Erik Weihenmayer (@ErikWeihenmayer) has kayaked the Grand Canyon and climbed Mount Everest — blind. He is the author of Touch the Top of the World and co-author of No Barriers and The Adversity Advantage.
What We Discuss with Erik Weihenmayer:
- How challenges unite us as human beings — no matter our hardships or handicaps.
- Why losing his sight as a teenager didn’t discourage Erik from excelling beyond the capacity of the world’s most accomplished extreme athletes.
- How Erik embraces a “no barriers” philosophy to guide and lift others — even when their own cultures seek to keep them down.
- Why Erik’s not “the blind climber,” but a climber who happens to be blind — and why this makes all the difference.
- The instincts, senses, and technology that allow Erik to navigate around his dangerous terrains of choice without sight.
- And much more…
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Making it to the top of Mount Everest, kayaking 277 miles down The Grand Canyon’s treacherous white waters, and completing The Seven Summits — the highest mountains on each of Earth’s seven continents — would be an epic set of feats for anyone. But Touch the Top of the World author Erik Weihenmayer isn’t just anyone. He’s accomplished this and more without something most of us take for granted: the sense of sight.
On this episode Erik lets us vicariously tag along on these journeys and understand how someone blind since his teens could even fathom undertaking such monumental adventures, why he resolved to set out on them in the first place, and what he means when he says “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.” Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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THANKS, ERIK WEIHENMAYER!
If you enjoyed this session with Erik Weihenmayer, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon by Erik Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy
- Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See: My Story by Erik Weihenmayer
- The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles into Everyday Greatness by Erik Weihenmayer and Paul Stoltz
- Erik Weihenmayer’s Website
- Erik Weihenmayer at Instagram
- Erik Weihenmayer at Twitter
- Erik Weihenmayer at Facebook
Transcript for Erik Weihenmayer | A Blind Man Sees No Barriers (Episode 288)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:04] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you.[00:00:19] We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave and help you become a better thinker as well. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, influence, and more. If you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, you’ll be right at home here with us. [00:00:42] Today, Erik Weihenmayer, he was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He’s also completed the Seven Summits joining 150 mountaineers at the time who had to accomplish that feat, but the only climber who was blind. He learned how to rock climb at a young age. He didn’t need to see because he felt his way around a lot of the time, which frankly seems pretty dangerous regardless of vision. Erik told me that as a blind person, it sometimes feels like society is smothering him with a blanket, assuming he can’t do what sighted people can do. Of course, he goes all the way full circle and around the other side and decides to do what most people period can’t do. Erik will tell you that what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way, and he is the living embodiment of that. Erik recently also kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Grand Canyon, considered one of the most formidable whitewater venues in the world. I loved this conversation as Erik is truly a great athlete and conversational is, and I know you’re going to love it as well. [00:01:38] If you want to know how I managed to book all these great guests and manage my relationships using systems and tiny habits, check out our course, Six-Minute Networking. It’s free. It’s over at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you’ll be in great company. All right, let’s hear from Erik Weihenmayer. [00:02:01] I mean, the whole thing is fascinating because you take on things that are deliberately really hard, but not just physically, not just your own emotions. You’re like, “Okay, I’ve sort of mastered myself here. Let me bring other people where I don’t have full control over what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and like try to get them in the same maybe mental headspace,” that you found yourself in when you were going through some hard times and see if they can get to a similar spot. Does that sound accurate?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:02:26] Yeah, for sure. And I find humans are very similar. Kids going through any kind of struggle. You might be blind or you might struggle with depression. I mean, obviously, those are different things, but when you get really deep down the feelings that you have about them, the psychological stuff that happens around that challenge is very, very similar. And so one of the premises behind No Barriers is to unite that umbrella group of challenges and say, “Hey, you know, when we have successes, we feel pretty proud and egotistical. But when we have a challenge, it’s kind of something that unites us as human beings.” How do you lean into each other and try to figure out how to learn from each other? To learn some cool things about each other, about each other’s challenges, and also figure out what we all have in common, what every human being has in common when you struggle through life. That to me is a super powerful feeling to walk away from a trip with that kind of connection with these kids. We visited disability schools in that area and a school for the deaf. To be honest, American kids, no matter what your disability is, you’re pretty darn fortunate.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:36] Yeah, I wondered about that when I saw you hiking up Everest with six Tibetan blind kids, and I just thought people are tripping them and being horrible to them and their parents are casting them out because they think they’re possessed by the serpent spirit and all this stuff. I don’t mean to belittle the culture, but like at some point, you’re superstitious or religious stuff stops functioning when it starts to marginalize some of the most vulnerable members of your society, especially your own kids.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:04:03] Yeah. I got into a little bit of trouble because the BBC called me and they were asking my comment because Nepal banned disabled people from climbing Everest. I just said, “Hey, it’s a superstition. It’s a fear.” They’re like one group’s superstition is another group’s religion and spirituality. No offense to Buddhism because Buddhism is a beautiful, beautiful religion and spirituality. I don’t think it’s any indictment on Buddhism to ban or anything like that. It’s more of the idea that when you’re like subsistence farming, barely scraping by, barely enough food to survive. If you have a kid who’s born blind or disabled, well guess what? They’re like another mouth to feed. Obviously, they fall to the bottom of the caste system. And you have to create sort of cosmic reasons why life is so damn unfair. You create superstition around these kids. “Hey, they’re blind because they were murderers in their past life.” It brings justice to the universe when there really isn’t any. These kids were pretty hideously picked on and ostracized. One mother said, “Hey, you know when he went blind, he was the smartest boy in a school. It’s better if he never was born.” The kids like, “Ugh.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:24] I saw that and I was crushed. I’m trying to quote, but I think I’ll end up paraphrasing here. She said, “The most clever child is now a waste.” And I was just like, “Is he there?”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:05:34] He’s right there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:35] He’s like sitting there and like, he’s not deaf. You cruel jerk.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:05:38] But again, she loves her kid, but it’s just such a powerful —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:41] Of course
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:05:41] –part of that way of life. You’re blind. You can’t wrangle the yaks. You can’t farm potatoes. I mean, that’s the perception. So when Sabrina, this really cool German explorer and adventurer. She’s blind like me. She didn’t get into the Peace Corps. She founded her own way to Tibet and rode horseback across the Tibetan Plateau. She was finding kids that were like tied to beds in dark rooms, and the parents just didn’t know what to do with them. She realized that was what she wanted to do. She started a center for the blind and just started with like a couple of kids and grew it into this incredible organization called Braille Without Borders. It had hundreds of kids. They were the most educated kids in Tibet. Within 10 or 12 years, sighted kids would come to the school and say, “Hey, could I get into the school? Because these blind kids are so lucky to be educated in this way. That’s flipping things on its head when sighted kids are wishing they were blind so they could be part of this community. But it really was powerful for me because it showed me what could be done with a small team to influence, to impact an entire culture. These kids went from being spit on to now making money as translators, as teachers, as business owners, and sending checks back to their families, sending money back to their families. When you’re the breadwinner, you’re the ones sending the check to your family. You’re no longer a pariah, you’re at the top of the food chain. She really changed what it means to be disabled in this country, in a pretty short amount of time.[00:07:14] Definitely that was a huge influence for me going there and trekking with their kids. We did a big adventure with six of her motivated teenage blind kids. We were attempting a peak called Lhakpa-Ri — a 23,000-foot peak next to Everest. We fell a little bit short, but we still had a great sufferfest with the kids.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:35] It’s funny, you should call it a sufferfest because that’s exactly what it looked like. We’ll get into that in a little bit. But I’m curious, because I know that you were not born blind, and I think a lot of people are wondering, okay, well, if you weren’t born blind, how did you lose your sight? What happened?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:07:50] I guess the way I describe it as I won the lottery, but the opposite. I had a super rare disease. Nobody in my family had ever known anything about it, or we can’t trace it back into our bloodline or anything like that, but I was just born with this rare disease. My dad noticed that my eyes weren’t tracking when I was two or three years old. I went to a series of doctors’ visits all around the country. And finally, they diagnosed me with a super rare disease called juvenile retinoschisis. By the time, you’re a teenager, you’re totally blind. There was no cure, anything to be done.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:25] You’ve said things like blindness is now just a thing that happened to me. How long did it take you to get there mentally? Because I would assume you’ve resisted blindness at first and didn’t just go, “Oh, okay, this is just going to happen to me.” Just knowing your personality by what I’ve seen so far, you don’t seem like the type is like, “I’m going blind. Nothing I can do about that. Just going to sit back and watch Netflix.” Not really your style.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:08:48] And I was really stubborn. I guess, I still am. I’ll admit I’m not the smartest guy. I’m not like a person who could just intellectually embrace something without the suffering, without the failure. So, yeah, I fought blindness every step of the way. I fought every teacher trying to teach me anything about blindness or using a cane. I fought my parents. I remember one time throwing my cane down the sewer. I just was like, screw this. I don’t want to use this cane. I was so pissed. My mom said, “You have to use this cane if you want to get out of the house if you want to go out of the house.” I remember, being a jerky teenager, I called her a bitch and she said, “Well if I’m a bitch, you’re a son of a bitch and use the cane.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:28] Ah, yeah, you can’t really argue with that logic.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:09:32] But my mom was so tough and everybody in my life just kept pushing and cajoling. Eventually, you sort of climb out of this thing. Although I won’t say exactly what you said about blindness is something that happened to me. You still struggle in some days. I’m 51 years old and I’ll be packing for a trip to Nepal and I’ll spin around and walk into a wall and my blood spurting everywhere, and I’m like, “Oh, I hate blindness.” There are still moments where you feel it, but I think you feel it less as you learn the tools and you’ll learn the mindset of how to break out of that prison.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:14] Some stuff you probably still struggle with, like you said you walk into a wall, but I’m guessing just on the lighter side, do you lose your phone a lot? Is it like crap, where did I put? Because that happens to everyone. So, the fact that you can’t really see where you put it, it just adds another layer of kind of shit that you have to deal with.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:10:30] And it makes you — as a blind person — be incredibly systematic. Like when I go into a hotel room, I don’t just throw stuff everywhere. I’m really careful. But despite that, I’ll lose my phone and it’ll be like five feet away and you can’t just use your eyes to glance around. You’ve got to feel every inch and you might just be missing it by an inch, you know? And so, yeah, that’s not the easiest but I can always call my phone. That works. That’s sure-fire.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:58] I suppose that’s true.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:10:59] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:00] What about something like sharing food? Like are you the guy who, if you get a plate of nachos, it’s like, “Oh man. He’s going to stick his hand in the whole play and now we all have to eat it.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:11:09] How do you know me? You must have some kind of insight from something you read or something because my friends don’t let me touch the nachos. They’re like, “Get out of there with your braille fingers.” Because for me, my fingers are like little snakes, like little snails going and finding their way. They’re like, “Get your hands out of the nachos.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:29] Quite like, “We’ll put nachos on your plate. What do you want?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:11:32] That’s what they do, actually.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:34] You have to, you know what it is. It’s not even necessarily something that I read. I was thinking, okay, what if you can’t see, what are some of the more annoying things that I can readily think about? Just sitting at home doing research and I was like, sharing food for sure is one of those. The moment I was going to write that down in my phone. I was like, “Crap, what did I put my phone in?” I was like, “Oh, I got to remember to add that one too.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:11:55] Well, the other thing is that when you walk around with a cane, the way you see is through the tip of that cane. So, you’ll tap somebody in the ankle or something and they’ll say like, “Oh, wow.” “Whoa. Excuse me.” And you’re like, “Nope, sorry. That’s just like me looking at you. That’s me feeling you. I have to feel you to know you’re there necessarily, to get around you.” There’s some sort of awkward societal parts of being blind that don’t mesh with people’s normal lives.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:20] I would imagine also a lot of people don’t know how to react. I was thinking, “Oh, do I just say blind or do I have to be like,” and then I thought, “You know what? You don’t seem like the PC type, so I’m not going to try to figure it out the 2019 word for it.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:12:33] Person of sightlessness.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:35] Yeah, I mean, that just sounds ridiculous to me, but of course, it’s whatever you prefer, but there’s a part of me that’s like, okay, what’s easier here? What’s more functional?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:12:42] No, I’m very old fashioned in that way. Like I think blind is a great word. I mean, I’m totally blind. I’m blind as a bat. I don’t think you have to change the words. People are trying to update words because those old words are full of negative connotations. But I’m thinking it’s better to just use the same words but make a positive. And I think for me, blindness as we just talked about it doesn’t have all that fear and dread associated with it as much as it used to. Blindness is blindness, and that’s what I am.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:13] I know you’d hated blindness at first because I think you’ve mentioned this in the book, or at least in one of the documentaries. You said it represented helplessness in the unknown. Were you most afraid of this maybe impending darkness in the loss of sight or were you more afraid of being written off by people or being seen as maybe incapable or defective? Kind of like the Tibetan kids where you worried about people thinking less of you because of this, especially after growing up to 13 more or less normal?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:13:40] Yeah, for sure. It was the latter. I mean, I was a pragmatist not being able to see sunsets and things like that, although I do miss that stuff now more and more. That wasn’t really the main issue. That fear was the hard side. The fact that all my friends are having so much fun in driving, in dating and having food fights, and just doing all the things teenagers do, cruising around, going to movies, playing sports that I would miss out on all that. That I’d be sitting on the sidelines listening to life go by and I never really have a life. Like, what would my life look like? I hated being removed from things. You’re 100% right. I hated being looked down on. I have to admit that. It is ego, but it would feel like people were sort of treating you like they felt sorry for you and they had gloves on. You were, maybe the way I described it, No Barriers. It was like you’re like an egg that had cracked in the hallway and everyone’s sort of stepping around it. Kind of awkwardly, what do I do here?[00:14:46] Now, I think that piece was really hard. I think it’s also true when somebody gets hurt and is in a wheelchair. I noticed that kind of thing. You’re now sitting, people are looking physically down at you. It’s just really hard on the psyche I think. A few things got me out of that, which was one wrestling. I signed up for the wrestling team. Once I learned how to wrestle, I found out that I can compete with people on an equal basis. I could be a part of a team that was bigger than me. It made blindness less at the forefront and it really made me feel comfortable. Like I could connect with a group of kids. So things like that started bringing me out of that kind of a. Fear and apprehension.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:26] How do you recommend people react to something terrifyingly life-changing like this should we find ourselves in a similar situation? I mean, it seems like you resisted it for a while and then you found wrestling. Do you recommend maybe people find something that — I don’t know? What would you say? If I told you, “Hey man, look, I’m going blind. I’m going to be blind in a year or two.” What would you advise me to do to kind of accept that instead of just sitting at home and crying about it or being upset about it?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:15:53 ]Even beyond blindness, like I have friends and people in No Barriers who lose their businesses or they go bankrupt or they get hurt in some way or they lose somebody in their life? You know what I mean? It’s almost doesn’t really matter what it is. I guess wrestling brought me out of it. Being a part of something that is bigger than you, I think was really important. I think also just letting yourself go through the process, not getting stuff there.[00:16:00] One of our No Barriers mom, her son is disabled and sometimes he has really low moments and she’s like, “Okay, we’re going to have a 24-hour pity party. We’re going to like hug and cry and, but then the next day we’re going to get over it and we’re going to move on. I think feeling that, feeling the process, feeling the loss, making sure you don’t shortchange yourself by trying to just pretend it didn’t happen, but feeling it fully, but then figuring out a way to continue to move forward.” I guess that’s really the most important because I see people get stuck and mired in the challenge. They never get through it. It’s like there and this state of suspended animation, they can’t go forward, they can’t turn back. They’re just stuck. And I see that so much through my experiences with our No Barriers Community, and it’s become a big piece of what we try to do to get people to be unstuck. [00:17:16] For me, definitely feeling. Angry and dark for a long time, but a section of me, maybe a part of me still had this open heart, this idea that like maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. There’s a possibility in the future. If I could just figure out how to break through this brick wall that I couldn’t figure out how to get through, but I never was like suicidal or totally giving up. I was always keeping that sliver of hope. When somebody would present an idea like, “Oh, you know, maybe you should join the wrestling team,” or when my dad got this newsletter and it was a group taking blind kids rock climbing and horseback riding. I signed up because that part of my heart was still excited about living and figuring it all out. I think you have to keep yourself open possibilities. If you shut down and get into that state of suspended animation, you’re just stuck there for maybe forever.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:13] It seems like the bus driver, is it like a disabled bus or something like that where they were picking up and you’re kind of pissed off. This is like the turning point for you, right? Where he kind of said like, “Are you going to accept this or not?” Which is a funny thing because you don’t think of a bus driver is playing a major role in a turning point in someone’s life typically.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:18:31] Yeah. I was pretty crazy and out of control at that time because I did not want to be disabled. I did not want to, as I said, have people look down on me and pity me. I hated taking that bus. I mean, I look back now and I think, “Wow. I mean, it was a bus — that little special van that would pick you up in your driveway. You didn’t even have to walk to the bus stop. But at the time, I wanted to be with my friends and I didn’t want to be with the disabled kids at the school. So one day, this bus driver, he got sick of me just railing about I’m not disabled. I shouldn’t be here. I should be with my friends. And I almost wonder if he was testing me, but he screeched to a halt and he said, “Get out of the car, ” and I did. He took a basketball and he threw it and it bounced off my head. I think it was literally testing me like maybe this guy isn’t blind, but yeah, the ball bounce off my head. And then he retrieved it and he said, “Okay, that sells it. You’re blind. You can’t catch a basketball.” He said, “Now, this time I’m to tell you when it’s coming, I want you to put your hands out.” He said, “Now,” and I put my hands out and I caught the ball. He said, “You’ve got to stop fighting everyone in your life. You got to let people in and you’ll learn to catch again.” And I don’t know how that guy was so wise. He was just like the bus driver. I think he was like the assistant coach on the basketball team. But that was great wisdom for me because I was being an a-hole. People hadn’t given up on me, but I was hard to be around.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:57] It reminds me of — If you ever heard of that book, The Way of The Peaceful Warrior.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:20:00] I think I read it. Yep.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:03] It’s written by a friend of mine and he’s got this spiritual teacher, Socrates, who’s like this guy who works at a gas station. When I saw the story about you and the bus driver, I was like, “Oh, this is kind of like for at least a five-minute period you’re Socrates, where he’s like, ‘Look, man. You got to drop this BS or you’re going to be stuck here forever.'” It seems to have hit home. I’m wondering, did it hit home right away or were you kind of like add this guy such an a-hole for the first few days?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:20:26] At first, I was a little bit shocked because my head stung like basketball bounced off my head, I was kind of like wanting to fight him a little bit, but then yet some good over time. What he was saying. It was an odd lesson, but it was such a powerful lesson once it’s sunk in. But I was super, super lucky because I had teachers who would say like, “Hey, look, you’re going through a struggle now, but you’re going to turn out well. You’re the kind of kid that’s going to land on his feet.” I had friends that were really cool and believed in me when I joined the wrestling team. One of the guys who I’m still friends with today would bring me out to the middle of the mat to help me get my feet like on the perfect — Because you have to put your feet right on these two pieces of tape. I had a lot of people and my parents who somehow just had way more belief and hope than I did at the time. I’d say that carries to my teams today. My team supporting me and pushing me and believing in me on mountains, time after time, sometimes when I’m frustrated or feeling a bit hopeless. I’ve always had been really super lucky to have that kind of support.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:32] First blind climate of climb Everest and now the first blind man to kayak the Grand Canyon. I would imagine going up there even if you’d felt like giving up or had some issue, you can’t quit because otherwise, people will go, “Well, he’s blind. What do you expect? Of course, he wasn’t going to make it.” Did that ever run through your head?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:21:50] Yeah, of course. I mean, you don’t want that to be the motivation, but it’s hard for it not to be because we had support from the National Federation of blind. It’s like 50,000 blind people, a lot of whom are unemployed. Most of the world of blindness is unemployed. Working-age blind people, I think it’s like 70% so that was blind people doing car washes and bake sales to raise a couple of hundred grand for our team to go climb Everest. It was a lot of pressure, although when it comes down to it, you can’t let that pressure make you do things that are stupid or unwise on a mountain. You know, you can push and be calculated but the mountain kind of ultimately speaks. I had such a strong team. You could go up on the mountain and get beat up and this really punishing terrain and then come back and take a day or two off at base camp and the whole team was ready to go back up and do it again. We were there for two and a half months and had an amazing summit day. We got pretty lucky with the weather. The summit day was not so windy. Wind is what really kills you up there because you’re in the jet stream. You want sort of a quieter day at 29,035 feet. We got a really nice day and we all felt really strong and I couldn’t ask for anything better and it was our first attempt.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:23:14] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Erik Weihenmayer. We’ll be right back.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:25:57] Check out all the amazing styles available right now and give the gift of comfort, style, and sustainability by going to rothys.com/jordan. That’s R-O-T-H-Y-S.com/jordan.[00:25:09] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s guests, so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Erik Weihenmayer. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show as always is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Erik Weihenmayer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:48] Why did you even want to experience this type of adventure? I mean, to adventurous people, this question probably answers itself, but for the rest of us wimps, we kind of need to know what’s going through your head here. It’s objectively very difficult. People die doing it. What’s the appeal to somebody doing this? Then you bring a bunch of kids up there. People must’ve been like, “You irresponsible, jerk. What are you thinking?”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:27:11] My daughter was eight months at the time when I left for Everest. My wife and I thought this was a good time to go because Emma was still pretty dependent on her mama, and so we thought it’s just going to get harder and harder to go out the door, so maybe this was a good time. There was a radio host at the time, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who is railing on me one day. Somebody sent me a clip saying I was so irresponsible, not just for being blind, but for being a parent. And I got hammered a little bit, but that’s a hard answer because I had been climbing since I was 16. It wasn’t like I just said, one day I want to go climb Everest. It had gone rock climbing with this group of blind kids, and I loved it. And I got to know the guys and the guide said, “Hey, come back. I think you have talent. I’d come back like a time or two up to New Hampshire and climb with these really nice folks. And then in college, I got into climbing and moved out to Arizona afterwards and joined the mountaineering club and was accepted into that club and learned all the ropes of how to do anchors and how to lead climb and blah, blah, blah.[00:28:16] By the time, I was in my late 20s and thought, “Okay, could I make Everest happen?” I’d been climbing for a dozen years. Everest was, for me, a realistic thing. It was a really scary moment when I mentioned it out loud for the first time because yeah, you think people are going to think you’re crazy or presumptuous or something like that. So I would just bring it up with my good climbing friends and a lot of them would say, “Hey, you know, like you who’s talented, you have as much chance as anyone on that mountain.” There were things that I couldn’t control though. Like you can’t go to altitude. You can’t go to that extreme altitudes. You can’t really test yourself. One of the things I worried about was at that extreme oxygen, your brain gets really reduced. As a blind person, I’m thinking about the terrain, I’m thinking about things and evaluating things. If that capability was reduced, that might be kind of overwhelming to be at that extreme altitude. I still had some fears and apprehensions, but I knew there wasn’t any way to prepare for that except to go and try it out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:22] When you say your brain’s reduced, is it kind of like the reduction I get from two glasses of wine or is there something else? Is there a different feeling?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:29:30] Yeah, it’s like having a flu. Imagine having a flu where you can’t breathe very well. You’re congested. You feel like you’re suffocating. You feel like you’re trying to run a marathon with a plastic bag over your head. You know what it’s like, it’s like a really bad hangover.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:46] Well, I think that most of us can identify with.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:26:49] And so it’s just hard to think. It’s hard to process. I didn’t do so well one summit on Aconcagua. I felt really strange, really weak, and I described it as feeling like I was perceiving reality in the world through a straw, just like my whole reality was just a little straw going into my brain. So trying to make decisions, everything is delayed. Everything is really slow. You’re really sluggish. And so sometimes that happens to you. I just got back from the peak in the Himalaya called Ama Dablam. Literally, I just got in a few days ago and that’s even 22 and a half thousand feet, and I was feeling pretty darn sluggish up there as well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:30] It just seems like just absolute punishment, but also the reward is much higher than what you would get from a night of drinking. I suppose if you’re looking at it that way.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:30:38] Well, also being blind and getting through that terrain, crevasse, and you’re traversing along sketchy things. it’s very specific. You’re putting your crampon points, like on certain little chunks of rock and chunks of snow. Everything’s so precise. For me, it just takes so much huge amounts of energy to deal with altitude, to deal with blindness. I’m working very, very hard up there. I’m not feeling sorry really for myself, because I know that’s part of the equation. That’s just like I’ll work twice as hard as anyone else and that’s the way it is. You just got to keep that idea of gratitude that you’re there, that you’re up there persevering with a different equation.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:19] Yeah, completely understand that. I think you had said in the book, it doesn’t matter how many perfect steps you take. If you make one mistake, the mountain won’t tolerate it. In other words, you can’t take a cognitive break because if you step to the left where somebody else would have just paused, unthinking, you could fall off a mountain and that’s the end. Other little things I was thinking about this because I just got back from Bhutan, which is not Everest, but higher than I’m used to at sea level here. I was thinking as I was researching this if I’m hiking up to a monastery and it’s 14,000 feet up or something like that, if I’m hiking and then the next, let’s say 10 yards are kind of more or less flat and straight, my autopilot kicks in and I can just walk forward like I would if I were walking downtown San Francisco. You though, don’t necessarily know that that’s going to be an easy stretch. So, you’re still treating every step like it could be treacherous, there could be a drop off pretty much anywhere. You don’t really have the ability, I would guess, to sort of go all right, well, the next 10 yards no problem.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:32:21] Well, that’s definitely true. But remember, I have a team too. I have friends who will say that they’ll say sidewalk for the next 30 feet. They’ll give me a break. They’ll tell me, “Hey, let your guard down. So you’re not worrying about every step. But there’s also like on Ama Dablam, hours and hours where every step matters. Like literally every single step you take. I mean, there’s a couple of hours of a knife-edge ridge. I mean, there is a part of it that was the width of my body with thousands of feet on both sides, and you’re literally crawling on your hands and knees across this with the wind completely howling. It’s just every step matters and it can for sure become exhausting. I’m glad I’m home.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:02] Yeah, I bet. I know what it was like for me to getting in my own bed and being like, it’s not cold for once. Thank God. I just feel so good. I know that your mom had passed away when you were a teenager, and I’m wondering. Did your mother’s death lead you to appreciate more of what you could get out of life in some way? I would imagine getting that sudden news was actually in many ways, probably even harder than going blind.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:33:26].Yeah. Anytime you have the death of a loved one. My mom died in a car accident. I’m 16 and I was at a wrestling camp. My dad showed up early. I was like, “Dad, what are you doing here? You don’t know the tournament isn’t until Saturday. And then he told me my mom had been killed. It made like going blind look like the minor league because it was just nothing compared to that because that’s permanent. Blindness, as I said, there was like a little sliver of hope always, but death that’s it. You’ll never see that person again. I’d say that was way harder but yeah, over time you just persevere through that too, even though you never get that person back. What choice do you have? You have to go forward and you have to make a life and you have to live and the way that they would be proud of and take a little bit of them with you, some of their personalities, some of their adventure. My mom was a big adventurer in a totally different way. She would travel all through these Asian villages and through Africa, getting collector’s items and like beads and semi-precious stones that she would then come home and make a beautiful jewelry line. When she died, it was catching on like at Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, and she was like making a name for herself as this really cool jewelry maker. You want to kind of take that spirit and take it as far as you can with what you have. So partly in her honor, I realized like it was so important to succeed and never give up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:52] Someone had mentioned you’re the blind climber, but you said, “Look, I’m not the blind climber, I’m a climber who also happens to be blind. Why is that difference important to you?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:35:02] It’s sort of a modern thing, you know, like a, I have a friend Mandy Harvey, who’s this incredible songwriter and musician. It kind of bugs her when they call her the deaf musician because she’s like, “No, I’m a musician who happens to be deaf.” People always say, you know, the person should come first. Maybe I’m a person who is blind. That to me is a little bit of semantics, but I do feel like I’m a climber. I climb with my friends. I mean, blindness really isn’t a huge part of it anymore. We’ll go out ice climbing and rock climbing. We’ll be having a total blast. It’s like the way we connect and it’s like maybe a person going out and playing golf or tennis with their friends. I do think of myself as a climber first, and then I also have to figure out ways of adapting and creating systems to be safe and be able to flourish and those kinds of rugged environments. But definitely, feel climbing comes first.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:57] I guess at some point everyone is blind up there because you can’t even see your feet depending on the snow. When you’re summiting, you leave at like 9:00 p.m. at night, so it’s dark. I guess you’re all on even kind of —
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:36:07] Yeah, in Everest, you leave at nine o’clock at night and you’d sum it like maybe nine or 10 the next morning. Everyone’s in the dark. In fact on Everest, it would still to this day crack me up because people were like, “I can’t see,” and I’m like, “Suck it up.” I’m feeling like the fast guy kicking steps, making a good time, just happy as can be leaving at nine o’clock at night. For me, dark and light are the exact same thing. I can feel the heat of the sun, but there’s perception between light and dark for me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:37] Yeah. I would imagine if somebody around you goes, “Oh, no, I can’t see.” You’re just thinking like, “Oh, really? Like, you’re going to complain to me about that. I don’t think so, buddy.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:36:46] They were all pretty compassionate though. Like sometimes, when we’re coming out in the dark, I’ll let somebody grab my pack and I’ll guide them down the trail. I know I’ve had 30 years to practice and somebody who’s blind overnight. They’re not in the same position so it’s pretty scary at first.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:04] That does make sense. It’s kind of like somebody who’s being thrust into something for the first time. And you’re like, “Okay, yeah. At least I know how to not pee on my shoes if I go back to the bathroom or something like that.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:37:14] Oh, I still do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:17] That seems kind of unavoidable in some ways too. Like everybody’s gone to the bathroom at night in the dark and be like, “How did I manage to do that? I better clean that up before my wife gets up.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:37:27] Or on Ama Dablam, it’s like you’re usually even pooping off a cliff. You’re hanging onto a rope, hanging it over the cliff that would be embarrassing for that to be your last position.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:37] Oh yeah, that your last moment. Like oh, well, his pants are down in his ankles, so I think we kind of know what he was doing when he fell.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:37:44] It happens. That’s a bad way to go.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:46] Yeah, that’s really bad. I mean, I guess if somebody passes away, you have compassion, but also it’s like people are going to ask and it’s like, “Oh, that’s how it happened.” He didn’t slip off the summit while planting the American flag.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:37:58] No, it’s not very dignity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:00] No. Oh, man. People must say, “When you get to the top, you can’t even see the view.” I assume there’s something more in it for you other than looking around when you get to the top.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:38:11] I think what I’m enamored by in climbing is one, obviously the scenery, but it’s not the big sweeping view obviously. I mean, there is a cool scenery of what you’re feeling under your hands, the rock and the ice and the way you’re swinging your tool until the ice or snow or the just the rhythmic nature of your body kind of moving through space. There’s kind of a rhythm there or sometimes a lack of rhythm. Most blind people these days use something called echolocation, which is using the vibration of sound, bouncing off of objects and coming back at you. It helps you get information like you can hear open space, you can hear drop-offs, you can hear rocks and boulders and trees and pretty much anything if you train for it. I have all that. I have the scenery. But I also think I’m enamored by the process of just trying to move through a process, something that can be really daunting or feel almost impossible and figure it out. How do you build a team around you to compensate for your weaknesses? How do you create a lot of systems? Like how to use trekking poles? How to follow somebody jingling a bell, where to swing my tool in the ice by listening to the sound or feeling the vibration to the ice. Just so many things that are so fun and exciting to learn how to break through those barriers. It’s a very specific process that I found now because I’ve gone through it so many times. You can actually teach it to other people. That’s the fun part too, knowing that these systems and these processes can be applicable to other people going through similar things.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:45] You said echolocation you learned echolocation. Can you explain how this works? I feel like I’ve seen this on Discovery Channel. Where this guy was biking and he’s going like — And he can hear cars and garbage cans and he’s biking. He’s a blind guy, biking, which seems extremely dangerous, but he’s sort of clicking with his tongue and he can tell where things are, cars and parked or not, and street signs and all this. It’s just amazing really.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:40:07] It doesn’t seem real, does it?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:09] It does not seem.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:40:09] Like it seems almost like make-believe or something that he’s cheating. But this guy, his name is Daniel Kish, and Daniel is like the — They call him the Batman. He’s like the godfather of echolocation. He calls it actually flash sonar. You’re right and he’s clicking away like a crisp click. That creates a nice echo. I actually worked with him for three days. He’s actually worked with our No Barriers Organization, teaching clinics for us. So yeah, he can walk around and he can hear a cup on a table. He can hear a sign on the side of the road. He actually rides a bike and we actually went bike riding in a park. So yeah, it’s real. There is a kid on YouTube that was a protege of Daniels, and he was on YouTube playing ping-pong with his brother, and you’re like, “Come on.” That’s taking this echolocation thing to a crazy level. Like I’m still not convinced it that you can use it to play ping-pong, but that’s what the kid was doing on YouTube, so we’ll see.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:07] That’s one of those things where it’s like, okay, I need to prove that you’re blind at this point. If you’re playing ping-pong, that’s incredible. I mean, I’m sighted. I can’t play ping-pong to save my life. It’s really hard. So the fact that somebody who can’t see the ball can track it and then also the speed at which that must work is really, really something else.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:41:28] Well, I mean, but you see, you know, like world-class athletes and people who aren’t athletic at all. I think that’s the way this echolocation works. Some people probably like me take it to a fair degree. I can use it to hear parked cars. I can tell the difference between a car and a van or a truck by the sound emanating from that object. I could tell it between a tree and a rock, but it’s not a super precise language for me, but some people take anything and they bring it to the nth degree. So who knows? Maybe some blind people are just incredibly talented and you start when you’re young and, man, he makes it happen.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:05] Often sighted people say things like, “Oh, I want to look him in the eye and see if I trust her, whatever it is.” Is there a blind version of that? Is it voice? Is it touch? Is it something else?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:42:14] No, I don’t think there is an equivalent. Obviously, like when I’m talking to somebody, I’m listening to their voice. I’m listening to the authenticity of their voice, like how their voice works and you’re getting a lot of information like that, but yeah, you missing eye contact for sure. When I was on Everest, actually hiking up through the Khumbu, the Sherpas actually didn’t believe I was blind because I was functioning, I was using a cane or two trekking poles, like navigating these rocky trails. They would come up to me and they would wave their hands in front of my face. You feel the wind off their hand and you’d flinch a little bit and they’d say, “Look, you can see.” And it’s like, “No, no, I just felt your hand.” I took our head Sherpa or what’s called our Sirdar into this tent. I just said, “Hey, like, I don’t know, I find it sort of funny, like, you know, just FYI, I am blind.” And I popped my, glass eyes out for him and he was like, “Okay, I believe you.” And he went back and told all the Sherpas like this guy actually is blind.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:09] Glass eyes.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:43:11]. Yeah, I have two prosthetic eyes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:12] Oh, wow.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:43:12] I lost both my eyes from glaucoma, which is a secondary degree disease after retinoschisis. The pressure in my eyes got crazy. They’re like kind of like balloons ready to burst, so I had to have both my eyes removed. These are the best eyes money can buy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:30] Wow. So, you had to take your eyes out just to prove to these guys like, “No, I’m not faking it. This is not — ”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:43:35] Yeah, there’s no sighted here. There’s no little bit sighted, a little bit blind. I’m a blind as a bat I said. I think he was a little bit grossed out, but he took the message back to the Sherpas.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:47] Yeah. If you’re going to keep making me flinch, this isn’t going to work. So here we go. You’ve got this sort of tongue grid that allows you to see. The BrainPort tongue vision technology, for lack of a better term here. How does that work? What does, what’s going on there?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:44:03] Oh, I learned about it in the newspaper maybe like 14 years ago. It’s a technology that was created by this guy, Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita. He was one of the preeminent scientists, that was working on this theory of neuroplasticity. The fact that the brain is not like one thing in the brain has a certain function that other parts of the brain can take over, can compensate. That there’s always a pathway. The brain is very nimble and the brain can do things that nature didn’t really even intend it to do. Like for instance, if the eyes stop working, well, the eyes are just the mechanics. They’re just the hardware. The software is the brain. The brain is what sees. The visual cortex usually is what sees in the eyes. It’s processing sight. The eyes are just the portal. He said, “Well, maybe if we could figure out a new portal into the brain, blind people could quote-unquote see.” He invented this machine, this technology called the BrainPort, and the portal is the mouth, the tongue.[00:45:08] And so, it’s basically like a retainer and it’s got maybe 500 tactors. This little vibrating pixels. You put your tongue onto these vibrating pixels and it’s a camera that you’re wearing on your head that’s taking a light image, and there’s an algorithm that translates that light image through a computer, little tiny computer you hold in your hand to this plate that you’re feeling with your tongue, and it works off of contrast. So like I feel your face, literally, I’d feel your face. I’d feel your intention of your eyes, your nose. It would vibrate in a different way. I’d see your lips, might feel like the concave of your mouth, and I’d feel the shape and I’d be able to examine it on my tongue. Then my brain reinterprets that as the images that I used to see. It’s a really cool technology, very simple. It works really well on certain applications.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:54] But you’re not wearing it like all day now.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:45:58] No, it’s totally exhausting to wear it. I’ll wear it for like an hour or two and I’m exhausted. It’s like you’re learning this really complex new language and trying to interpret everything. It’s hard to interpret stuff. An example might be like I was walking along and I just saw this thing flicking away in front of my face and I could feel it on my tongue. Then I reached out to touch it and my daughter said, “Dad, don’t.” And it was a flame of a candle. It’s hard to figure out what this stuff is. All of this information that you’re getting on your tongue because you’re trying to reinterpreted as things that are in front of you, obstacles and pitfalls and things like that. So yeah, it’s really exhausting. Like when I get off the BrainPort like I have a headache sometimes. I have to go chill out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:40] Yeah, I can imagine. Because your brain is basically relearning.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:46:44] It’s relearning. It’s like a baby, like looking at his toes and trying to figure, “Okay, those are my toes and now let me expand beyond my toes to the whole world in front of me and try to interpret it from this vantage point.” And so that’s the way the BrainPort is. You’re like a little kid trying to rediscover the world in a new way and it’s super, super fun, but it’s really exhausting. I like climbing with it. In the rock gym, especially because you have holds that are dark and against a wall that’s lighter. Actually, I can see the holds. Normally, I’d have to feel, I have to lock off with my elbow and then reach up and start scanning my hand across the face to feel that next series of holds and decipher the wall by my hands and feet. But with the BrainPort, I can look up and I can see these holds that are sitting on the wall that are beyond my reach. And it’s just so crazy because I have hand-eye coordination again, or hand-to-tongue coordination again. I can reach up and I can plant my hand on that hold. And I’m doing it in a way where I’m not touching it.[00:47:44] That’s something really interesting and I think I miss about being sighted. You can reach out and just grab something, pluck something out of space. I can compensate by a glass on the table. I can scan my hand over the table real slowly. I will come across that glass. But I have to be super careful not to knock it over. With the BrainPort, you can see that cup, you can see the handle looming in space. You reach out with your hand and it’s there and you’re touching it. It’s really cool to reclaim hand-eye coordination again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:16] Is everything black and white or is that like they’re relevant?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:48:18] Well, yeah, that’s irrelevant because it’s really a tactile image on your tongue and then my brain reinterprets what I’m feeling in the way that I used to see. I was always legally blind. I could never see that. Well, so my brain, I imagine, I think, must be processing the world in the same way that it used to with sight that I remember, which was never too good. In my brain, it’s contrasts of gray and light and dark. It’s not really vibrant colors or anything.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:48:50] You’re listening to the Jordan harbinger show with our guest, Erik Weihenmayer. We’ll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:55] This episode is sponsored in part by Xero. This is accounting software. A cloud-based accounting software to be exact that we’ve been using for years. We chased after them to sponsor the show. Jen has been using this, of course, daily. Loves it. It’s fast, it’s intuitive, it’s easy to use, and you have access to it wherever you are because it’s not stuck on your laptop. It’s on, it’s in the cloud. As long as you’ve got internet on your phone, tablet, PC, whatever, you can access your books and other people can too. Unlimited user accounts. You’re not sharing your password with the accountant. You’re not giving away your login to some intern to straighten something up with a bookkeeper that you hired off of some other websites. Xero also takes information direct from your online banking, so you don’t have to worry about making mistakes, typing in numbers, getting transactions right. It’s downloading all of them from the server and accounting can be used on the go. The app works great. You can send out sales invoices to your customers. No more waiting to get back in the office before you send out your invoice and get paid. Jason.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:47] Yeah, and if you get one for your dad, let me know how that goes over there. Get one for your dad and brother. Yeah. Okay, shoot me a note if you get this for your father.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:51:55] I’ve already got one for my dad. I’ll let you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:57] By the way, everybody, I’m going to prison on my birthday and then hopefully coming back out. It’s February 26, 2020, and I want to bring you with me behind bars. We’re going to be participating in an educational program for the inmates. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve done this before. It’s life-changing in a way that it’s hard to explain. In short, I did a piece on it. I wrote it on the blog and I put it at jordanharbinger.com/articles. It really is something special that you’re not going to get to do. In any other way. I’m bringing a lot of you with me. There are still some seats left. It’s going to end up being around 900 bucks plus travel to Reno, Nevada. Again, February 26, 2020. You’ll want to arrive on the 25th. I’m happy to send you more details. We’d love to have some more of you with us. I’m about to open it up to the whole email list and a bunch of other entrepreneurial groups I’m in, so if you want to snag a spot before they end up getting snapped up by everybody else, just email me at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. A lot of great people going, going to be a great experience. Looking forward to seeing some of you — a lot of you in fact — behind bars, February 26, 2020. Again, email me email@example.com and I’ll get you the deets.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:53:08] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don’t forget the worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’re listening to us on the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Erik Weihenmayer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:38] With the BrainPort, there must have been a first time that you saw your wife and children’s faces. What was that like?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:53:49] Well, my friend Jeff Evans came over. He’s one of my good climbing partners and he didn’t believe me. He’s like, “Whatever.” And he took this Coke can and he put it on the table. He had me go out of the room and I walked over. I scan my camera across the table. I found that Coke can, reached out, and plucked it off the table. My friend started crying. It kind of blew him away, really powerful moment. Same thing when I tested it for the very first time, this lady would roll a tennis ball across the table. It was like a white tennis ball and a black tablecloth, and I could see that thing rolling towards me getting bigger and bigger on my tongue, and I just reached out and plucked it out of space. That just blew my mind.[00:54:24] And then you’re right. Seeing faces, they’re harder to interpret for sure. But like my son, Arjun was maybe like 10 at the time when I brought home, a version of the BrainPort. He was telling me a joke and I sat there with the camera trained on his face as his mouth moved and he told this joke and then he burst into this huge laugh and his head tilted back and his eyes squinted and his whole face turned into like this giant smile. It just made me realize how much I missed faces, how complex phases are. When I try to envision a face in my brain after being blind for more than 30 years, it’s sort of like a cartoon image. But that was really cool to be able to see a face and the way he smiled, just engulfed the whole face and his eyes. You know, maybe I was making it up, but I swear his eyes were twinkling and it was just really, really cool as a parent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:18] I have a baby. He is almost four months old and I can imagine. Every day with him, he does something new. Right?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:55:25] Right
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:26] So that’s probably as close as I’m going to get. Seeing something new from a child that you haven’t seen before, you kind of got that almost all at once with this new technology. It’s like they’re used to it and you’re seeing it all for the first time in a way.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:55:38] Yeah. And playing games with my kids too. I love it the most, playing games, like I can play card games, like just simple games like we’re looking at the numbers on the card. I love playing rock, paper, scissors with the kids. Like I love looking at their hands and seeing their hands move into different shapes. Just simple things like that are just really beautiful for me because one of the things that you lose with blindness — One, you lose your sight, but you also lose your connection. So much of the world, if you think about it, like 90, 99 percent of the world is visual. It’s eye contact. It’s looking at people’s faces. It’s games that are visual. It’s information that comes visually. It’s always this huge catch-up game as a blind person to try to find ways of connecting in a meaningful way with the people around you, your friends, and the family that you love. So to be able to play little games and stuff with my kids and to see their hands, drawing an X on a piece of paper, that’s just incredible.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:37] The expedition leader had said, “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.” What did he mean by that and how did that affect you? Because it’s almost like, “Hey, give me a break. I just climbed the tallest mountain in the world.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:56:50] It was at the end of the Everest trip. When we’d come down, I’d made it through the Icefall. The Icefall like a blind person’s worst nightmare. It’s like just, I don’t know, imagine taking a glacier and then exploding an atom bomb in the middle of it. It just, it’s like splinters of ice, huge cornices, bridges of ice that are like as wide as your body, zigzagging along. It’s constantly changing and collapsing and exploding down the mountain. Sort of like an ice river and so I had crossed through the Icefall 10 times and I was gotten down below the Icefall. That last time, all objective dangers are behind you. I knew I was going to live like, “Okay, I lived, I lived through this experience. I’ve done it.” And then PV brings me over and he says, “Hey, you know, good job.” He said, “Your life’s about to change. Like you’re going to get a lot of attention over this climb.” He goes, “But do me a favor. Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.” And I thought that’s like the worst time to motivational advice in the history of the world. Like, let me go home and chill out. Maybe until I’m 85 and look back at this incredible thing I did when I was 33 years old. I’ve been dreaming like you had said about like just nice, smooth sidewalks that I could walk down and nothing was going to kill me. I was so psyched to get home, and then he had to hit me with that and turns out PV was a genius. Because of these things, I talk a lot about adversity when I’m talking to groups or writing books and articles and things like that, and adversity can stop you short. For sure, it can stop you in your tracks like we were talking about. But success can do the same thing. That’s the craziest part. Both sides of the sword are perilous because you have this huge success, and what PV was saying is that success becomes like the trophies that you put up on the shelves and the pictures you hang up on the walls and the citations you hang up, that success becomes your, your mausoleum. The thing you look back on and the reason why you don’t have to like do anything cool the rest of your life. It can be a total trap. And so he was saying like, don’t look back too much. Use this as a catalyst to go on and do something bigger and better. That’s not to say something more dangerous or more risky, but something that’s important, that’s meaningful to you rather than this thing being just like a trophy on the shelf.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:14] I wonder, and maybe you’re not comfortable talking about this, so let me know. Have you ever tried like psychedelics and had an experience that felt like eyesight, even after losing your vision?
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:59:23] I’m a kind of a wimp. I’m scared. Like I have a bunch of friends who’ve done psychedelics and say, “We should do some mushrooms and try it out.” I haven’t done it yet. It’s something still awaiting me. 51 years old. Am I too old to try?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:35] Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to recommend anything of course, but I’m not a doctor, but there’s a lot of people of all ages trying it. I’m just, you could ever think like, hmm, okay, well, if it’s all created in the brain and the eyes are just the hardware, then if you’re doing something in the brain. Maybe it’ll create something that looks a lot like vision. I mean, we just don’t know.
Erik Weihenmayer: [00:59:53] Yeah, I think I will. I will probably give it a try. Because I’ve been doing a lot of reading and obviously it’s like allover podcasts, like the therapeutic idea behind it. So yeah, I think I will do it at some point, but I’ll let. That’ll be a cool experiment.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:06] I was so curious about that. Yeah, I would love — I don’t know how to get the update on that because it’s probably not something you want to blast out in your email newsletter.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:00:13] We’ll go and do some ayahuasca together. I kind of regret. I’ve been to Peru a ton of times and I’ve been a wimp. I’ve never done it. Partly because I hear you puke your guts out, poop your pants before you get the good stuff.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:25] Yeah, like 10 times from what I understand. I haven’t tried ayahuasca either, but like is it my eyes doing that or is it my brain? I don’t know.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:00:32] How cool would that be? I’d like to open up my brain because I’m a little bit like kind of a linear, sort of a little bit German. You know what I mean? Like a very, very disciplined and stubborn, but it’d be nice to kind of open and tap into that part of the brain at some point.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:49] Well, what’s next for you, man? I mean Seven Summits, kayaking the Grand Canyon. I’m sure you’ve got something in the works. Where does the challenge sort of go from here?
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:00:58] Well, as I said, I just got back from this beautiful peak. I mean, in a way it’s harder than Everest. This really steep, stunning peak called Ama Dablam and year 2000 we went there as a way to train forever, just as a team to get to know each other and kind of begin to work as a team. My friend Eric Alexander and I got to about 20,000-feet and got stuck in a bad storm. We’re on this tent, hanging out on this like bird’s nest, like the corner of the tent was hanging over 2,000 or 3,000-foot cliff, just storming every day. The team tried to get up to us and fix lines a little bit higher and just the wind was knocking him over and we called it. We came down and Eric unclipped from one of the lines and slipped on a rock and fell about 150 feet. It’s a miracle he didn’t die. They got him up to safety, kind of went into shock and pulmonary edema. His lungs were starting to fill with fluid and all this terrible stuff started happening to him. Our doctor got him down. We got him a bottle of oxygen and put them in a Gamow Bag, which is a hyperbaric chamber. It’s a little bit of a science lesson. You actually pump air into this vacuum bag and you increase the air pressure. Therefore, bringing him down to a lower altitude and getting more air and oxygen into his lungs. We pumped air into that bag for like three days before. There was a little break in the storm and we were able to get a helicopter into base camp and get him down. That climbing trip turned into a rescue mission pretty fast. We’ve been dreaming about this peak for like 18 years. So good logic, I couldn’t climb it when I was 32, so now at 51, we go back. All of us went back and even including Eric Alexander and we made it to the summit. Just about 10 days ago, I got to the top. It was a beautiful, clear, super windy day at 22,500-feet and a satisfying day too because it took me 18 years to get back to Ama Dablam.[01:03:54] I think I’ll always continue to adventure. We’ll see. Right now I’m a little bit washed out from just getting home from this massive month-long trip, but there’s always something. I’ll never get to even 1.1 percent of the climbs out there and the adventures to be done on Earth. You’ll never even scratch the surface, so you never have to worry about my running out of things to do. My big goals are now with No Barriers. We work with like maybe 15,000 people a year. People with challenges, people who are blind like me, but more people who have what we call invisible barriers. A lot of veterans coming back from different conflicts. We work with a lot of kids who are struggling with anxiety and fear. We’re building a curriculum that we’re getting into a bunch of school systems around the country. We take people out on big adventures where they kind of learn about this no-barriers life. That to me has been really fulfilling because it’s like a way to figure out how to take some of these processes that I mentioned and translate them and hope maybe others can benefit from that community. That’s where I spend a lot of my time nowadays.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:2] How do you know what your limitations are? How do you know when to give up or say maybe this is too dangerous, maybe I shouldn’t try this? Because you can’t really listen to other people. They’re going to tell you don’t leave your house, you’re blind. How do you find that line?
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:04:17] Well, one, I have a bunch of friends who don’t buy into that Super adventures people and they kind of know me beyond blindness and they’ll push me and say, “Yeah, you can do that.” And I went and climbed Mount Sopris and skied down in early June and it was like 8,000-feet of elevation gain in one day. And I thought “I don’t think I can do that.” And my friends are like, “Yeah, you can do it. Don’t worry.” So, you just kind of trust people that know you. So that’s one good thing. But also, there have been times where I’ve called it. There was a time — I don’t know maybe 10 years ago — where I started learning to paraglide and I had an instructor who was like, “Yeah, this is cool. We’ll figure out how to push it as far as we can. I’m not really sure how far we can push it,” but yeah, I started paragliding solo. He would be looking up and he would be talking to me via these radios like 90 degrees right, 45 to the left. He would talk me down and then he would count from five to one and then say, “Flare.” That was for landing, and then if that didn’t work, I had these, this string tied around my waist with a bell hanging about 10-feet down and that bell would hit the ground and then I would know to flare my wing and slow myself down. But I realize eventually, after a few weird, like why I landed in trees and stuff like that, I just thought, “This is nobody telling you this. This is you telling yourself you’re going to kill yourself and maybe this isn’t the smartest thing for you to do being blind.” A year of paragliding, I called it quit. I think sometimes I do have that ability to say, “Hey, enough already.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:51] That seems wise to be able to listen to what you feel like your limitations are. I’m wondering if you have advice for people who maybe are selling themselves short, but also it’s easy to — In today’s world, right? Everyone’s like, “Go for it.” And it’s like, well, yes, but there are certain logical constraints that I think, people, they don’t really have a good grasp on what those might be.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:06:14] Yeah, I agree. I think you have to, I guess, examine why you’re doing the things you’re doing. For me, I have a hot tub downstairs. I like to hang out in it and reflect, and I was thinking one night like these things have to be important to me. I’m not like the blind Evel Knievel that’s just going out and like achieving, you know, like people say, “What’s your next stunt? I’m not interested in those kinds of stunts, just like I want to top myself. Things have to matter because if you commit to them to do them well, it involves a huge degree of suffering and commitment and time and preparation. It’s got to matter. It’s got to feel important. It can’t just be like, I want to post it on Instagram because you’re going to go through hell getting these things done. I’ve never gone and done anything big without going through a huge amount of suffering, just mental, emotional suffering where you doubt yourself, you’re afraid. That fear can almost crack your psyche sometimes and so it has to be important to you beyond the trophy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:18] Eric, this has been amazing. I really appreciate your candor, openness, and everything that you’re doing. I think it’s amazing in a lot of ways. It’s inspiring in a lot of ways, but beyond that, you’re just a really open guy and this has been a fun conversation.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:07:30] Well, thank you. I mean, when I’m talking to friends and people I respect, I try not to be like the motivational speaker. I speak to a lot of groups, but for me, it’s more important to be honest and authentic and kind of no-BS with people because it’s not so easy doing these things, but it is important and it does matter So it’s good to have those honest conversations that kind of try to go a little bit beyond the latest motivational poster.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:58] Yeah. Yeah. Precisely. Well, how can we support the mission that you have? I mean, I saw the school in Tibet and it seems like that’s a worthwhile cause, but you’ve got a lot going on that you’re highlighting and supporting.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:08:10] Yeah, No Barriers, people can come out to our events, like next September, we’re in San Francisco. We have a huge, what we call our summit. We’ll have thousands of people, youth and veterans and people with different kinds of challenges all gathering together in Candlestick Stadium. We do a lot of events that people can take part of. We have programs. If you know, a veteran or a youth who is going through some challenges who’ve maybe a little bit lost, send them our way, nobarriersusa.org.[01:08:38] Then, you know, I kayaked the Grand Canyon in 2014 and just as significant as the expedition was the film. My friend Michael Brown made this documentary and like three years later, he was still languishing at the computer. We didn’t have that much financing and he didn’t have a huge team of people, just a couple editors that he was working with. Anyway, we finished the film and entered it at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and won the grand prize, and it’s gone on to win probably a dozen more festivals around the country. So, good job to Michael Brown. I’m really proud of him and uh, people can see that on iTunes now. It’s out on iTunes or wherever people go get videos. Go check out. It’s called the Weight of Water.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:20] We’ll link to that in the show notes and people can play it right there. We’ll embed it. We’ll make sure people can go in and pick that up and we’ll link to the books and everything that you’re doing as well in there.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:09:28] Sweet.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:30] No problem. Again, thank you so much for your time and your openness. I’m looking forward to meeting you, maybe I’ll pop by the No Barriers 2020 Summit because I might be in San Francisco.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:09:37] Oh gosh, we’d love to have you there. That’d be so awesome.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:40] Yeah, I just added myself to your interest list, but maybe a, I don’t know. Should I tell Skylar to like give me a heads up or something like that?
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:09:46] Yeah, for sure, let’s just chat and I’ll let you know all the details.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:50] Great. Thank you very much, man.
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:09:51] Thanks man. I really appreciate it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:53] Yeah, super fun. I’m looking forward to it. You know what I like about what you’re doing is it’s like there’s zero cheese factor involved and a lot of sort of motivational self-help stuff has like, as you mentioned before, sort of devolved into posters and Instagram means. You’re really not doing that. It’s like, “Look, we’re solving real issues for real people. It’s not just like kids who can’t get out of bed before 11:00 a.m. who are trying to get motivated for psyched for life.”
Erik Weihenmayer: [01:10:18] I quit talking about my kids like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:22] Yeah. All right brother.[01:10:25] Big thank you to Erik. He’s got a lot of books and a lot of videos and talks and we’ll link to those in the show notes. There are also worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you’ve learned from Erik at jordanharbinger.com in the show notes. We’ve also got transcripts for each episode and those, of course, are found in the show notes as well. We’re teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits. You know, consistency. Not one big thing, not a whole big to do. Six-Minute Networking, it’s our free course. It’s over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig the well before you’re thirsty, people. Once you need relationships, you’re too late to make them. You can’t make up for lost time. The drills take a few minutes a day. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. This is an absolutely foundational skill set, whether it’s for personal or business purposes. Find it all for free at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you’ll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Erik and tell him you enjoyed this episode of the show? Show guests love hearing from you, and you never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and or follow me on social. I’m at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. [01:11:33] This show is created in association with PodcastOne and this episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, and edited by Jase Sanderson. Show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yeah, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting that should be in every episode. Please share the show with those you love and even those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.
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