heal, which led me to form Love Not Lost so that every family facing loss could have their memories preserved and feel supported in the pain. That’s how it started and now our mission is to revolutionize the way we heal in grief.

You can read the full story and see photos here:

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There is no such thing as a typical day in my world, but I do try to make every day productive by focusing on one priority to complete.

As the founder and leader, I have a lot on my plate in all aspects of the business. One day I could be in meetings all day, another day I could be recruiting photographers to join us, while some days I am being interviewed for podcasts or speaking on stages. There are not-so-fun days that feel boring too – like answering emails, filling out government documents, running payroll, troubleshooting tech issues, etc. The most fun days are dreaming and solving the world’s problems with my team, interacting with donors and families, training photographers, and tangibly seeing the difference we’re making in the world.

The underlying theme throughout my day is listening to my body and responding accordingly. Where does my mind feel most focused and energized? Do I need to take a break and get outside? How can I best care for myself so I can show up for others? Just last month I cleared all of my meetings one day so I could focus on self-care. I didn’t regret it for a single second. That ended up being incredibly productive for my week, even if it meant sacrificing the productivity of the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I don’t know that I bring ideas to life… I think ideas come to me with an existing energy of their own knowing I’ll act on it with the right amount of energy.

I just start taking steps. What is the one thing I can do next?

When I had the idea to help people heal in grief through photos, I just started volunteering sessions to anyone I heard of facing a terminal diagnosis. That led to starting a nonprofit, which then led to revolutionizing the way people in heal in grief around the world. I tend to jump into the deep end and learn how to swim as I go… As Dori says, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me is the growing intentionality in how we live. The younger generations aren’t okay to do things as we’ve been doing them for centuries because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I’ve seen so many millennials (and younger generations) breaking cycles of pain and dysfunction in their families and doing the very hard work of healing. I’ve also seen more and more people intentionally thinking about death and choosing to plan things out ahead of time and consider green burials.

I am excited to live in a world where we are able to love ourselves and each other in a way that honors the earth and brings healing to every living thing around us.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I don’t really have a mark for comparison to others, but I do know that listening to my body and honoring what it needs has been great for my productivity.

If my hips feel tight, I take a quick break and stretch. If I can’t focus, I get up and go outside. If I can’t solve a problem, I schedule intentional conversation and go for walks. I try to follow the flow. Sometimes this makes me incredibly productive, and other times I feel like a dog surrounded by squirrels. When that happens, I pause to breathe and calm my nervous system. We are interconnected beings and understanding the way our systems work together has been transformational in how I function in the world.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The world is going to teach you pain is bad, but I promise you the key is not to avoid it, but to lean in: Feel it. Listen to it. Be curious about it. Learn from it if it is there to teach you. And then let it go. Breathe. Heal. You are stronger and braver than you could’ve ever imagined. Keep loving people with your whole heart. You will change the world.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Your chronic physical pain is likely caused by an emotional root.

We have a long way to go in our western medicine to start addressing the roots of illnesses and not the symptoms.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read. Take courses. Keep soaking up information. Fall in love with learning. I truly can’t get enough and it’s helped me so much.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Try new things. When you get “stuck” at a certain level, it’s typically because you’ve gotten in a routine of doing the same things over and over and they got you to where you are, but can’t get you to the next level. Find a mentor. Try a new marketing tactic. Hire social media help. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to try something new and invest in mistakes. Sometimes you have to find what doesn’t work before you can figure out what does work!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

To me, failure is only a true failure when you repeat the same mistakes over and over again. I have had low points for sure, but I wouldn’t classify them as failures because we learned from them and didn’t let them happen again.

I think one of the areas where I have failed is a lack of following up with people. The reminders app and scheduling things on my google calendar has been a lifesaver for me. I had to find a new system of keeping track of things. In my early 20s, the technology just wasn’t there to help me yet.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I really want to see someone build a nonprofit management tool that doesn’t suck. We have a great donor CRM, but for relationship tracking, volunteer management, vendor partners and other sponsorships, we are trying to patch together Hubspot solutions with other tools and it just seems crazy that I can’t find something better that exists. I’ve searched high and low. I’ve watched demos for more companies than I can count on my hands and toes. We can’t be the only ones out there struggling with this…

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I spent was at Sushi On Me in Queens in NYC. Holy crap that was the most fun dinner PARTY experience I’ve ever had!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Our team wouldn’t be as productive if it weren’t for Slack. It cuts down on emails, phone calls, and text messages and keeps communication all in one place. It’s amazing for brainstorming together, sharing cool things, and setting healthy boundaries with work communication.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Thirst, by Scott Harrison. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. It’s inspiring, exhilarating, and honest: you feel the ups and downs, the desperation and celebration, and it leaves you with hope for the world.

What is your favorite quote?

When I am feeling like nothing is going right, this quote by Henry Ford is an encouragement:
When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.

When I am out in public, I always try to keep this quote top of mind, especially with kids and the families we serve:
Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
– Mother Teresa

Key Learnings:

  • To bring an idea into the world, just take a step. Ask yourself: “what is the one thing I can do next?”
  • Listening to your body and honoring what it needs can be a great advantage in productivity and wellness.
  • Your chronic physical pain is likely caused by an emotional root.
  • Failure is only a true failure when you repeat the same mistakes over and over again