Defying the odds, overcoming adversity and summiting the top of Mount Everest as a blind person – you do not want to miss today’s episode on how to live life with No Barriers with Erik Weihenmayer.
Erik Weihenmayer is an American athlete, adventurer, author, activist and motivational speaker, and the only blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Erik was affected by a rare genetic disease called retinoschisis. He went completely blind a week before his Freshman year in high school, a difficult age even for sighted kids. He remembers having to be lead into school as a newly blind person. It was a sad time. He sat by himself in the cafeteria and heard all the excitement and joy of kids around him. He knew he didn’t want to be sitting at a table by himself listening to life go by. He wanted to be in the action.
But Erik’s first reaction to going blind was anger, frustration, blaming, and lashing out. He fell off docks and slammed into walls. With support from his family and friends, he got got through it. He realized he needed to find his own way and had to decide what he feared most – fear of living inside a prison vs. fear of getting out.
Erik chose to take the road that had potential to lead him out of the darkness. He found blind friends who went rock climbing. He learned to use his hands and feet as his eyes. He learned to read Braille and use a cane, and this led him back to the world. Through his struggles, Erik realized that the fun of life is discovering your own way forward.
You’re not going to do it like the next person. Challenges bring new discoveries.
Erik found his own way of doing things as a blind man, and achieved his dream of climbing Mount Everest. It’s unbelievable that eighteen years before, he couldn’t even find the bathroom by himself.
What within us is stronger than what’s in our way.
Having a Rope Team
One of the most important elements of mountaineering is having a rope team. Erik says men also need to have a rope team for daily life. We all need help to do the great things we need to do.
Erik says life for men without rope team is lonely and brutal. He tells the tragic story of his brother who died from complications due to alcoholism. His brother was a great person, but he wouldn’t let anyone in. Not accepting help from others leads to a short and unhappy life. We’re all in the same boat, reaching to overcome obstacles, and having a support system is crucial.
Erik has two teenagers and admits that climbing Everest doesn’t make him a cooler dad in their eyes. In his family, they try to get back to the basics. When his kids were little, he always got down on the floor and played with them. Now that his kids are teenagers, they sit at the table together. Erik makes sure they’re not just talking at each other, but being open and listening. I’m here for you always, he tells his kids a lot, and tries to demonstrate that same message through his actions.
The family also gets away as much as they can. They do summer trips together in the wilderness and on the white water. Erik says they each push themselves in different ways and experience the learning process together.
During breaks, they talk about their adventures, the ups and downs, and the triumphs. Erik believes that the outdoors is the richest laboratory for parenting his kids. They get a chance to step away from all the high-tech stuff and immerse themselves in the creative process.
Live Life with No Barriers
It’s in our nature to avoid failure, to shy away from risk and fear. Sitting around, watching TV, and eating pizza is much easier. It’s safe. It’s comfortable, but it’s not living life to the fullest.
Erik says as parents, we must sweep our children out into the world. They will get broken, and it will be hard. They’ll get bombarded. Sometimes a blow or setback makes a direct strike. At this point, Erik tries to get his kids to stretch their barriers. They will have to decide if they are going to shrink in retreat, or use the challenge to get bigger and better. They practice taking adversity, using it as fuel, and converting into light.
Erik Weihenmayer’s Dad Wisdom
Erik keeps an open heart policy in his household. He had to figure out how to make himself vulnerable and lean into bad experiences. He teaches his kids to do the same.
He also makes sure his kids understand that their dreams are credible and that their thoughts matter. Let them know they have inside what it takes to blaze into the world.
Erik’s last piece of dad advice is to send kids over the fence and into the wilderness. Give them unsupervised, unstructured time outdoors. The creativity they develop will lead to pioneering spirit that will take them through the adventure of life.
Referenced Episode: How to Teach Our Kids to Win at Losing with Sam Weinman
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Erik Weihenmayer’s Links