In his popular new TED talk “What reality are you creating for yourself?”, former Saved by the Bell teen star-turned-entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky recalls how the sales person he waved to in the store was really a mannequin; how he reached down to wash his hands and realized it was a urinal and not a sink. Objects appeared, morphed, and disappeared in his reality as he learned of his diagnosis at thirteen: Retinitis Piegmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that would lead to his blindness by age 25.
After initially believing his blindness was a death sentence that signaled the end of his independence and achievement, Lidsky found other pathways of perception, turning his life around with his Eyes Wide Open philosophy. He graduated from Harvard Law School, worked as a law clerk under the guidance of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and eventually became a highly successful entrepreneur and family man.
Below, we catch up with Isaac about his new book, EYES WIDE OPEN, plus his life before and after success, family, and struggle.
- How did going blind end up helping you build a career with a remarkable number of accomplishments?
What we see feels like “truth”—something out there that is objective reality, factual; universal. But as my eyes progressively deteriorated, I literally saw firsthand that the experience of sight is altogether different. It is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is constructed in the brain, and it involves far more than our eyes. I began to search for other ways in which I was misperceiving as objective “truth” the beliefs and assumptions that were, in reality, creations of my own making—creations I could change. This was the “eyes wide open” philosophy that enabled me to take control of my reality and my destiny.
- What are some signs that many people today can’t (or don’t) see clearly?
I think the test is simple: What are the differences between the way you’d like to live your life and the way you actually live it—the differences in terms of who you are, your career, how you treat others, how you allow others to treat you, how you spend your time, and what you accomplish? If those things are different and you aren’t doing anything about it, you’re not seeing your life very clearly.
- How can we apply “Eyes Wide Open” thinking to advance our goals in business or life?
It starts with defining those goals. What is it that you truly want to accomplish? Who do you want to be and how do you want to live your life? Can you commit to your answers, and make the choice to work toward your goals? The rest is noise.
- Can you explain how we can reframe our fears as fiction, and offer any suggestions for those who may feel confined by their fears or circumstances?
You are lulled into playing your part in the awful reality of your fears by perceived heroes and villains. This is how our fears become self-fulfilling—when we abdicate responsibility, blaming and celebrating others. Look for heroes and villains in your life. They’re figments of your imagination. You are the creator of your reality. You and only you.
- In your recent TED Talk “What reality are you creating for yourself?”, you discuss how your personal vision seemed to grow progressively sharper, even as your eyesight diminished. How did you reshape your reality and hone your life goals and vision?
My experience losing my sight was a peek behind the curtains into the power of the mind to shape our realities. Eyes wide open is a discipline that takes effort and practice, and I’m far from perfect. But I’m 1,000% committed to the idea that I alone bear responsibility for my life, in every moment. Once you get there, the rest is straightforward.
- What role, if any, does luck have in achieving our goals?
Of course luck plays a major role in life. But luck is a lot more complicated than we think. We’re too quick to characterize events of chance as “good” or “bad,” and we mistakenly see simplistic causal relationships between events not in our control and those that are in our control. The truth is that most often we will never know which is which, and almost always we play a substantial part—we determine whether events are “good” or “bad” in our lives.
- Is there anything you wish you had known as a young entrepreneur, i.e., a lesson learned later in your career?
It took some time for me to learn that a good leader aims to serve his or her team—the job is to empower your team to succeed and to help them do it. We tend to focus on what we might accomplish or contribute ourselves—on our performance—and expect others to assist us. But that’s backward from the perspective of effective leadership. A leader succeeds when his or her team succeeds.
- Why is it so important that we hold ourselves accountable for our choices, and do you have a favorite example?
When my triplets were born, it would have been pretty easy for me to beg off diaper duty. Blind guy changing diapers?! A messy enough proposition that my wife would have understood—she would have given me a pass. But I was brutally honest with myself, and I realized a couple things. First, it wouldn’t really be all that difficult for me to figure out a system to get it done—no more difficult than it is for a sighted dad. Second, it was important to me to be helpful to Dorothy and involved with the childcare. I would have done myself a real disservice by surrendering to some notion that I wasn’t capable. There’s lasting damage when we make such limiting assumptions about ourselves.
- How has parenting changed your outlook on life?
Being a father is without question the most important and rewarding experience of my life, and also the most difficult by far. For me, being a father has taken my personal accountability to a whole new level. We teach our children far more with our actions than we do with our words—they learn from our example. I know I need to exhibit for my children the behaviors and techniques I want for them in their lives—I can’t just talk about those things. It’s quite a responsibility. It raises the stakes tremendously.
EYES WIDE OPEN is available at these retailers: