046: No Barriers with Erik Weihenmayer Pt. 1 | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
November 28, 2017   |   Episode #:

046: No Barriers with Erik Weihenmayer Pt. 1

In This Episode:

Erik Weihenmayer is a blind adventurer who has climbed Mt. Everest, tackled the Seven Summits and kayaked the Grand Canyon. Today he’s sharing his journey, struggles and traumas. After listening to our conversation today, I know you’ll walk away feeling inspired to overcome your own obstacles, big or small. This interview was so powerful, I’ve split it into 2 episodes so part two will follow next week.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Obstacles in your path are simply part of the path.

Questions I Answer

  • How can I overcome obstacles with my goals?
  • How can I keep myself motivated?
  • How does suffering help us?

Actions to Take

  • After listening to Erik’s interview, I encourage you to ask yourself what obstacles and challenges you would like to overcome for yourself.
  • Questions to Ask Yourself: What obstacles are you facing, but what strengths do you have that will allow you to overcome them?Who could you ask for help from? Who is your team that will drive you forward? How will you use fear How will you use fear and vulnerability to move you forward?
    Listen to 047: No Barriers: Interview with Erik Weihenmayer Pt. 2

Key Topics in the Show

  • How Erik achieved one of his big goals of climbing Mount Everest while blind.

  • While being blind is an obstacle for Erik and others, he explains other challenges we all face and how strength can outweigh those hardships.

  • Erik’s three categories we fall into when facing a challenge: Quitter, Camper and Climber.

  • Why it’s important to grow our “muscle of suffering”

  • The importance of giving and receiving help and seeing that as an advantage when dealing with challenges.

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding  true fulfillment and happiness, through the power of productivity. To get your free  checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply sign up at inkwellpress.com/ podcast. Now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.  

Tanya Dalton: Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your  host, Tanya Dalton, owner of Inkwell Press, and this is Episode 46.  

 Today, I have an amazing treat for you, because I have the most  incredible guest on the show, and I am so excited to introduce  

you to him, but first, let me give a quick shout out to our sponsor,  FreshBooks.  

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takes the stress out of running your own business. FreshBooks is  offering a free, 30 day, unrestricted trial for my listeners, and I’ll  

be sharing all the details a bit later in this episode.  

 Okay, as I mentioned, I am beyond excited to introduce you to  today’s guest, Erik Weihenmayer. Erik is one of the most  

celebrated and accomplished athletes in the world. In 2001, he  

became the first blind person in history to climb Mount Everest  

and all of the seven summits. That’s the tallest peaks on each of  

the 7 continents. Then in 2014, Erik, along with blinded Navy  

veteran, Lonnie Bedwell, kayaked the entire 277 miles of the  

Grand Canyon. One of the most formidable, white water venues in  the world.  

 Erik continually seeks out new adventures, focusing on  empowering people, traditionally swept to the sidelines of life. He  founded No Barriers, which helps people with challenges tap into  the human spirit, break through barriers, and contribute to the  

world. Erik is the author of the best selling memoir, Touch The  

Top of The World, which was made into a feature film, and Erik’s  

newest book, No Barriers, is a dive into the heart and mind of the  core of the turbulent human experience. It’s an exploration of the  light that burns in all of us. The obstacles that threaten to  

extinguish that light, and the treacherous ascent towards growth  and rebirth.  

 I cannot wait for you to hear all that Erik has to share, and it’s so  good that I actually have separated his interview into two  

episodes. So, we’ll be talking to Erik today, and then again next  

week. Alright, let’s go ahead and get started.  

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 Well Erik, thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to  have you on the show.  

Erik Weihenmayer: I’m psyched too. Thanks for the invite.  

Tanya Dalton: Absolutely. So, I want to go back with you, back to May of 2001,  when you had just achieved your goal of summiting Everest, and  there were a lot of naysayers. People who’d believe that bringing  a blind climber would be a liability, and that you would hold your  group back, and possibly even require a rescue. You mentioned in  your book, the secret that you held, was that you in fact were  

dabbing yourself a little bit too. While you shattered the world’s  

expectations, you shattered your own as well. So, how did that  

feel to know you had overcome some of that noise in your own  

head, as you stood on top of the world?  

Erik Weihenmayer: Well one, I just need to make sure I mention that it wasn’t just me.  It was my friends. I was training, and I had a lot of great friends  

who believed in me and this project 100%. It’s not like it was me  

against the naysayers. No, it was like a small group of amazing  

friends, against those naysayers. When they’d say things in  

articles like, He doesn’t have a chance. That he’s gonna go kill  

himself. My friends who climb with me would say, “Look, you do  

have a chance. You have a better than good chance. You’re  

stronger than most people on the mountain, and I think this  

person is judging you just on the basis of knowing one thing  

about you. The fact that you’re blind, and they’re sort of putting  

that at the top, and making that the thing that either enables to  

sell it or not.”  

 In my mind I was thinking, “Okay, blindness is a major deficit. It’s a  major thing to sort of try to figure out, but it’s not the only thing.  There’s other things that are really important. Your commitment,  your talents, your fitness, your team, your climbing abilities, your  abilities to be really efficient, your mindset.” All these things that  come in to play, that those guys were so unfair, because they  

were just saying blind, like that was in big red letters, in their  


 So anyway, my team help me out quite a bit, and then yes, the  Sherpas, they have a quote or a saying, and it says, the nature of  mind is like water. If you do not disturb it, it will become clear. It’s  this idea, that we’re always trying to still our minds or at least  

kind of separate our true selves from the noise, or all that crap  

that gets in your brain that are sort of like squatters that are in  

this abandoned building, and you’re the landlord, and you can’t  

kick them out of your brain. You’re like, “Get the hell out of my  

brain.” This idea of trying to steal your mind like water, and you  

are able to accomplish that in climbing. It’s a real blessing, when  

you feel that. You’re just there. You’re one. You’re hyper aware.  

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You’re hyper focused. You’re just incredibly in the moment. Sort  

of time slows down, and you let go some of that baggage.  

Tanya Dalton: I love what you said there about mindset, because I talk a lot  about mindset, and how that affects how you feel about your big  goals and dreams, and how you feel, really about almost anything  you do, productivity, or anything. I think that’s really interesting  

how you talk about, there are so many other parts to you, other  

than being blind. They’re just looking at that one obstacle that  

you have, and they’re not looking at all the strengths that you  

have, that counter that as you made this climb up Everest.  

 When you crossed that last crevasse after summiting, I know that  you had an interesting conversation with expedition leader,  

Pasquale. He said to you, “Your life is about to change. Don’t  

make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.” Did you feel like  

you were able to take some time, to really celebrate your  

accomplishment, or did that feel just overwhelming, to not know  like, what am I going to do next? Is this my biggest thing?  

Erik Weihenmayer: It was more like the most poorly timed advice in the history of the  world. It wasn’t like I was even taken back. I was like, “What are  

you talking about, Dude?” I had just, as you just mentioned,  

shattered my own perceptions of what I could do. I took the  

world’s perceptions at that point seemed sort of empty. It was my  own perceptions that I had shattered. It’s like a muscle. When you  shatter it, when you break it down, it rebuilds bigger. I just was  

sort of awe inspired by this thing, that we had done, this process  that I had gone through, working sort of step by step through this  process of fear and doubt. Then actually reaching the summit,  

after so much adversity, and standing on this little island, the size  of a single car garage, and then coming down safely with my  

team, and getting through the ice hall that last time, and knowing  I was going to live, and I was going to go home to my family. I  

was so happy. It was such a high, and then PV, he says his thing.  

You don’t even know how to process it.  

 There’s nothing else, Dude. You know, like what else is there?  What he said was so prescient, because there was a lot more to  

come, that was hard to envision, that was hard to see at that  

point. What he was trying to tell me, after years of reflection, was  that these things in your life, obviously adversities can get you  

stuck, but everything can get you stuck.  

 Even the biggest success in the world. You do it. You stand on  top. You reach your quote, unquote summit, and you pound your  chest, and you go, “I’ve done it and now I go home, and celebrate  for the next 50 years and sit on the couch, and say I did  

something great 50 years ago.” And PV was saying those things  

can become your funeral. You have to stay committed to this  

©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 9

wonderful, mysterious process of continuing to reach out. In  

kayaking terms, to stay in the flow, the current of the river, and  

even though that’s a scary place to be, and not to check out, and  hang out in the eddies after that, and look into the past.  

Tanya Dalton: Yeah, I think that’s so true. You have to get out there, and you  have to keep living, no matter if it’s a failure or if it’s a success,  

either one can be stifling, and it’s pushing through that and  

continuing to push yourself and motivate yourself to keep moving  forward, I think.  

Erik Weihenmayer: I know we talk about these elements, and when we work with  groups, we work with people with challenges. We talk about  

these elements that are sort of the universal pieces that you have  to confront and harness along the way, that are quick yourself, so  that you wind up at the end of these journeys having changed,  

grown, in some profound way, not having being crushed. We talk  a lot about those elements, but this journey is kind of a circle.  

 You finish one, and you start another one. Of course, you learn  things that prepare you for the next thing, but you’re not immune.  You start over, and you’re like, “Why am I scared again? I thought  I’ve already conquered that?” No, it’s like I’m at the beginning  

again, and it’s like just almost as vulnerable and overwhelming as  it was the first time. The only thing that’s different is I know how  

it’s suppose to feel I guess.  

Tanya Dalton: Right, that makes sense, because each challenge you face, it’s  different. So, it’s a different adventure. It’s a different perspective,  and a different way of looking at things, and even if you have had  success, you still have to overcome those fears.  

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, and I think that’s … In my second book, I wrote about this  guy, Dr. Paul Stokes, he’s this amazing world thought leader, that  studied resiliency and adversity, and he did a study and we came  away understanding. It was simply put. We divided people into  

three categories, quitters, campers, or climbers. That was, I think,  my choice that PV was giving me. I could stop at Everest, and say,  “Okay, I’ve reached this thing, this climax, and I’m here and I’ll  

stay here, and I’ll camp.”  

 Then you ultimately are stagnating, and all your potential and all  the things that are in front of you are lost to the world, or you can  really commit to truly climbing, which is continuing to challenge  

yourself, feeling the vulnerability, and being overwhelmed and  

continue to explore and evolve every day of your life, to the day  

you die. That was the choice that PV was confronting me with.  

Tanya Dalton: I love that. I love how you talk about, obviously you are a climber.  You keep pushing and motivating yourself, and after your Everest  

©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 9

summit, you actually went to Tebet and you led an expedition of  blind children up a mountain. I remember reading about how  

difficult it was in so many regards, and there’s a point where you  tell their teacher, Sabriye that, “Achieving a summit requires some  suffering. When you’re calling on your last reserves, it’s easy to  

lose motivation, and to wish yourself back home again. The  

struggle though, is just what you have to go through, to get the  

gifts the mountain offers.”  

 How do you dig in deep, when the going gets so tough, when you  want to turn around and just say, forget it?  

Erik Weihenmayer: Well, that’s a great question. It’s a hard one to answer because  when I first climbed Denali, it was my first of the seven summits. I  suffered so much. Your pack is grinding into your internal organs.  I remember walking up this steep part of the mountain, and then  you have to catch your gear, and then you actually come back  

down to your lower camp, and I was sliding into these deep  

frozen boot marks, that people would stomp a path, and then  

that hole would freeze and I couldn’t see them and I was just  

sliding in and my shins were just hammering against these holes  

of ice. You say, “Okay, big deal.” But when you slip and slide every  step for like 10 hours. I got into my tent and I cried, I remember.  

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was like crying, thinking, “I can’t  go through this anymore. I’m not cut out for this life. I’m not  

tough enough.”  

 So, it’s a struggle as you sort of grow that muscle of suffering. I  would argue that you’re not looking for suffering in your life, but  life is suffering, and there’s suffering. There’s degree of suffering  

in everything big you’ve ever do, and that you have to learn to  

sort of grow that muscle. I will say that my ability to suffer these  days, is way bigger than it was 20 years ago, even though your  

body physically breaks down a little bit. Your mind just keeps  

getting stronger. We all make these jokes when we’re climbing.  

 My friend, Chris Morris calls them positive pessimism, where  you’re like, “Man.” He’s from Alaska, so he’s got this great accent,  and he’ll say like, “Sure is cold out here, but at least it’s wimpy.”  

Or like, “Well, we’ve been climbing a long way, but at least we’re  

lost.” Yeah, they’re funny. You just laugh. You’re like, “Damn, we’re  lost. It’s getting cold out here.” You laugh, and it’s this ability to  

kind of suffer well. Suffer with sort of a, kind of a dignity, because  I think that’s part of life.  

Tanya Dalton: I like what you said about growing that muscle of suffering. I  began the season, where we’re focusing on big goals and dreams,  talking about when you’re trying to uncover or figure out your  

purpose, and what those things really are. Really, the question  

you should be asking yourself is what am I willing to suffer  

©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 9

enough to get to that, right? Because it’s not all sunshine and  

lollipops on this journey, to these big goals. You have to be willing  to crawl through broken glass at times, or walk through those  

giant ice holes to get you to your ultimate goal. I think we all have  to grow that muscle of suffering.  

 So, I want to talk to you about what I think separates you from  the rest, when it comes to how you look at adversity, but first I  

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get back to our interview.  

 What I think sets you apart, along with your friends and fellow  climbers, like Mark Wellman, who’s paralyzed from the waist  

down, and Hugh Heir, who’s a double leg amputee. It isn’t that  

you’re afraid of these big challenges. You’re not afraid to ask for  

help either. You give, and you receive help to one another. Why  

do you think that is so hard for so many to accept that they need  help?  

Erik Weihenmayer: I think a lot of people are very good at helping, and they’ve  defined themselves as helpers, and then they don’t know how to  be helpees. We have a lot of people within our No Barriers  

organization who participate in our programs. A lot of the  

veterans that come in, they’re used to leading and serving.  

They’re not use to being helped. My brother, Mark, I wrote about  

him in the book, was one of these guys that would give you the  

shirt off his back, but he didn’t know how to be helped.  

Sometimes that leads to disaster in your life, and death even.  

Mark wound up passing away, due to complications around  

alcoholism, and it was because he just couldn’t sort of accept that  vulnerability of asking for help, and he went down the drain,  

because he couldn’t truly accept help.  

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 We had a lot of people like that. They’ve gone out and they’ve  gotten hurt. They’ve gotten stuck. They’ve experienced some  

trauma and they come into our programs, and now they just want  to blow things up. Before, they sort of can accept help in the  

team. Like to say, “Okay, I’m going to trust this process. I’m going  to trust this team. I’m going to trust the people around me.” They  blow things up, and sometimes they leave before they give it a  

chance, because it’s safer to blow things up, than it is to truly let  your guard down, and say, “Okay, I’m going to try this process.”  

 So, anyway, going blind or losing your legs, or winding up  breaking your back like Mark, is just this in your face way of why  

you have to accept help, and if you can’t, you go down the toilet.  So, it gets forced upon you, and at first I think, most people hate  it, but you’ve reached the sort of symbiosis, sort of understanding  the interdependence of life. It’s a profound lesson that I’ve had  

many times over, that when I’m on a climbing team, I’m not the  

token blind guy getting dragged to the summit, and spiked on  

top like a football. I may not be the strongest guy, or the fastest  

guy, or the guy with the best eyesight, but I’m leading. I am  

leading that team. I’m a reason why the team is getting up a few  

more feet up the mountain that day, and that’s really a proud  

feeling of leadership, and I think another lesson that Mark, by the  way Mark Wellman taught me, is that to get there, as you said, it’s  not all flowers. The way he climbs is pretty, kind of, ugly.  

 He invented this system where he’s doing pull ups up the rock  face. He can’t use his legs. He’s a paraplegic. So, he’s climbed  

these massive faces, including El Capitan, using this pull up bar,  

and he basically does pull ups up the rope. I’ve been there with  

him climbing, my first experience climbing with him, there was  

dirt and rocks falling off the face into his eyes, into his open  

mouth, and it taught me very clearly, that this process of growth  that you read about, is not accurate. That when you are reaching  and trying things, it is so messy. It is so uncertain. It is so  

tumultuous. This really gritty. Change happens in a very gritty  

way. I honestly thought people were getting the wrong messages.  That was one of the reasons I wrote the book, because I wanted  

to illuminate these people that go through this very honest  

process of change, and how different it is from everything you’ve  learned.  

Tanya Dalton: Yes, I think a lot of people have a really hard time with  vulnerability. You know, asking for help. I often talk about, how it’s  important to get support from other people in your world. Even  

people you don’t feel like you’re suppose to ask for support from.  Like, your kids sharing when you’re struggling or having a rough  

day. Allowing them to lift you up. There’s so many benefits when  we get to help other people, and it really should be looked at as a  

©Productivity Paradox Page 7 of 9

gift to give other people, to allow them to do the same for us. To  allow them to lift us up.  

Erik Weihenmayer: It is a gift. I think that’s so insightful. I’ve been on so many trips. I  rode my tandem bike with my Dad across Vietnam, and I was  

with this organization, and the name Team was in the title of their  organization, and they had people that they had along on the trip  that were helpers. The trip– very quick– by the way they were  

disabled people, from the Vietnam War that were riding across  

Vietnam, and the trip divided into helpers and helpees, and I  

hated it. I hated that. I was like, “You guys aren’t getting the first  

part of team.” On the mountains, you’re roped together. So, one  

person falls, everyone throws down an ax, and they stop that  

people from falling. You have the ultimate power on that team, to  drive your team forward to the summit, or you can pull them, or  

kill them. It’s your choice. That’s like a real team, right? It’s really  

interdependence. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and it’s a gift to  

be able to be a helper sometimes, and then to be, in turn, helped.  

 Anyway, that trip across Vietnam, it was funny, I just said, “Forget  this.” I started picking up the guys in wheelchairs. They were  

carrying them up the stairs, and pushing wheelchairs, and  

carrying bags to people’s rooms at night, and stuff like that,  

because I didn’t want to be the helpee on the team. I sort of  

wanted to break the pattern. By the end, it was really cool to  

watch people in wheelchairs, they were passing out snacks. We  

were more of an integrated real team, and that was cool.  

Tanya Dalton: I love that. I love the idea of the interdependence, and working  together. I think that’s a great way to build a team, is to really  

facilitate that interdependence.  

Erik Weihenmayer: Well, when I build my teams now, I always look for  interdependence. It’s something I actually build into my teams.  

Like if I have a mixed ability team, people who have physical  

challenges and emotional challenges, I will not bring too many,  

“abled body people” along, because of that very reason, then  

you’ve fallen into these categories where certain people become  the helpers, and other people now are the ones with their hands  out. I want the people with “challenges”, working and helping  

each other, stepping up where they can. The guys with eyes, they  can step up, but they can’t walk, and the guys who can’t see, they  can use their legs, and their brains, and everyone’s stepping up.  

That is the true definition of a team. When you see that in action,  it’s simply beautiful.  

Tanya Dalton: I agree with that. I love what you said there, about the definition  of a team. I think that’s so true. We need that interdependence in  order to thrive. So, I want to continue talking and discussing  

things like overcoming our fears, and struggles with failure, and in  ©Productivity Paradox Page 8 of 9

order to go in depth with these topics, I’m going to continue  

Erik’s interview in next week’s episode. I feel like he’s given us  

some amazing nuggets to work with until then.  

 As I mentioned at the start of the show, he’s an amazing  inspiration, and I’m happy I’ll be airing part Two of this interview  

with Erik Weihenmayer next week. I’ll go ahead and post links to  Erik and No Barriers in my show notes, if you want to learn more  before then. Just go to inkwellpress.com/podcast, and look  

under episode 46.  

 In the meantime, I want to encourage you to sign up for my email  list over at inkwellpress.com/podcastemail. I started doing  

these quick email challenges with my email subscribers, that help  you take little steps, each month, to being a little bit more  

productive, and I have a really fun one set up for the month  

ahead. Again, just go to inkwellpress.com/podcastemail to sign  up, and I’ll make sure you’re on the list.  

 Alright, next week we’ll be exploring a little bit more with Erik,  and I can’t wait to see you here. Until then, happy planning.  

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To get free access  to Tanya’s checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply register at  inkwellpress.com/podcast.