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As you may know, I never say, “I can’t” but that doesn’t mean that I won’t say “no.” One of the most pivotal moments in my life was the day I said no to prosthetic arms. I used them for 11 years. Then one day, I decided enough was enough. They were uncomfortable and it just didn’t feel right–physically or emotionally. And while society told me that I had to have arms to fit in, I found the place deep inside where I was felt empowered enough to say no. I was done.

Still, as I was growing up, saying no to things was hard. I know there were times I wasn’t asked to do something because of my disability. People assumed that I couldn’t do it or that I wouldn’t want to. I felt like I needed to prove something to them, so I shouldn’t say no. But over time, I’ve realized that gaining their acceptance or providing my abilities wasn’t something I needed to do. I could say no to opportunities when I truly meant it.

A few years ago, I was invited to appear on a TV program. At the time I thought, on one hand (or foot!) this exposure could really boost my business. However, the way this program portrayed people with disabilities was totally against everything I stood for. There was no way I was going to stand alongside what looked like a circus or freak show. Saying no to that was easy.

Then while filming Right Footed, filmmaker Nick Spark suggested that I travel with Handicap International. After thinking about the difference I could make and all I could learn by visiting other countries with HI, there was no way I was going to say no. Four years later and I’m about to make two more international visits with them (stay tuned for more on that!). I went with my gut and chose to say yes, because I wanted to.

Another big reason I sometimes say no: work-life balance. Living the life of a global speaker can be exhausting. I don’t have a consistent schedule. I’m in the air a ton and when I am on the ground, I’m dealing with jet lag. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but there are times I crave a regular routine. Having work-life balance is critical in order to be successful. I say yes to the opportunities that are most important to me. 

Whether or not you are a person with a disability, it is important to learn when to say no. Just because you can say yes, doesn’t mean you have to. And saying no, doesn’t mean “I can’t.” 

PS – Sending a warm welcome to Neymar Jr., HI’s new global ambassador. Welcome to the family, Neymar. You’ll be so glad you said yes.

Jessica Cox

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