Isaac Lidsky is a corporate speaker, author, and entrepreneur. A former actor, he first appeared in the popular television sitcom “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” playing Weasel, the class nerd. After being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding disease, he decided to leave Los Angeles for college. He attended Harvard, where he studied mathematics and computer science. In between college and law school, he founded an internet advertising and technology business. After completing Harvard Law School, he worked in the public sector as an appellate litigator for the United States Department of Justice and as a law clerk to Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. From there, he went to work for an international law firm, first in London and then Manhattan. He later partnered with his college roommate to buy a small residential construction company in Orlando, and as its new CEO, he turned the company around and expanded its operations, creating a construction-services company 10 times larger. Brain World recently had the opportunity to speak with Lidsky about how he manages to persist despite his blindness, always striving to be the best he can be.
Brain World: You have done so many things since you were diagnosed. Would you consider your blindness to be a strength or a weakness in your endeavors?
Isaac Lidsky: When I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, I knew that it was going to ruin my life. That was an awful false reality of fear, but I believed it. As it turns out, the experience of losing my sight ended up being a real blessing for me. It was a profound blessing in my life because it gave me the “eyes wide open” vision to take control of the reality I want to live, to take control of how I want to live my life, to choose who I want to be and to hold myself accountable for those choices. So in ways I never would have envisioned when I was in that sort of visceral fear, when I was diagnosed, going blind was really a blessing in my life.
BW: That’s a very positive way of looking at your circumstances, a glass-half-full if you will. You mentioned something about an “objective reality.” Could you give a more descriptive explanation of this?
IL: “Eyes wide open” really begins with the human experience of sight. We just open our eyes and think “Look! Seeing is believing. Sight is truth. What you see is what you get.” As the photoreceptor cells of my retinas progressively deteriorated, I got all these bizarre visual effects along the way. And I literally saw that, far from some universal truth out there, sight is this complex, magical experience that the brain creates for us. And the more I looked into it, the more I thought about it. I realized that not only is it a virtual reality where your visual cortex is basically a computational engine, a predictive engine, that’s making guesses about the world out there, but, even more remarkably, it’s not only relying on data from your eyes. Your experience of sight is linked to all sorts of other things in your brain: conceptual understanding of the world, knowledge, memories, opinions, emotions — all these things. So what really struck me was the profound contradiction, the incredible difference between how we experience sight and what it really is. And that sort of “eyes wide open” vision got me thinking about other ways in which we really shape our realities without knowing it. Ways that we perceive things as immutable truth or some sort of objective fact out there, so to speak, that’s really just in our minds. It’s a creation of our own making. And fear is a great example of that — the way fear distorts our reality. But there are many other examples, and my book “Eyes Wide Open” is organized thematically. I apply my eyes-wide-open vision to various contexts in life.
BW: So in this objective reality, we, as humans, frame our fears as fiction?
IL: Well, fear in times of crisis, in times of change, fear of the unknown is so problematic because we don’t have relevant or pertinent experiences to reason from. But the human mind is an amazing thing, and as I talk about in my book, and in my TED Talk, fear leads us to fill the void of the unknown with the awful. Psychologists call it “awfulizing.” We do ourselves a disservice with our biggest worries, concerns, and worst-cast scenarios. We focus on them and believe them, thinking that it’s the truth we are destined to live. The reality is that it’s precisely in these times that we need to take a step back, get more information, learn, and think rationally. But the human experience of fear is really an obstacle to all of those things.
BW: When you were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, did you use that fear as a motivation?
IL: What really turned my life around was when I was liberated from my fears about blindness and gained an “eyes wide open” vision to see beyond these fears. I realize that what I thought I knew about blindness were assumptions borne out of fear. In reality, I didn’t know the first thing about being blind and I hadn’t done anything to learn about it. I shifted my perspective from what I call “tunnel vision,” a narrow, dark view that we get backed in to because of our fears. I shifted to a more practical mindset of “Let’s learn, let’s gather information, let’s find specific solutions or discreet, concrete, manageable problems,” and my life turned around.
BW: What kind of vision is more important for people reclaiming their most-meaningful senses?
IL: I think introspection is a profoundly important skill, and maybe one that has been overlooked. We do ourselves a real disservice when we are not open and honest with ourselves about our thoughts, beliefs, and motivation. But it’s arguably worse when we fail to take stock altogether — when we fail altogether to be introspective. To my mind, “eyes wide open” is fundamentally about a zealous commitment to be completely honest with yourself and to be accountable for your choices — who you want to be and how you want to live your life in every moment. Every single moment.
BW: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those that might be going through the same thing you have gone through?
IL: This begins with an inquiry as to what is success for you. A lot of times, I think we find ourselves laboring to further other people’s definitions of success. Or laboring without goals or a purpose in mind, which is chaos or entropy. For those who haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about it, I encourage them to stop and think. “What are your goals? What is success for you? What is living well? What is it that you want?” I don’t believe in making value judgments or telling people what are the right and wrong answers to those questions. That’s not part of “eyes wide open.” But what I think is very unfortunate is if you fail to even ask those questions in the first place. You certainly can’t succeed if you haven’t defined success for yourself.
BW: You have certainly proven to be successful. Are there any other goals that you have set for yourself, or is this where the mile-long resume ends?
IL: Oh no. I’ve been really blessed to do a bunch of different things and I’m excited for my book, “Eyes Wide Open.” I hope that it is interesting and useful for readers. I’ve enjoyed what I have done, but if you ask me what I’m going to be doing in three years, five years, certainly 10 years, I have no idea — and I love that.