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  • Writer's pictureErik Weihenmayer

Living a No Barriers Life

I finally lost the last traces of my vision just before my freshman year of high school. My greatest fear was not the darkness, but rather that I would be swept to the sidelines and forgotten, a life meant for nothing. I fought against the confines of blindness, lashing out against the world. Fear of the unknown rendered me motionless, afraid of exposing myself to discomfort and risk. On an off chance, I joined a group taking blind kids rock climbing. Slowly, I began to explore, feeling the pockets and features in the rock, using my feet and hands as my eyes, and finally reached the top. It was exhilarating – like a rebirth. That experience helped me build the courage to discover more. I learned that I had to accept blindness in order to move forward and embrace this new adventure.

My organization, No Barriers, takes people on transformative journeys to show them their own limitless potential. Through team building exercises, participants open themselves up to a simultaneously mental and physical challenge of self-discovery. If you’re afraid to jump into adventure, know that you are not alone. Here are five ways to begin living a No Barriers life:

  1. Become a pioneer. Going beyond what society tells you is possible means giving in to the reality of your situation – in a good way. You have to want to see and experience the world even though the manifestation of those experiences may have changed. Experiencing the world with the tools you have takes courage, but equipping yourself with the right tools can help. Think outside the box to find ways to make your new reality less scary. Just ask my friend Cole Rogers– the right equipment can make the impossible possible.

  2. Start small and find value in that. When you’re ready to begin your journey, start with small acts of courage – I call this the Reach. If you are a kid who just went blind, try to navigate the cafeteria with your lunch tray in one hand and your cane in the other. If you’re a new wheelchair user, try going to the grocery store by yourself. Join clubs and groups where the most important thing is learning to play chess or building computers, not your disability. Get outside and push yourself until you realize the limits of your new world are much farther away than you first believed. If you’re scared or unsure, just say yes – it will begin to lead you into the kind of life you want. You have to accept that trial and error will be integral to learning your new world.

  3. Embrace the uncomfortable. Realize that by climbing higher and reaching further, you will bring adversity and discomfort into your life. However, it is exactly this discomfort, this stretching and refining, that will help you evolve. Climbing has shown me that the outdoors are incredibly effective catalysts of mental change. Physical vulnerability, as in the risk taken while climbing, allows you to examine your mind: What things are deenergizing deep down? Who do you value in your life? What are you doing to sabotage yourself repeatedly? Allow yourself to be both physically and mentally uncomfortable – something I call the “open heart policy.” Embracing this discomfort will take you on a truly transformative journey.

  4. Let others know what you need. As you evolve and grow, so do those around you. Let people know in a comfortable way the boundaries of what you want and need. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to change these boundaries as you continue to develop. For instance, when I buy something at a store, I can’t see the cashier holding my card out in order to return in. To save us both a little discomfort, I’ve learned to ask them to place it into my outstretched hand. Others are comfortable around you when you are comfortable around yourself. Be confident, express yourself, and don’t be afraid to change your mind. Everyone won’t be perfect at first, but show them compassion and gratitude as they grow alongside you.

  5. Talk to people with similar experiences. If you decide to give the No Barriers life a shot, lean into those around you. When climbing, whether crossing a glacier or ascending a rock face, you are roped to your teammates. Think about the relationships in your live as a rope team that you are tied in with. Clearly, you need to have people you can trust, guide you in the right direction, and arrest your fall . . . just as much as you would for them. These relationships will help you learn and elevate your life, as well as the lives of those around you. Consider joining one of our No Barriers programs to begin your journey: the upcoming NYC Summit, What’s Your Everest program, Warriors Expeditions, and more. These experiences connect people facing all kinds of challenges in order to find the power of what they have in common.

Exploring your No Barriers life may start with exploring a room, then your own house, then the world. Rope up with great people and adopt the “open heart policy” to take courage from these small wins and shatter barriers in your life.

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