Erik Weihenmayer, Adventurer, Author, Touch The Top

Jim: Welcome to another episode of Success Through Failure. Today I bring you Erik Weihenmayer. As an eye disease began to rob Erik of his vision by the age of 13, he resisted the idea that blindness would sweep him to the sidelines of life. He established himself as a formidable wrestler in high school, representing his home state of Connecticut in the National Junior Freestyle Championship in Iowa. There’s a lot of wrestlers who listen to this show, so that is now called Fargo because it’s moved to Fargo these days. Shortly after going blind, he received a newsletter in Braille about a group taking blind kids rock-climbing. It wasn’t long before Erik was hooked. Those early seeds of adventure eventually led him to hundreds of ascents around the world, including the Seven Summits which is the highest peaks on each continent, including the most formidable of them all, Mount Everest. As a blind adventurer who has climbed Mount Everest and more recently, kayaked the Grand Canyon, Erik understands better than most that barriers are real and they’re not merely perceived, and that obstacles are encounters that can either stop us in our tracks or we can figure out a way to harness them and propel ourselves to new places that we would never get to in any other way. As a speaker, he shared the stage with George Bush, Al Gore, Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf and Stephen Covey. He’s won an SP, he’s been on the cover of Time magazine, he’s been featured on Oprah and 20/20 and many other media outlets. So let’s get to this interview. For the listener, as usual, if you don’t have time to listen to the entire episode of if you hear something you like but don’t have time to write it down, make sure you get your free copy of the action plan from this episode at Erik, welcome to the show.

Erik: Hi.

Jim: So glad to finally be talking to you. I’ve been following you for years. First came across your story as a wrestler and I’m like you. I’m a rock climber, I’m a white water kayaker, I’m not even close to as accomplished as you but I have paddled Class 5 white water and done some rock climbing. Everything you’ve accomplished is just absolutely blown my mind. So in your latest book, which is No Barriers, you talked about watching T.V. with your face right up to the screen as your vision slowly faded. You talked about watching a man by the name of Terry Fox who had cancer and had embarked upon this Marathon of Hope to run across Canada. You said this in my book, “I dared to hope his light existed inside of me.” Erik, at that point, of course, your story had not yet been written. Did you not know or feel or sense that you had this inside of you?

Erik: Absolutely not. I didn’t know at all. I did know that I had sort of a hope, a trust, this sort of optimism that life is good even though crappy things happened to us. Terry Fox was a great example of how you make that good news for yourself because at that age, going blind, my face pressed up against the screen watching this guy who was diagnosed with cancer who had lost a leg and decided he was going to run thousands of miles across Canada, that is not a normal decision a person in his situation or any of our situations is supposed to make.

Jim: Yeah, especially with the prosthetics they had back then, right?

Erik: Oh, it’s terrible, these clunky legs. He was an above-the-knee amputee so yes, he’s sort of limping and hopping his way across Canada, blisters on his stump, terrible pain that he’s going through. It was just so unlike the movies or the books you read. It really became the premise of No Barriers I think. It was so counter-intuitive to the things that we learned. And even counter-intuitive to traditional logic and things like that. In that situation that Terry faced, you’re supposed to curl up in a ball and protect yourself and he didn’t do that. He did the opposite. That sort of floored me because I thought, what is that moment where you make this decision that’s completely opposite of what you’re supposed to do? Because of that one decision, that one commitment to that decision, it winds up impacting the entire nation at the time. Terry’s run raised a dollar for every Canadian citizen. Now, I think it’s raised almost a billion dollars of research money for cancer. That’s cool. He died young, the cancer came back and killed him but that decision sort of helped him live bigger than he died and that’s all I think we can ask for.

Jim: You talk about how someone in his situation could have just curled up. You could have done the same. Most people don’t know, they hear your story from a distance or they see the title of your books and they know that you’re a blind man who’s accomplished amazing things that certain people have never and will never do. But even beyond that, two years later after going blind, you lost your mom. Other people with much lower barriers have done exactly what you said, curled up. People with much smaller barriers have curled up. Sometimes, it’s not even that obvious. Some people just lower their goals, they give up on their dreams, they settle for less. Why does that happen and why did that not happen with you?

Erik: Well, because I’ve been able to do all these things and break through a lot of barriers of my own, maybe you think, “Oh, he doesn’t get the barriers we all face,” but I think it’s opposite. I think I completely empathized with folks who struggled. Who dreamed big and then derailed or get stuck along the way. I see this over and over with the folks that we work with at No Barriers, the organization. We work with about 5,000 people a year, from injured vets to kids in the foster care system. So it’s an incredibly diverse group. But the part that unites us is that we all sort of struggle with this desire to break through barriers. We yearn to break through to them and we all sort of were in that same boat of feeling stuck a little bit sometimes. Or even broken or shattered like you see in so many stories of the book. I was there as well. I think it helps to feel it. In your TED talk, you mentioned that you had that feeling when you’re training for wrestling and you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do and you’re just not quite there. That feeling of being stuck and self-doubt, I was there 100% you know. Sitting in the cafeteria, listening to all the excitement and laughter and food fights after I went blind, not really fearing blindness itself as much as fearing being left out, being stuck in that self-induced prison that we put ourselves in. That fear and that anxiety and doubt put you in this prison that you’re stuck in. That’s the worst feeling in the world. So at the time, I think and I didn’t even know what it was at this point, but as I said, having trust that life is ultimately good, I kept my hope alive. I know it sounds almost cheesy but one of the things I discovered with all these characters in No Barriers that I really try to illuminate their path of growth, was that they all did the same thing. They keep their heart open. That’s the only way I can describe it, and that’s the way I was in high school when I was blind and I felt really derailed. But I just kept my heart open to new opportunities and new possibilities. When you keep your heart open and you fight that jadedness, that sense of negativity of lashing out and blaming and misdiagnosing all the problems, all the barriers that you have, when you’re able to keep your heart open, just even a sliver, good things come into your life. That’s the way it was for me because, at that time, I got invited by a group of people who were taking blind people rock climbing for the first time. That really was amazing. And then I also joined the wrestling thing. Those were two simultaneous things that changed my life.

Jim: So how did those go initially? Did you initially hit any barriers or struggle, or was it something you automatically just took to them?

Erik: Obviously there was a sense of fun in all of those, that’s what keeps you motivated in the beginning. But sure, there were barriers. Just tapping my long, white cane down the hallway towards that wrestling room and smelling that stinky, musty smell of the wrestling room, the music going and all the people talking and breathing and sweating, I’m just thinking “How am I going to do this as a blind person?”

Jim: You weren’t wrestling before that?

Erik: No, I wasn’t allowed to wrestle, I had these fragile retinas that were part of my genetic eye disease and if I got banged on the head, I could go blind faster. So I was like the bubble boy who couldn’t do contact sports. When I finally went blind, the gloves were off so I could do anything I wanted. There was nothing else to lose. So that’s when I said, “Okay, I’m going to do all these things I’ve been holding out on.” My first day of wrestling practice, there was this State Champion, Paul [inaudible 00:11:23]. He was a hundred pounds so he’s a little tiny guy and he’s an amazing wrestler. He would line all the freshmen up one after the next and humiliate them. He’ll pin them all in three or four seconds. Just slam their heads into the mat. He took me in and slammed my head into the map just like every other freshman and I loved that. If he had babied me or he’d like let me off the hook, I might have gone differently. But he pounded my head into the mat just like every other kid in the line. After that, I was like this is my drive, this is my family, thank you. I loved that, I love being part of something bigger than me.

Jim: Yeah, that’s a great story. Wrestling’s one of those sports, no matter where you’re at, winning or losing, you tend to take a beating. But that first day on the wrestling mat, that’s always a hard one. If you’re blind, gosh, it’s a different level.

Erik: And I found that I could use techniques for sort of figuring out where people’s legs were even if I couldn’t feel them by the position of the wrestler’s body. Also, I would start with a hand contact. So there are a couple of adaptations that I would use to wrestle. What’s cool is that when I got this offer to go rock climbing, I found it was the same thing. Rock climbing in a way was an extension of wrestling. You’re problem-solving your way up the rock face. You’re making educated guesses about what was ahead of you, even though I could see the hole ahead of me, I could sense the patterns in rock to sort of figure out the puzzle that I was trying to unlock as I moved forward up the rock. It just represented an absolute adventure in my life. It was the opposite of sitting in the cafeteria. It was part of the map that I think we’re all building in our lives.

Jim: So you worked your way up to climbing big mountains and mountaineering, and you climbed Mount Everest. What were some of the barriers and times where you got stuck in the planning of that trip or the actual execution of summiting Everest?

Erik: Well, it really didn’t begin with Everest. It was really like I was a rock-climber and I wound up being a teacher in Arizona and I had a substitute teacher friend of mine who was a climber. So we would go out on the weekends and rock-climb. And then one day this guy says, “Let’s try Denali.” Denali is so different from rock climbing. There are plenty of challenges in blind rock climbing but going and climbing the tallest mountain in North America, I mean, where do I start with barriers? One of the cool things that I did was we kind of set a date and said, “We’re going to be ready on this date.” We went out and got some sponsors and so forth. And then we knew we had a year and a half to train. That forced us to be on the fast track. We went all around the country on weekends and spring break, going to Mount Rainier, failing on every peak but getting experts to take us under their wing and teach us everything we needed to know. Even though we didn’t summit anything before Denali – we summited absolutely nothing, we failed at every peak – we learned a ton. It’s even funny like we went to Longs Peak in winter. That’s in Colorado and there are like 120-mile per hour winds knocking us over. We didn’t even get close to the summit. We came down the mountain wrecked. It was that moment getting down to the parking lot, I had lost my goggles so my eyelids were frozen together by the win. I remember prying my eyelids open in the parking lot, thinking, “If we can do this, we can do anything.” This is the catalyst, this is the energy that we needed to go do bigger things. Even if we didn’t come close to succeeding, it was that moment when you put both feet in the water and you say, “That was the energy we needed.” So we summited Denali on our 19th day and it turned out to be Helen Keller’s birthday. So that was my first start to the big mountains.

Jim: [Inaudible 00:16:00], you talk about by doing something extremely hard, even though you failed, it gave you the confidence to know that you can do anything, that you can do hard things and you can climb a mountain like Denali.

Erik: Yeah. And the other thing that was interesting, talking about failure – which is a really concrete example of this idea – is that I was on Mount Rainier and we were all getting to camp kind of late. It was windy and cold, it was snowing. I was still learning the way and my friend said, “Okay, you set up the tent and we’ll be building the snow wall.” I’m setting up the tent and I learned to set up tents but I had done it without gloves. Every time I took my gloves off in this environment, these pinpricks of ice would just hammer my hands and they’ll instantly go numb. So I’ll put my gloves back on and beat my hands out and get the life back in them. Eventually, it took so long – I couldn’t orient myself with the gloves and everything – that my friends came over and set the tent up for me. I was so absolutely ashamed and humiliated because I knew deep down that I should be able to set up a tent with gloves on. So I went back to Arizona where I lived at the time. I’ll be in a tank top and mountaineering gloves in a field near my school, cars driving by, slowing down looking at this nutcase on the fields, setting up tents and breaking them down again. By the time I got to Denali, I could set up a tent in any condition. That was my expertise. It felt good to be able to contribute to the team and not be this sack of potatoes that was getting dragged up the mountain and spiked on top like an [inaudible 00:17:41]. It taught me that there’s such a fine, blurry line between what you can control and influence in your life and what you have to let go. You let go certain things like I’m not going to change the fact that I’m blind but other things, you can influence. It’s so blurry to know the things that you can and can’t.

Jim: It’s interesting when I talk to people who have achieved amazing feats and incredible things, they’ve done things that most people aren’t willing to do. Most people aren’t willing to go out there in Arizona in a tank top on a hot day, put on mountaineering gloves and set up a tent in a field over and over. Most people aren’t willing to do things like that and they feel kind of silly doing them. But that’s what it takes. It takes doing things most people aren’t even willing to try if you want to set yourself up for potential success. I find that, over and over, whether we’re talking about climbing Everest or making a million dollars or winning an Olympic gold medal, whatever the case might be. That’s what you end up finding out, you’re talking to people who are willing to do the things that most people just aren’t willing to do.

Erik: In the book I write about something that I’m a big fan of. I obviously didn’t make it up or anything. It was something I studied called metacognition. It was this idea of just being absolutely vulnerable and accepting of the fact of things you don’t know. Ego can be a good thing but it can also get in the way if you don’t want to look stupid or silly. So for me, I always adhered to this idea of metacognition. You’re just being comfortable saying, ‘I have no idea but I want to go on the fast track to learning and I’m going to sort of let all that stuff aside and I’m going to be absolutely vulnerable here, and I’m going to learn as fast as I can.’ When you are in that spirit, people do take you under their wing. You’ll find amazing mentors coming all around in your network and they’ll teach you the things that you need to know. It’s sort of another thing I learned through studying these characters of No Barriers. Because they were so open and vulnerable and appreciative of help, they went on the fast track to growth.

Jim: Yeah. So after you summit Everest and you’re coming down, your guide tells you this, he says “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you’ll ever do.” As a blind man who just summited Everest, how did that make you feel? You achieved something that most sighted people would never even consider. Some would consider this the achievement of a lifetime and someone tells you don’t make this the greatest thing you’ll ever do. How did that feel?

Erik: Well, at first I thought that’s really bad timing. PV is my team leader and I’m thinking, “You know, let me go home and rest for the next 50 years.” I lost 40 pounds and you want to go home and eat chocolate croissants. But also, as I reflected, like a lot of great challenges from people we love and respect, it turned out to be the greatest advice anyone could have ever given be. A lot of people have some success in their lives no matter what that looks like. And then do you allow that success to be your funeral or do you use it as some kind of energy to propel yourself forward and onto a new adventure? And that doesn’t necessarily mean trying to top Everest because that becomes like a resume thing. But just saying, “Where does this success take me in my life, the next step where I’m going to grow and make the impact in life that I want to make?” It’s sort of a crazy thing because it’s not like there’s this perfectly defined map that you can see ahead and build. But there’s this storm of energy that if you commit to riding that storm, you can carry it, you can ride it to some crazy, wild places. And honestly, they often lead you to new discoveries. There’s got to be a commitment and a sense of courage to be able to ride that storm.

Jim: And you go on to kayak the Grand Canyon and as a fellow kayaker, like I said I’ve run Class 5 white water strapped into a cockpit of a small boat, going down the Gauley River is like being on the back of a dragon. That’s how I try to explain it to people, it’s like being on the back of a large monster and you can kind of control a little bit of where you’re going but the river’s really in control in so many ways. But you did this blind. It’s just absolutely beyond fathomable for me, having been someone who’s experienced big water. Can you tell the listener a little bit about that experience? I mean, you’ve got a whole book on it and it’s an amazing book. I encourage everybody to go out and buy the book, No Barriers. We talked in detail about this. It’s a great first chapter or introduction where you just really dive into this and it’s just incredible. But talk about some of the barriers to paddling big water blind.

Erik: Well, it was starting over, like Everest. Even speaking the idea out loud that I wanted to go do this thing and committing to it, how scary it was just to admit it to friends that I wanted to go do this. You speak it out loud, that’s the first barrier.

Jim: That’s interesting, can you talk about that a second? Speaking it out loud, that’s the first barrier.

Erik: Yeah, it is a barrier. So Kyle Maynard who I know you interviewed is in my book, he’s a friend and hero of mine. He’s a quadruple amputee. I remembered he talked about the same thing you know, just trying to speak out loud this idea of wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. It made me think that most ideas, they stay in the recesses of the mind. Or maybe they come out a little bit and they just die a painful death. It’s a rare thing when an idea can actually come to the forefront. You can speak it out loud and commit it, and then really pursue it and understand that “This is a journey I’m going to pursue.” You have no idea whether you’re going to completely fulfill every part of that journey. But you commit to it. For me, standing on the banks of the Colorado River as I was learning to kayak for the first time, I just felt completely vulnerable and I thought, “Okay, I’m 40 years and I’m learning a new thing completely over again.” I have to learn how somebody guides me and what are the commands that we use and how do I navigate through this crazy white water that’s hitting you from all directions, rocks that you’re trying to avoid, holes that you’re trying to avoid. How do I do it safely, how do I learn a combat roll, how do I learn to navigate as independently as I can in the river when I get knocked over and I roll up. Which way am I facing, how do I use the sun or the wind or the sounds bouncing off the canyon walls to orient myself? There were just a million things that I had to figure out. What’s crazy is when I look back on that learning process, even though it was terrifying, it was the greatest time of your life. It’s the greatest time when you’re so deep down in the learning process.

Jim: So can you take us to the moment of running a rapid? Let’s say Lava Falls. It’s a huge rapid on the Colorado. Can you take us to the moment when you’re above Lava Falls and about to run it, and how that experience went?

Erik: Well, first of all, in that process of learning how to kayak, we discovered radios. That was really crucial to our communication system. So I have these really high-tech radios that communicated through Bluetooth technology. They’re almost like real time so when my friend gives me a command, it’s really fast and I’m able to have a better chance of responding in time. So we did develop a lot of those systems and technologies along the way which was really cool and it became a really strong team. A blind guy doesn’t kayak the Grand Canyon a lot.

Jim: Nor does a sighted man, by the way.

Erik: Yeah, exactly. These are sighted friends, not blind people and they’re guiding me down the rapid. So I had amazing runs through the Grand Canyon but Lava is a really hard one. It’s a 10 out of 10 on the scale of rapids. I didn’t have the greatest run. In a rapid, there’s a map that you follow, they call it The Line. In Lava, you start out right, you bust through all these waves. You go past something called the Ledge Hole, this massive washing machine that wants to grab you and hold you down. You bust through the V-Wave, these lateral waves coming together. You squeak by Cheese-Grater Rock, you go through the Kahuna Waves, this massive 15-foot wave that crash over you. Then you ride all the tail waves out of Lava. I flipped right going into Lava. I talk about the map of your life and the map of rapids, but flipping over on the top of Lava is not part of the map. I rolled over and I had a decent run. My friend though, Carlin, who was the expert, my amazing guide, he put his paddle up against one of these massive rapids and it busted his carbon fiber paddle in half. So he was upside down now, trying to roll up with two halves of a paddle. His nose is bleeding and he’s trying to communicate with me. So the thing doesn’t always go perfectly the first time.

Jim: Yeah, no kidding. I just remembered reading that part in the book and it’s just fascinating, like how you said your guide’s paddle broke and you’re in the middle of a massive, massive rapid. Throughout the book, you detailed, Erik, a lot of amazing people. Mark Wellman who’s the climber who became paraplegic, and then he climbed El Capitan. Kyle Maynard who I interviewed in episode 5 – for the listener, if you’re interested going back and checking that out, it’s an amazing episode. You’re talking about a mountaineer who lost both legs below the knee due to frostbite and he vowed that he’s going to climb better than ever before. For the listener, Erik, does something tragic have to happen to us before we can find this incredible determination? People without disabilities, we can get caught up thinking, “Well, something like that happened to me, then I would have this incredible determination too.” What can do right now to find the determination to defeat these barriers, these self-doubts, these obstacles – whether they’re real or invisible – that are holding us back from doing amazing things?

Erik: Yeah, I think that’s a great question because it’s not like I think blindness is some kind of gift that I’m so pleased about, you know what I mean? So it’s not like that adversity has to happen for us to then collect that energy and use it. Most of us, the adversities we face are like a lot of mosquitoes coming at us and biting us. It’s not like one massive thing that crushes you. So I think in a way, the way human psyche is harder to respond to that attack of mosquitoes rather than the colossal adversity of blindness. So in a way, I think it’s all perspective. But in a way, I feel sort of fortunate because responding to that adversity did teach me a lot. But I do realize the invisible barriers are harder and a lot of the barriers are sort of in the mind. They’re invisible and they’re barriers of doubt and fear and anxiety. For those, I think the best thing we can do is to really try and turn into whatever that storm is. And I think it’s really looking at what are those mosquitoes coming at us, what are the true barriers in our lives. A lot of times, we misdiagnose what the barriers are. We kind of like lash out and we sort of blame things, and we’re not really turning inward and saying, “What is the barrier that truly is holding me back?” I think part of it is just really wrestling with what those true barriers are, and then having the courage to commit to attacking that barrier. As I said, there are some barriers like blindness that you’re not going to ever do anything about. And then there are some that you can influence. Figuring out the barriers that you can truly influence in your life, and then committing to those – there are these great thinkers out there that talk about just playing to your strengths. That’s wonderful, I think that’s very, very smart to play to your strengths. But a lot of times, the strengths that come out of us are actually born through adversity. So if we turn into those barriers and we pinpoint them, and then we attack them, sometimes it releases strength that we didn’t even know existed.

Jim: Yeah, that’s incredible. Our strengths are oftentimes born of adversity. I think you say it best at one point in the book, you talk about a man – this is up to the No Barriers Summit – who he couldn’t walk since a particular injury that he had, couldn’t remember what it was. But you taught him to walk using trekking poles and in tears, he said, “Today is my Everest.” Everybody has their own Everest. It doesn’t have to be climbing a mountain or paddling a river. There are so many of our own things that we can work to accomplish that don’t have to be these amazing adventures, but it can be our own amazing adventure in our own life.

Erik: And that’s why tools are an innovation that’s so important in this No Barriers equation. I’m sure everyone you interview talks about innovation and so forth but it is so key. For that guy, it didn’t matter how determined he was. Without those certain trekking poles, he was not going to walk down a set of stairs. What was holding him back from that? Just saying, “Okay, I’ve got to keep my heart and mind open to new ideas and the possibility that I can find something that’s going to help me.” Because he kept his heart open to the possibilities, it led him to the summit. It led him to people who then started problem-solving for him. It led him to the company that said, “Hey, check out these special trekking poles. They might be a great idea,” and that leads him to this great discovery in life. It’s the perfect No Barriers equation of how it started with him.

Jim: For the listener, I’m going to read the No Barriers pledge that you have on your website. It says, “I pledge to live a no barriers life. In doing so, I’m promising to harness adversity, break through my personal barriers and create a life of purpose and impact. I will always remember that regardless of our abilities, we all have some type of barrier in our lives and no matter what barriers I face, what’s within me is stronger than what’s in my way.” Man, that’s powerful.

Erik: Yeah, and it gets into some tricky territory here because No Barriers is not a religious, Christian-affiliated organization or movement. But it really does move into the spiritual because you have to believe that there is something inside of us. We call it the human spirit or the light or soul, whatever you want to call it. But there’s something inside that we’ve got to commit to tapping into. And I think that’s maybe the greatest insight that we try to teach people, that I’ve seen people time and time again, either tap into or fail to tap into. We’re constantly trying to teach people to tap into what you got. It may just be flickering at this point, it may be full of doubt and fear but you’ve got to tap into it and grow it, nurture it. And then use it to blaze forth into the world. As fragile and vulnerable and all the barriers that we have, we still got to commit to that and not just sit in that prison that we’ve created.

Jim: So Erik, can you talk to me and tell us about a time when you failed? I asked all my guests to share about a moment where they failed. You’re very open about this in your book, about different failures and struggles and obstacles that you’ve had and how you’ve overcome them. But can you tell us about a specific time when you’ve failed and as a result, maybe you felt hopelessness or just that overwhelming self-doubt that comes with failures that are holding most people back, but something that you’re able to overcome and achieve success despite it, or maybe even because of it?

Erik: I have dozens of examples but I’ll just share one of them. That was when I was learning to kayak to kayak the Grand Canyon. You’re on this learning track and as I said you’re vulnerable, your metacognition, you’re doing all the things, moving forward. You have great mentors that are taking you under their wing and teaching you everything they know. You’re having this positive experience of growth. For me, I went to the Usumacinta which was a river on Southern Mexico. They call it the Grand Canyon of Mexico. And it’s massive water, already bigger than the Grand Canyon but it rained a ton and it went up to 10 times bigger than the Grand Canyon. When that much water is rushing through a canyon, it just gets massive and really dramatic, just huge waves, huge whirlpools. They’re actually so big they call them vortexes. They swirl across the surface of the river and they’re 9 feet deep. They can suck your boat down and hold you down. They’re so powerful, they’ll pull your shoes off your feet. I got into one of those vortexes and got held down. I paddled over to the side or my friend pulled me over the side, I was in the water and he rescued me, got me to the edge. I almost had trauma. Not almost, I should just be clear and say I did have trauma. We work with these folks with post-traumatic stress disorder and I felt like I had a taste of it. I had trouble getting back in my boat. When I thought about getting in my boat, the fear just overwhelmed me. It didn’t matter how many Tony Robbins motivational tapes I listened to, I just could not get back in the boat. My friend, Rob, convinced me and this is one of the great things that I think we can all do. It sort of taps into this idea of neuroplasticity in the brain that you can rebuild yourself when there’s this trauma that you can’t get through like it was in my case. So he said, “We’ve got to start over. You’re sort of broken. There’s a frayed wire here and you’re not going to get through that disconnected piece so let’s start over and let’s rebuild.” That’s what I did with kayaking. I went back to the beginning and I learned how to do a combat roll all over again and I started with these baby rapids, these really small rapids. Over a course of a year, I had built myself back to being on course now. But it took a lot of work and it took me saying, “Okay, I can rebuild, I just have to keep my mind and heart open to this, that it can be done.” Eventually, I was a stronger kayaker than ever. But it definitely took trying to figure out how to recircuit around the damaged part of the brain.

Jim: It’s interesting, you talk about neuroplasticity and the ability to rewire your brain, it’s just fascinating, another fascinating part of the book. Erik, can we get really practical here for a second? Can you share an action item that the listener can take in the next 24 to 48 hours so they can start moving towards their goals? My listeners like to walk away from listening to my podcast with something clear, concrete and actionable. Is there something they can do in the next 24 to 48 hours so that they can start moving towards their goals?

Erik: Yeah, I think you can. By the way, I know this is a valuable thing and there are great, concrete things. But there’s not like a silver bullet. So probably the advice I give is stuff other folks you’ve interviewed have said as well. One; if you’re not experiencing any adversity, then you’re pretty rare but you commit to something that’s going to make you stretch, make you grow. In my last book, I wrote about the idea of ‘quitting, camping and climbing.’ We just kind of made up these terms but they’re based on real people and real statistics, most people reach a certain degree of success in their lives, and then they stopped. They start ‘camping’ for a number of reasons. That creates stagnation in our lives. So really commit to climbing. What is that stretch goal, that adversity challenge that you want to commit to? And then what you should do is write down all the things that are holding you back, all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. And then, really start analyzing those barriers and try to figure out how you’re going to attack each of those and harness each of those every step of the way. But a little self-induced challenge actually can go a long way in your life because it really does bring out the best in human beings.

Jim: I think it’s interesting that you said to write down all the reasons why you can’t and why you shouldn’t. It’s interesting to think of it that way because if you write down all of those, then you’re actually identifying what the barriers are, what the obstacles are. Now that they’re out in the light, you can actually attack them and find ways through, around or over them, whatever the case might be.

Erik: Yeah, it releases a kind of energy around each of those. And you realize maybe some of those are sort of self-induced. Some of those aren’t really real. Some of those are real but there are solutions out there that you can research, you can figure out. So yeah, really pinpointing what those true barriers are and that process is really a great energizing process to go through.

Jim: Yeah, I agree. Erik, I feel like we could talk for two days. Thank you so much for taking time to come on the show. Can you take a minute and sort of promote yourself? Where can we find your book? Talk about your No Barriers Summit etc.

Erik: Well, if people want to get involved in No Barriers or have somebody with a challenge – and that’s all of us, by the way – anybody you want to recommend to No Barriers, you can go to We do all sorts of really fun and powerful events where we celebrate how people break through barriers in their lives. If you read the book and you want to give feedback, we love to hear from people. I feel the book can help sort of plant the seeds of our movement that is growing every day. So by reading the book, you really understand this whole idea and philosophy of no barriers. Write us at and you can give me your feedback. I write back to everyone. Also, if you give me your feedback, we’ll send you a DVD of my documentary which won a bunch of awards, of climbing Everest. It’s called Farther Than the Eye Can See. That’s how much we believe in this movement that we’re trying to build.

Jim: Wow, incredible. And for the listeners, I’ll have links to everything just mentioned there in the action plan. Just go to and I’ll have the PDF for this episode there waiting for you. So Erik, thank you so much for making time to come on the show. I know you’re a busy guy and you got a lot of things going on. Incredible story. Like I said, I’ve been following you for a long time and it’s great to actually talk to you.

Erik: Okay, thank you for having me on and what’s cool is that I know the movement you’re building and in a way, all these things are the same, right? At a macro level, they’re all the same so it’s great to see this community of people striving to do something big in their lives and important things and high-impact things and it’s great because it feels like I’m a part of your club.

Jim: Yeah well, I appreciate that and I feel like I’m a part of your club too. So thanks so much, Erik.

Erik: All right, wonderful.

Jim: For the listener, until next time, take the time to get clear on your goals and embrace failure as a stepping stone on your Path to Success.

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