How Isaac Lidsky Sees Things Differently

Author: Michelle Russell       

Isaac Lidsky

Isaac Lidsky onstage at Convening Leaders 2107. (Photo/Jacob Slaton)

Childhood actor, entrepreneur, Harvard-trained lawyer, speaker, and soon-to-be-published author. Isaac Lidsky’s achievements are all the more remarkable because — as he revealed to the PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 audience in Austin last week— he’s blind. Furthermore, Lidsky has achieved all that he has, not in spite of his disability, but because of how he responded to it, he says. “Only you create your reality.”

Lidsky became a child star at 13, playing Weasel, the nerd in the 1990s TV series “Saved by the Bell: The New Class.” In real life, he graduated from Harvard at the age of 19 with honors degrees in mathematics and computer science, launched an internet advertising startup, and went back to Harvard to earn a law degree. He practiced at an international law firm before acquiring a construction company, which he steered to success after a rocky start.

Married and the father of four, including a set of triplets, Lidsky has it all — except for his eyesight. How can the principles that have guided his life while blind apply to challenges we all face?

Lidsky spoke with Convene about why he is passionate about using his story to inspire groups to realize their full potential. “You don’t have to go blind,” he said, “to see what I see.”

Your TED Talk, recorded this past June, has had more than 1.7 million views. Your message that resonates with people. Why do you think that is?

I’ve been blown away by the response of the TED Talk — happily so. We hit a million views inside of the first 20 days [of going live], which was just amazing. You know, we live in really trying times. There’s a lot of fear and anger and doubt in the world at the same time I think that we’re all innately aware of a vast human potential within us — the potential to achieve, to relate to others, to find joy, and our own success. I think we all know we have that power within us but it can be a real struggle to harness it and with all the noise out there, it’s distracting and disheartening.

A lot of my Eyes Wide Open vision [the title of his book to be published in March] is about taking control of your reality, choosing who you are and how you want to live your life, then holding yourself accountable for those choices. I think that that’s something that everyone really wants and I also think it’s something everyone can achieve. I think that’s probably why it resonates with folks. In my life, nothing better represents my success than the happiness and wellbeing of my family, so that’s the picture I show. That matters most to me, more than anything else in my life.

You talk about how, once you learned that you would go blind, you were absolutely sure that your life would amount to nothing. That’s hardly the case, so what happened?

So this is the great paradox of my experience. The experience of losing sight itself was the peek behind the curtains so to speak into the power of the mind to shape our own reality. As I talk about in the TED Talk, what we see feels like truth, something out there that’s objective reality, that’s factual, that’s universal. And then as my eyes progressively deteriorated, I literally saw firsthand that the experience itself was altogether different. It’s a unique virtual reality that’s constructed in our brains that involves far more than information from the eyes.

Oddly, it took going blind to give me a vision. I began to search for other ways in which I was perceiving in my life in terms of immutable truth, beliefs, and assumptions, that were really creations of my own making and that I can change. It’s a [way of thinking], a discipline that takes practice. I’m far from perfect at it, but I am 1,000-percent committed to the idea that I alone bear responsibility for my life in every moment. Once you get there, the rest is really straightforward.

How did that realization come to you?

My mother-in-law Brenda was the director of occupational therapy at a spinal cord injury center here in central Florida and she was used to dealing with folks who were competing in an Olympic equestrian event one day and then thrown from a horse and quadriplegics the next day.

Her perspective on life really was to take the small, discrete, specific problems or challenges and look for good solutions; don’t dwell on the awful and the overwhelming. When I was dating Dorothy (who is now my wife), Brenda came up to Boston, unbeknownst to either of us, and made an appointment to see a low-vision rehabilitation specialist. She invited Dorothy to come along and I fortuitously overheard them scheming and asked if I could come along too.

I wrote a lot in my book about how that experience was really the epiphany — the realization dawned on me that everything I “knew” about blindness was a fiction borne of my fear. In actuality, I knew nothing about blindness — and worse, I had done nothing to learn anything about it. That was a very pivotal moment for me.

How might those of us with less-profound challenges apply your insights?

One avenue I guess is our awful reality of our fears and our anxieties and our insecurities and the way that reality is perpetuated — because in my experience, we’re essentially lulled into playing our part in that awful reality. I think we’re lulled into playing our part by the heroes and the villains and the critics in our life. They’re creations of the mind, but they’re how our fears, anxieties, and insecurities really become self-fulfilling. When we advocate responsibility to reported heroes and villains, when we blame others, when we lament our circumstances, when we let our internal critic keep us off the stage or off the arena, that’s again how this awful reality becomes our truth.

In a lot of ways I think taking control of one’s reality begins with an audit, so to speak, or a search for these heroes and villains and an awareness of that internal critic in your mind. They’re figments of your imagination and only you are the creator of your reality.