Impact the world as a leader who serves.
I am standing on a pile of rocks created from individual rocks that hikers have carried in their backpacks from their hometowns across the world.
The symbolism is we are all leaving the emotional baggage from the past worries /pain of the world in our lives behind. We focus on why we have hiked 24 days straight so far and moving on. We name it, write it on the rock, it's done.
I went through a similar process when I had to leave a corporate leadership role as director of sales and marketing for the US, Canada and Mexico from a Fortune 500 company.
It was a rough road for me, my wife, my family and many of the great people in our lives.
Deaf-blindness was playing havoc on many levels and society is not kind to people with deafness and/or blindness in America.
Sobering fact: 80% of the deaf and over 90% of the blind do not have jobs in America even with the American with Disabilties Act and elevated social awareness.
I don't know exactly how I did it. Nor did I know this at the time.
I am probably stubborn, ignorant, crazy or just too optimistic to know any better. I simply just didn't buy into all the disability perceptions that society puts out there such as deaf-blind people don't climb Kilimanjaro, lead deaf teenager / young adult expeditions to the Amazon Rainforest, Machu Picchu and the Grand Canyon, run the Boston Marathon twice (for research and the Boston bombing victims), or hike 500 miles across Spain for Usher Syndrome World Awareness Day #USHEQX and many other projects over these past 9 years.
The darkness one faces when a huge life transition is in play is scary. What will happen? How will I provide for my family? What do people think of me and where I am at? Where will I end up?
My life 9 years ago was a roller coaster on so many levels. For me, my disease was happening for real out in an exposed field and there were no rocks to hide behind any more.
For my family (and those who knew me), it was a free ticket to a movie that you could only watch and sometimes cringe at - watching the one you love and care about go deafer and blinder day by day.
Is it harder to watch the movie or be the person changing? I don't know - you can decide that for yourself.
Frozen in fear is no real option. Running from fear might feel good for awhile but it will haunt you forever with regret and guilt.
The only real option for me was to take on the fear in my life which is the inevitable march into darkness and silence. I hated (and still do) being put in this corner and not on my terms.
One of the people (beyond my exceptional wife, kids, family and friends) who helped me move to the light was #ErikWeihenmayer. I called him out of the blue one day with no introduction asking questions. He not only answered them, he helped me build the next chapter of my life beyond that of a corporate executive.
Erik helped me see my deaf-blindness in a different light over time. I like to tell people he helped flick on the lightbulb in my head.
That flick being understanding that deaf-blindness is a "game-changer" in my life , not "game-over" which is what I thought was the message I was getting from others at the time.
Shortly after the Kilimanjaro climb and the Good Morning America, WOOD TV stories and more, Erik asked me to join the board of No Barriers USA. It was a small group with audacious vision as Erik, myself, Mark Wellman and #SashaRabchevsky worked to build a movement.
#NOBARRIERSUSA when we got together was just us. Then, we hired an executive director. Then, we reorganized, merged and moved to Colorado. Then, we added programs and staff over time. We now have over 20 staff members and a fully running office In Fort Collins. As they say, we are on a roll and it is hard to imagine where we were and where we are now. We serve thousands with out programming and it transforms lives.
I am proud to be on the board of directors of No Barriers USA. We are about helping people live an ever-elevating life.
"We empower people to break through barriers, find their inner purpose and contribute their very best to the world. "
Our call to action: "What's within you is stronger than what's in your way."
If you are curious check it out:
So, in short, I do adventure projects every year to be the change. It is not about me pursuing testosterone-inducing athletic feats.
My goal is to serve others and elevate others around the globe as so many have done for me.
Leading the way without knowing all the answers opens to door to adventure, purpose and the ability to make the road easier for the next hiker going down the path of deaf-blindness or anyone with a barrier in their lives.
This adventure project is to celebrate a life-long journey with Usher Syndrome - a devastating disease that robs its victims of their hearing and vision progressively decade by decade. There are no treatments or cures.
After 33 days of hiking, my guides and I will be arriving in Santiago on September 17th to celebrate Usher Syndrome World Awareness Day.
If you are interested in supporting this project, you can go to: www.classy.org/billbarkeley