Real Leaders

Eyes Wide Open: How Perception Shapes Our Reality

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

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 clerk 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.

In his new book “Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Cant’s See Clearly,” Lidsky explores what it really means to see eyes wide open. Dispelling the notion of disability, Isaac found his true vision and courage to overcome adversity, and achieve a remarkable range of accomplishments.

How did going blind end up helping you, instead of hindering your ability to see how much more you could achieve in 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” vision that enabled me to take control of my reality and my destiny.                                          

Did your experience as a child actor have an impact on your later ambitions, and would you have liked to continue on that career path?

I love to connect with people, share ideas, and above all else, make them laugh. I don’t think that will ever change. But acting wasn’t a very good career path for me in the end. There was just too much disconnect for me between the hype and the daily reality of it all.

What was your primary motivation to write “Eyes Wide Open”?

When I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, I knew it would ruin my life. But I was wrong. While I lost my sight, I gained the vision to define and create the life I want for myself. It turned out to be a profound blessing, one that I want to share with others so they, too, can make use of these insights.

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.

What kind of vision is essential for people to reclaim their most meaningful senses?

Clarity of vision demands that you are absolutely honest with yourself and accountable to yourself—for your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, actions. We do ourselves great harm when we lie to ourselves. It’s even worse, though, when we avoid facing ourselves altogether. I think introspection is a neglected skill that is critical.

If fear and external circumstances need not rule our reality, and (as you note) it is how we respond to these circumstances that matters most, what might be an example of a positive, constructive response?

The biggest challenge is that our fears can lead us to buy into a false – and awful – reality. We fear the worst, assuming we’re going to face it. But most fears are born of, or at least fueled by, ignorance—the things we don’t know. The trick is to be crystal clear on what you truly know and what you think you know. When we’re afraid, we need to take in as much information as we can, expand our view, and question everything. But fear all too often has the opposite effect.

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.

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.

Why is it so important that we hold ourselves accountable for our choices, and do you have a favorite examples?

Sure, I’ll give you an 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.

Is there anything you wish you had known as a young entrepreneur, i.e., 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.

What has been the most surprising discovery from your life’s experience?

I’ve been tremendously surprised, and pleased, to see how losing my sight has been a blessing in so many ways in my life. In the grip of visceral fear when I was diagnosed, I could not have imagined that I would feel grateful for the experience. Grateful because blindness gave me my eyes wide open vision, and because it has brought me great rewards in so many ways in my career and personal life.

How can we apply “Eyes Wide Open” thinking today, 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.