“Women are awesome,” said Sallie Krawcheck, chair of Ellevate Network, as she made her opening remarks at Bryant University’s 18th Annual Women’s Summit on March 13th. Her message was simple, and as she spoke about the different challenges and stigmas women face in today’s society, I began to think about the double stigma that sometimes exists for women in the workforce who have disabilities. Although I am still young, I’ve experienced many firsthand accounts when I’ve been stigmatized by my disability and what I’m capable of. Many people have the tendency to take a look at me and assume that because I’m confined to a wheelchair, or because I am physically disabled, I am incompetent. It’s frustrating, and sometimes hurtful, but I do not in any way feel sorry for myself. What these people don’t realize, what they fail to understand, is that my disease and all those heavy burdens and obstacles that seem to “weigh me down” and “deem me incapable” have actually given me the perspective I need to work harder in order to succeed and thrive.
During The Women’s Summit, I had the pleasure and opportunity to briefly speak with Hoda Kotb, co-host of the fourth hour of NBC’s TODAY and this year’s luncheon keynote speaker. For those who have seen Hoda on television, her personality on screen is exactly the same when you are face-to-face with her. Kotb’s bubbly and vibrant personality radiated the room as she spoke, and it was almost as if I could feel her positive energy glowing. She spoke about her story and her path to getting where she is now, but what really caught my attention was when she spoke about her obstacles. She looked at me and said, “The only way you get stronger are through your obstacles.”
Living with a terminal illness, my obstacles have become a part of my journey. I’ve fallen down, and when I’m nearly at rock bottom, I’ve learned how to pick myself up again. In every obstacle we face is a lesson, one that we have to be open to learn. Hoda’s journey as a breast cancer survivor exemplifies just that. She took what life gave her, fought as hard as she could, and came out a stronger woman. She believed that her obstacles we’re transforming her life for the better, and she was right.
In the midst of challenges and obstacles, we can either close ourselves off to the situation at hand or we can learn to become resilient. The moment we choose resiliency and believe that our obstacles have the power to transform our lives for the better is the moment we can begin to succeed and thrive. By choosing resiliency, we can become more accepting of the obstacles in our lives because we finally understand that we have the strength to overcome them. We can even become more powerful in our thoughts and outcomes. Hoda mentioned how if we have the ability to be standing tall after experiencing a life-altering event, we gain the ability to adopt a “you can’t scare me” mentality. Listening to this remarkable woman recount her story of breast cancer and how it changed her life reinforced the idea that the obstacles we face in life can turn out to be the stepping stones to our success.
There’s something quite empowering about being in a room filled with over 1,000 women—and men—who are all looking to improve some aspect of their lives. Whether it may be personally or professionally, The Women’s Summit always provides its attendees with the knowledge and inspiration to implement new practices and strategies into their own lives. Moving forward, I will always hold on to the stories, struggles and successes shared from women like Krawcheck and Kotb for they have provided me with valuable insight that I can apply to my own life. They have demonstrated that in every unique situation, or journey in life, is the opportunity to become something great.
My disability is not meant to be understood as something that limits me. In fact, I can confidently say that I believe my abilities far exceed my disabilities every single day of my life. The obstacles brought upon by this disease serve as lessons which can only be discovered in the resiliency I have to overcome them. My resiliency makes me stronger, and it allows me to succeed and thrive.
I am a woman. I am disabled. And, hopefully, I am on my way to being awesome.