047: No Barriers: Interview with Erik Weihenmayer Pt. 2 | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
Interview with Erik Weihenmayer
December 5, 2017   |   Episode #:

047: No Barriers: Interview with Erik Weihenmayer Pt. 2

In This Episode:

I’m continuing my conversation with blind adventurer, Erik Weihenmayer, in part two of his interview. Today we’re discussing failure, how trauma affects us and being confronted with setbacks. Erik has kayaked through rapids and climbed numerous mountains around the world including Mt. Everest. He uses his experiences to inspire others through his No Barriers mission. His mindset and advice will inspire you in your own life.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

You are stronger than whatever is in your way.

Questions I Answer

  • How can I achieve my goals if I have things that hold me back?
  • How can I be more fearless?
  • What can I do to figure out what to do next when I have a big goal?

Actions to Take

  • After listening to this episode, take time to see where you can implement little acts of courage in your life. Through practice of being brave and jumping back in, you’ll be able to rework your process and feeling empowered to accomplish your goals and dreams, too.
  • What are your invisible barriers? Write them down, talk about them with friends or family.

Key Topics in the Show

  • Erik’s advice for jumping back in after a setback or when you feel like you’ve failed.

  • Why being brave is stronger and better than being fearless.

  • Stories of Erik’s expeditions and teammates of overcoming traumas to achieve big dreams.

  • How sometimes you have to go back to the beginning to retrain our brains and rework our processes in order to move forward.

  • What ‘invisible barriers’ are, who has the obstacles and how to use that in that a positive way.

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 beat 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  

  1. Today we are continuing my interview with Erik Weihenmayer  that we started last week.  

 This weeks episode is brought to you by FreshBooks. A cloud  based accounting software designed with productivity in mind.  

It’s the easiest way to get paid quickly, and easily if you’re a  

freelancer, or entrepreneur, and they’re giving away a free trial. I’ll  be sharing more about that later in the episode.  

Okay. As I mentioned earlier I am so thrilled that we are  

continuing the interview with Erik Weihenmayer that … Just to  

remind you Erik is a true adventurer. He’s climbed Mount Everest,  conquered the seven summits, and Kayaked the Grand Canyon.  

Did I mention? He’s completely blind.  

 Not only is Erik an inspiration in his lifestyle, and in the way he  approaches challenges, he’s also the founder of No Barriers. Last  week we talked about why it’s important to strengthen our  

muscle of suffering. Why it’s important to give, and receive help  

on our path to greatness, and the importance of moving forward  even when things feel incredibly difficult. I’m excited to continue  our talk by exploring the topic of fear, and failure, and why  

practicing insignificant acts of courage is important. Ready? Erik I  want take a minute to talk to you about failure, because while  

you’ve had a lot of successes, we’re all going to have failures in  

our lives whether it’s climbing a mountain, going after a big goal,  or just honestly living our every day lives. I know in the prologue  of your book you talked about your first pass at Lava Falls which  is one of the most intimidating rapids in the Grand Canyon.  

 Your first attempt didn’t quite go as planned, but you got back in  the kayak, and you, and your guide Harlan approached it in a  

different way. This time a much more successful way. How  

important is it to get right back in there after you experience a  

set back, or a failure? And if it’s been too long does that detract  

from your possibilities?  

Erik Weihenmayer: It’s hard to even know where to start with that question because  it took me 400 pages to get from the first run of Lava to the  

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second run of Lava. It’s not as simple as just I’m going to go, and  go do it better this time. It goes back to this idea of suffering.  

After that first run I sat there with my face in my hands. I was  

nothing but devastated, and a rapid has a map like life. Like we  

talk about it no barriers, you’re trying to build that map, and it’s  

the messy map, and it’s easy to go off the path, but if you can  

stay on it, or close to it, your chances are much higher. My first  

run through Lava was just terrible. I was too far to the right, I was  probably sluggish. I was nervous. I hit these boils, they flipped  

  1. I was upside down going into Lava. I rolled up, but I hit the B  wave cockeyed, and went into a massive cartwheel.  

 I went into the next series of rapids. The Big Kahuna waves  backwards. I was just getting knocked over. I think I got knocked  over twice, and rolled up in the midst of all that. Even Harlan who  was an amazing guide, put his paddle up, and this wave busted  

his carbon fiber paddle in half so he was upside down. His nose  

pouring blood, and thinking how do I roll up, and communicate  

with Erik, and I wound up swimming. Pulling my skirt, and  

swimming through Lava. You’re just crushed, and it’s not so  

simple. When I wrote my second book with Paul Stoltz we would  get into these arm wrestling matches, because I was coming at  

adversity from the experiential side, and he was coming at it from  the more scientific side. I would say to Paul, it’s not like you’re  

walking in your sandals, and then you stub your toe on  

something, and blood is just gushing out of your toe, and you’re  

looking down at like blood spewing everywhere, and you’re like  

what a great opportunity for growth, you know?  

 It doesn’t work like that. You pound your head against the wall.  You rail against the unfairness of life. What Paul taught me, and  

what the message of that book was, was the quicker you pick  

yourself up, and respond optimally to that adversity, the healthier  you will be, the more successful. Quote on quote successful you’ll  be, even your health, and longevity, your life span is longer. What  he was saying was right, but you do have to go through sort of an  arduous process to not just sort of survive adversity, but I think  

what we call harness it. Really take the energy of that, and use it  to propel you forward. Lava falls I was confronted with this  

dilemma that we’re all confronted with. I was through it. I lived,  

and do I just keep going down the river, and put it behind me, or  do I circle back, and confront it again. There are things that you  

can influence in your life, and you work like hell to do that, and  

there are things you can’t.  

 The things you can’t you got to let go, but it’s a tricky, tricky  equation of what you can influence, and what you can’t. I had to  

wrestle with that, and I really only had one night to do it.  

Ultimately I decided to go back, and try Lava again.  

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Tanya Dalton: Well trying it was obviously a good decision, because you were  able to walk out the other side having conquered it.  

Erik Weihenmayer: I’m here. I lived.  

Tanya Dalton: That’s right. I like the fact though that you talked about how you  were nervous. Earlier this season in a mini-episode I talked about  the difference between being brave, and being fearless. Being  

able to do these things that you do doesn’t mean that you are  

fearless. It doesn’t mean you have an absence of fear. You’re  

actually being brave, which is stronger because you’re  

overcoming your fears, and I want to talk to you about something  that happened that most likely contributed to this feeling of  

nervousness. I know that when you were training to kayak the  

Grand Canyon you experienced a scare where you were caught in  a whirlpool, and after that you said when you thought about  

getting back in your kayak, it felt like a physical wall lowering  

down on you. You were bathed in a wash of fear that made you  

feel frozen, and stuck in place. Then your friend Rob Raker gave  

you the advice.  

 He said, “If you paddle like you’re expecting to flip all the time, it  make you timid. The more defensive you are, the worse you’ll  

paddle, and the more likely you’ll flip, but if you paddle  

aggressively, you’ll charge through the waves.” How do we build  

up the courage to paddle aggressively in life?  

Erik Weihenmayer: Okay. I’ll address the courage thing. That’s a really interesting  question, and it’s not at all simple I guess, but before that I’ll  

address that swim. Like getting stuck in that whirlpool. This  

massive vortex. It was like eight feet long. It flipped me, and  

grabbed my feet, and pulled me down like it would suck my  

shoes off my feet, and held me down for a long time, and I was …  It was trauma. It was the beginnings of … I’m not trying to be  

pretentious, or anything but trauma is trauma. I related a lot to  

the vets with PTSD that I lead on these expeditions. I thought  

before that, that’s like a veterans thing, and I realize no, that’s a  

life thing, trauma, and then trauma sometimes gets stuck as my  

friend Ryan Kelly described it like a vibration in your soul, and you  can’t get through it. You get stuck on it every time like a record  

that’s been scratched, and honestly that’s the way I felt after that  swim.  

 Hard to get back in my kayak, and some of the book, and some of  my stuff I wrote about is this idea of no plasticity. It comes  

through the message of the book in all kinds of ways, and in my  

story in all kinds of ways, but I realize from Rob that sometimes  

there’s no way to go forward. That trauma’s going to stop you,  

and so what I realized I had to do is to go back, and reprogram  

my brain. You’re constantly kind of reprogramming, and  

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strengthening the neurons, and the pathways in your brain, and if  some get stuck, if there’s a break, how do you rebuild them? I  

don’t think people take the time, and commit to the process  

because they get stuck somewhere, and they just go okay, I can’t  get through it. What they don’t realize maybe is that you got to  

go backwards, and that’s what I did. I went backwards. I went  

back to the beginning to the National Whitewater Center, which is  this manmade facility, and it’s got actually rapids that are like …  

You’re in a concrete channel.  

 It’s pretty safe, and you can practice your kayaking, you can go  back to the very beginning. I worked on my role, and I went  

through easy rapids just kind of retraining my brain for months  

upon months until finally I had some breakthroughs, and I kind of  went past where I was. Anyway, that was a great lesson to me  

that to go forward sometimes you got to go back. The courage  

thing is like the suffering thing. I think it’s a muscle that you train.  Again, that guy Ryan Kelly who’s a vet. He flew helicopters in Iraq.  He told me when he got PTSD the thing is that you feel  

insignificant. Conquering PTSD is sort of proving to yourself that  you are significant, that you can own your life in certain ways, and  part of that is by practicing courage. He calls it insignificant acts  

of courage.  

 Courage is not a state of being. It’s a verb. It’s something you  practice every day, and you practice with little habits that you  

have in your life. You love that tank top from the 80’s but you  

look like a goofball, but you love it so you wear it. Practice  

wearing it, or maybe you have a parry a, instead of a beer. Just  

these little acts of courage that builds you up to that moment  

when you truly need big courage in your life. If you don’t practice  it you won’t have sort of the muscle to be able to do it.  

Tanya Dalton: I often tell people that you have to go backwards in order to  move forward. When you’re talking about what your purpose is,  

or what your passions are, or when you’re working to try to  

uncover them. I say you have to look backwards if it’s a goal, or a  project you’re working on. We’re saying a lot of the same things  

in that regard. I love that.  

Erik Weihenmayer: Ryan says by the way, he says backwards, sideways, up, down.  Whatever it takes, right?  

Tanya Dalton: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Looking at things from  different angles, it’s kind of that squirrel strategy that you discuss  in the book where you’re tackling challenges from different  

angles, right? You’re looking at things from different ways, and  

that includes looking at where you started, or where you came  

from. I think it’s such an important part of our journey. We don’t  

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just keep walking forward. You have to look at the trail you’ve left  behind you.  

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. In fact a guy wrote about in the book Kyle Maynard often  talks about that. How when he climbed Kilimanjaro. He’s a guy  

without arms, and legs. His arms end at the elbows, and his legs  

end at the knees, and he developed this amazing technology. We  helped him get started at No Barriers. He went off, and climbed  

Kilimanjaro. 19,300 feet, the tallest peak in Africa. He’s crabbing  

along. His face is like a foot, or maybe six inches off the ground as  he’s crabbing along up the trail, and he said you know, a lot of  

times you just … When he looks up he’s just looking up the  

mountain at this massive, massive mountain that he still has to  

climb, and he just gets so discouraged, but he would force  

himself to kind of scurry around, and look down the mountain at  

the train that he’d already covered, and how big that expanse was  behind him.  

 That gave him a lot of energy, and momentum as he climbed.  

Tanya Dalton: Momentum is a word I use all the time so I like that you use that  here. We need momentum to push us forward. To get us over  

these challenges that keeps moving us forward in the direction  

we truly want to go in our lives. I really believe that. Momentum is  so important. I want to take a quick break for a word from our  

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We were just talking about momentum, and I have to say I love  

the momentum that you’ve built in your own life. What you just  

said there a few minutes ago about owning your life really  

resonated with me. You’re a shining example of that. I know that  

No Barriers was started because you wanted to be a part of this  

change in people to help others with their perceptions of what’s  

possible. Not necessarily in a gentle way. By really showing them  what they can accomplish. You wanted to help people come  

together to blast through one barrier after the next until as you  

say there are none left.  

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 Do you think you’ve accomplished this?  

Erik Weihenmayer: No. We’re a work in process. As we all are, right?  Tanya Dalton: I was getting ready to say the same thing.  

Erik Weihenmayer: No. I think it’s a endless process. When Mark, and Hugh, mark was  a paraplegic who I talked about earlier, and Hugh Herr who’s a  

double leg amputee, we climbed this big rock face together. We  

were just kind of … Mark likes to use this word gimp. I never even  heard that word until he started using it, but it’s a politically  

incorrect expression for a disabled person. I’m writing this off on  Mark, but Mark called us an all gimp team, and that made me  

laugh. It is true. We’re kind of a broken team. One guy who didn’t  have legs, one guy who couldn’t use his legs, one guy couldn’t  

see, and we worked together, and we climbed this rock face  

together, and for me that was the beginning of No Barriers. There  were a couple of things. I look at people in the beginning of their  journey, or somewhere along the middle of their journey, or  

wherever they wind up.  

 Not just physically disabled people, but all of us. Because we’re all  kind of going through this process of growth, and it is so tenuous,  it is so easy to get stuck along the way, and then you get side  

lined, and you wind up sometimes in a place you don’t want to  

  1. I think what Paul, and I discovered was that’s the majority of  

the world. How do you continue to keep moving towards that  

process of growth, and it is just so hard. It’s going blind for me  

taught me kind of an extra empathy for all of us who face barriers  in our lives. A lot of the people we work with at no barriers are  

folks with invisible barriers. They’re barriers in the mind, and our  

emotions. And our self doubt, and our fears, or just being lost.  

But anyways, point being that you look at people who are stuck,  

and you say what does that map look like that we can build that  

can bring us to where we want to go?  

 That can make us the best version of ourselves. It doesn’t make a  person like me see. It’s not magical, but it does bring you to  

becoming the best version of yourself. I wanted to understand  

that map better, and so we founded No Barriers, and then I  

started studying real people. Honestly, real honest people. Not  

celebrities, or fictional characters in books, but real people who  

sort of flailed, and bled their way towards transformation. I  

thought that’s where the secrets lie, and that’s why I wrote No  


Tanya Dalton: It really is a testament to your story, and the impact you’re  making not just through No Barriers, but by the way you live your  life as a leader for others to look up to. I know for you as a young  man going blind, Terry Fox was your inspiration. What I think is so  

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amazing is that he inspired you. You have in turn, turned that  

inspiration into who you are, and now you are inspiring others.  

You’re leading so many others to find their possibilities, and that  is a never ending chain because those people that you are  

inspiring, inspire others, and it continues to grow, and evolve. The  No Barriers program is such an amazing program. I’d love for you  to tell us a little bit more about the No Barriers summit that I  

know is happening in New York City in 2018.  

Erik Weihenmayer: Well first you’re totally right. Terry was a huge hero of mine  watching him run across Canada. He actually was diagnosed with  cancer, and this was in the early 80’s, and he got diagnosed with  cancer, and he lost his leg, and it was above the knee, and there  

were really bad prosthetics back then, and he committed to  

running across Canada. A marathon a day, thousands of miles  

across a nation, and nobody cared, but by the end of his run,  

there were thousands of people showing up in these villages, and  these provinces, and he raised a dollar per Canadian citizen. I  

think his name, his legacy at this date has raised probably almost  a billion dollars of cancer research. He wound up dying of cancer.  Came back, and killed him, but his life was bigger than his death.  

 He had a massive legacy, and he’s a full on No Barriers hero. A  pioneer of mine, and I think that I got a whole thing in my mind  

began with Terry. We’ve grown our organization since we  

founded it. We have 30 staff members. We have 50 something  

guides. We do these transformative experiences for people with  

challenges as I said that expansive definition of the word  

challenge. Not just people with physical disabilities. Youth, and  

veterans, and people who have had trauma, and death. First  

generation Americans. Kids in the foster care system. All kinds of  challenges. We have a big extravaganza which we call our  

summit, and we have it every year. Next October we’re going to  

have it in New York City. The biggest stage in the world. We’re  

going to have concerts in central park. We’re going to have  

climbing walls.  

 We’re going to have amazing innovations there helping people to  break through barriers. People will come from all around the  

world to take part in this two day experience celebrating our  

motto of no barriers, which is what’s within us is stronger than  

what’s in our way. I think it’s a message we need right now  


Tanya Dalton: I absolutely agree, and I think the fact that you say we all have  challenges, some of them are just invisible is such a powerful, and  true statement. It applies to so many of us, and all of our different  walks of life that we’re in. I’m really excited for my listeners to  

hear you speak, to hear your story, and to feel the impact you’ve  ©Productivity Paradox Page 7 of 8

been able to put forth. Thank you so much Erik for being a part of  the show.  

Erik Weihenmayer: My pleasure. Really fun to talk to you.  

Tanya Dalton: Didn’t I tell you Erik Weihenmayer would be an inspiration? I will  have links in my show notes to the No Barrier site, and to Erik’s  

newest book titled No Barriers. Just go to inkwellpress.com/ 

podcast, and look under episode 47. I want to encourage you  

that if you feel you’re struggling to find your way over obstacles  

that are in your path, listen to the No Barriers motto of what is  

within us is stronger than what’s in our way. I feel like that’s such  a powerful statement, and it’s so true. This week, in my mini 

episode I’ll be sharing some wise words from another  

inspirational person, Nora Ephron. That episode will be launching  on Friday. Next week we’ll continue to explore the path to chasing  your big dreams, and goals when we’ll be talking about fighting  


 In the meantime, I want to encourage you to be productive this  holiday season. If you’re looking for a little help, or if you want to  give a productivity gift to your friends, and family I’ve got you  

covered. Over at inkwellpress.com. We have daily, and weekly  

planners, productivity notepads, and more. All right, until next  

time. 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.