From Smart Brief on Leadership
How a “Saved by the Bell” Star Overcomes His Blindness
Isaac Lidsky, an entrepreneur who played Weasel on “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” graduated from Harvard at 19 and clerked at the Supreme Court — all while battling a degenerative eye disease, says circumstances don’t guide how we live our lives. “How those circumstances manifest themselves in our realities is within our control,” he says.
How to Live Eyes Wide Open in a World That Can’t See Clearly
If you want to read an inspirational story of triumph over adversity, of overcoming challenges, this is it.
Isaac Lidsky played “Weasel” on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. He graduated – at nineteen – from Harvard with degrees in math and computer science. He then went on to Harvard Law School and then served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor. His legal career had him winning all of his dozen plus appeals in federal court before he went on the start a tech company. Enough? No. He then went into construction and succeeded again. He also has founded a non-profit called Hope for Vision.
Wow. That’s an amazing track record of success in multiple fields. All that success and he makes it seem so easy. Then you learn that he was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease that caused gradual loss of sight and now blindness.
Isaac has learned to live with his “Eyes Wide Open.” His new book is called Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly. I found it a powerfully motivating read and followed up with the actor turned entrepreneur to learn more about his uniquely positive attitude in the midst of what would stop many of us in our tracks.
Stay Positive Despite the Circumstances
You’ve been through trial after trial and continue to see success. How do you stay positive despite the circumstances?
In every moment, we choose how we want to live our lives and who we want to be, no matter what circumstances we face. There are always people who did far more with far less and were far happier doing it. So, it’s not our circumstances that govern the lives we experience. How those circumstances manifest themselves in our realities is within our control.
I saw this as I lost my sight. With this new vision, I realized that my life is my choice. It’s that simple. In the face of great challenges, you can choose to live reactively as a victim, or choose to proactively take control, with awareness and accountability. For me, the “right” answer is clear, though it is often the more difficult choice, too.
Overcome Your Fear
Talk about fear. How does this limit us? What do you do when it is gnawing at your mind?
Fear is powerfully pernicious. When we confront the unknown in times of change or crisis, fear exploits our ignorance. In our fears, we perceive the worst-case scenario, the most awful outcome, the ugliest possibility. If we’re not careful, we can experience this concoction of our fears—most often baseless—as “truth.”
It gets worse. In the false reality of our fears, we often see heroes and villains in our lives—people who control our fate. We blame them, credit them, curse them, celebrate them, pray to them for rescue. This is how your fears become self-realizing—when you accept fear’s premise, outsource your destiny, and await the inevitable result.
To break fear’s spell, focus intently on the difference between what you know and what you think you know. The latter is fear’s domain. Recognize your heroes and villains as figments of your imagination. Ask yourself: What, precisely, is the most discrete, concrete problem I face right now, and what can I do about it—what is my best next step? You will not get from A to Z if you do not get from A to B.
Your career is unique to say the least. Saved by the Bell, Supreme Court clerk, and then business entrepreneur. Now, author. What drives you to this unprecedented level of success in multiple fields?
At the core of a life lived eyes wide open is an understanding of what success and value look like to you in your life. What is important? How do you want to be spending your time—at home and at work? Who do you want to be—as a boss or colleague, as a friend or spouse, as a parent or child or sibling? These are tough questions, but we’re answering them every moment, whether we like it or not, realize it or not, believe it or not.
I’ve chosen to be aware of my answers, and accountable for them to myself and my family. Over the years, those answers have changed—success, value, and importance have evolved for me with the course of my life. Accordingly, numerous times I’ve closed certain chapters, embraced new challenges, and reorganized my priorities. I’ve been fortunate to obtain great outcomes in several different endeavors along the way. But success, I believe, is in actually striving for what you truly value, not in the results.
Learn from Your Critics
Talk about critics. I love that chapter, especially. What have you learned from critics?
We harbor in our minds an internal critic. It’s that nasty voice that is quick to pass judgment, quick to tell you what others will think and say about you, quick to tell you what you cannot do. These critics guarantee our failure by insisting upon perfection, which is impossible. They inhibit our progress by distracting us with evaluation and comparison. They overpower us with a lofty perspective, soaring high above it all—so high that we cannot see the paths of progress down below, the rate of progress appears impossibly slow, and the magnitude of our aspirations is overwhelming.
But we choose our own scale. We can silence our critics with focus on the moment, with momentum, with the commitment to strive, with the peace of conviction, by harnessing the strength that is within us all. The critic’s circus of distraction and destruction isn’t real. It is just noise, unless you choose to listen.
Listen at a New Level
What’s your perspective on listening? “Ears wide open” got my attention. How do we all become better listeners?
Most of us do a poor job listening to one another. Part of the problem is distraction. In our frenetic, digitally-enabled world of information overload, we struggle to pay attention. Even when we’re focused, however, we can become distracted from what we’re hearing by what we’re seeing. Inherently visual creatures, we imbue facial expressions and gestures with assumed meaning, confusing our unreliable impressions and interpretations with the speaker’s intended message.
When we use them properly, words have an unbounded potential to facilitate communication. But it requires intention—we must intend to understand and intend to be understood. That’s what “ears wide open” is all about. It’s about active effort to understand another’s meaning, and actively conveying your meaning with clarity.
How do you hope this book affects others?
Going blind gave me the vision to live and lead eyes wide open, aware of my role in creating the reality I experience and accountable for my life. It’s a vision that is liberating and empowering—it has brought me immeasurable joy, fulfillment and success, at home and at work. I wrote Eyes Wide Open to show others how to see what I see, and to inspire them to choose to do so. I hope that others will find in the book practical, valuable insights and techniques to create the lives they want for themselves—in their careers, in their relationships, and in their hearts and souls.