By Tony Khing

Jessica Cox was born without arms. But she wasn’t born without the drive to be creative, innovative and resourceful.

The 35-year-old Cox has accomplished many things most people won’t in their lifetimes.

She earned a pre-med degree in college and a black belt in Taekwondo, has learned to drive a car with her feet and type with her toes and was the first armless person to fly a plane. In fact, her flying skills got her an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Cox, a motivational speaker, has visited 23 nations to deliver her message. Recently, she came to PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters to tell employees “to go out there with ‘possible thinking,’” while challenging the impossible.

“Ever since I was little, people always tried to tell me what I could or couldn’t do. They wanted to establish my world of possibility,” said Cox, whose appearance was sponsored by PG&E’s Access Network (for those with disabilities and their allies) and Samahan (Filipino) Employee Resource Groups.

Cox told her audience to “Think outside the shoe.” This philosophy was born when she was a child. While everyone else learned to tie their shoes with their foot in the shoe, Cox had to tie her shoes with her toes first before putting them on.

Cox said everyone has certain characteristics that hold people back and uses the SHOE acronym to illustrate them:
S – Self-imposed limitations
H – Habits
O – Over-complications
E – Excuses.
On the other hand, Cox said THINK represents the best ways to overcome a challenge:
T – Tear up the challenge
H – Heighten your awareness
I – Insist on asking the question “how?” and not “can?”
N – Non-stop re-evaluation, re-purposing and re-inventing
K – Kick out the habit of making excuses.

“Our challenges start from our brain,” said Cox. “How we process an obstacle or a challenge comes from our attitude and our thought process – even before going to the next level of physically doing the task. For me, this isn’t really a physical thing. It’s more of an emotional thing.”

Cox admitted some days are harder than others (“I’m a human being,” she said). However, what drives her is a matter of survival. “Ever since day one, I was in a world where I had to be creative, innovative and ingenious,” said Cox. “I had to sit back and say there’s another way to do this. I was a pioneer in a world where people use their hands and arms.”

And Cox said the best way to overcome her physical challenges is to use her brain. “It’s a muscle every person has,” said Cox. “A muscle with the capacity to be creative, innovative and ingenious. I’ve exercised a muscle that’s been active from an early point in my life.

Like any muscle in the body, the more you practice it, the better you get at it.”

Cox hopes her audience took away two very simple thoughts from her talk. “Hope and the thought they can do a lot in their life,” she said. “People can achieve great things by thinking outside the shoe.”

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