Overcoming Adversity: Erik Weihenmayer On "Quitters, Campers, And Climbers"

Erik Weihenmayer, the world's first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, is one of the speakers at the RiiSE Conference: Achieving Women Forum on October 21, 2019.
Overcoming Adversity: Erik Weihenmayer On "Quitters, Campers, And Climbers"
Image credit: Erik Weihenmayer
Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East
8 min read
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It is that time of year, when we are gearing up for one of our annual Entrepreneur Middle East events, the Achieving Women Forum, and for this year’s edition of the conference we have partnered with RiiSE, the gender parity and diversity platform of the internationally renowned hotel group Accor which boasts a global membership of over 25,000 people from over 4,000 hotels across 100 countries. The result of our joint efforts is the RiiSE Conference: Achieving Women Forum, which is scheduled to happen on Monday, October 21, 2019, at Sofitel The Palm Dubai.

And one of the event’s keynote speakers will be a man who has conquered Mount Everest- in fact, all of the Seven Summits, the world’s seven highest mountains. He has also completed the Leadville 100 bicycle race, and has kayaked the entire 277-miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In addition, he has done all of that (and more) despite losing his sight at the young age of 13. When looking for a speaker on overcoming adversity and fighting back from perceived failures, I doubt we could have found someone with a message stronger than the one which will be delivered by Erik Weihenmayer, the athlete, adventurer, author, activist, and motivational speaker.

Erik Weihenmayer, the world's first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Source: Erik Weihenmayer

“What my talk does is that it takes the excuses away, such as, ‘I could have done this if it were not for this or that,’” Weihenmayer says, in response to what those who join us at the conference on October 21 in Dubai can expect to hear. “It is a story about how I, as a blind guy, climbed mountains, and how I built the purpose behind those climbs, and how I built a great team, because there are a lot of things I cannot do, so, I need people to support me and lift me up. And how, even though I can’t see, I have figured out a way to live a purposeful life and contribute to the world. It makes people take the gloves off, and understand that no matter what is their background and ability, and their circumstances, and how difficult their lives have been, that they really can live this ‘no barriers life,’ and contribute to the world in some way or fashion. It’s an excuse elimination.”

Related: RiiSE Conference: Achieving Women Forum Slated For October 21, 2019 In Dubai

Weihenmayer’s speaking career has seen him share the stage with the likes of George W. Bush, Al Gore, Tony Blair, and Colin Powell, to name but a few, but also help countless entrepreneurs and corporate teams on how to overcome avalanches, blizzards, or high winds that come in life and business. “It’s for any 9-to-5 team that wants to understand what their potential is,” Weihenmayer explains. “Even though I might not know much about their specific business, I have accomplished some big things, and I have built great teams, so I have gone through that process of growth, and I think it’s good for them to hear about these things in a context different from their own."

"You are learning about yourself and your own journey, but through the lens of somebody doing something totally different, and standing in totally different shoes, and having a totally different experience- but at the same time, at a macro level, it’s the same. It is a part of human nature to put up a wall between you and me, like, he is a blind guy climbing mountains, and they are different, just 9-to-5-ers- but we are not different at all. We all go through the same pains, struggles, fear, sufferings. So, the point of my talks is to give them a lens into their own life, their own process of creation and contribution.”

Source: Erik Weihenmayer

Behind all of this is a philosophy of life aimed at inspiring and empowering everyone to live a “No Barriers Life,” a term Weihenmayer has coined for his set of principles on how to develop a mindset to continually challenge ourselves to grow and evolve. However, Weihenmayer is not hiding the fact that his goal of changing and transforming an audience can be achieved in many different, often surprising, forms. “Early in my speaking career, a guy came out to me after the talk, saying, ‘This talk has changed my life. I’m out of here,’” Weihenmayer says. “And I was like, ‘No, it wasn’t the point of my talk for you to quit.’ I was really surprised actually, and a little bit taken aback, but after thinking about it and talking with some people I respect, they said, ‘You’ve just saved that company a ton of suffering and misery, because he wasn’t fit to be there, he didn’t find his purpose there, and you kind of helped quicken the process that was inevitable anyway.’ So, that’s not something a company wants to hear, and although it was surprising, I felt like I did that team a service, because he was not meant to be there.”

Another insightful anecdote, Weihenmayer shares, happened when an attendee approached him after one of his talks, saying that hearing Weihenmayer’s story 'made him feel bad [about his own life].' “Although I want to motivate people, instead of making them feel bad, it is a universal thing that, when you start a process of change and growth, you do feel bad a little bit, and you do feel empty,” Weihenmayer adds. “Sometimes, great positive things begin with a bit of discomfort and negativity, so I thought that maybe it was good for that guy to struggle, question himself, and search a little bit.”

Weihenmayer is also the founder of the No Barriers organization, a nonprofit that helps people overcome various challenging experiences. “It’s a non-profit, a movement, where we bring together pioneers, people who have challenges,” he says. “Be it veterans who have been hurt in the battlefield, or children who have had struggles, both physical and emotional, so both visible and invisible things, such as addiction, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or struggling with anxiety, or they could be business leaders who are struggling to bring something new to the world, so it’s a very diverse community that leans in and says, ‘Let’s get stronger together, and solve these problems together.’”

The US-based organization holds large events, such as a two-day summit in New York City, but also smaller group outings, all aimed at helping people contribute back to the world. “We bring these pioneers who have broken the barriers themselves, who have pushed the envelope in science, art, technology, or any other aspect of life, to deliver workshops or give talks to give a glimpse of what this no barriers life looks like, and what they have done to build it.”

Weihenmayer has authored multiple books, including his memoir, Touch The Top Of The World: A Blind Man's Journey To Climb Farther Than The Eye Can See. His second book, The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness, was co-authored with Paul Stoltz, while his most recent one, No Barriers: A Blind Man's Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon, was co-authored with Buddy Levy. In terms of his message for enterprising audiences around the world, Weihenmayer says that he often prefers to talk about a concept developed by Stoltz for the book.

“In that book, we talk about ‘quitting, camping, and climbing.’ We made up these terms, while ‘quitters’ are self-explanatory, ‘campers,’ I would describe as people who climb to a certain point and stop. They get to a plateau, and they think it’s a nice safe spot to stop, like no more pain and suffering, no more challenges. And ‘climbers’ are those people who continue to climb, to grow, and innovate, and challenge themselves, every day of their lives, until they die. I think that understanding of these categories in which we all fall into, and then deciding to continue growing and challenging yourself, instead of choosing to settle, to camp, to begin to stagnate. That’s a framework for growth that helps you understand where you are now, and what you are striving for.”

See Erik Weihenmayer speak at the RiiSE Conference: Achieving Women Forum on October 21, 2019 at Sofitel The Palm Dubai.

Source: Erik Weihenmayer

Related: The Recap: Achieving Women Forum 2018

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