Isaac Lidsky (@isaaclidsky) is the only blind person to serve as a law clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s also an entrepreneur, he was once a child actor on a popular ’90s sitcom, and now he’s the bestselling author of Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly.
What We Discuss with Isaac Lidsky:
- Why Isaac Lidsky considers going blind in his twenties a “blessing.”
- How Isaac’s personal vision grew sharper even as his eyesight faded.
- How our brains construct reality based on our own mental models — some of which we can control.
- How to reframe seemingly negative luck and events to work to your advantage.
- And much more…
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According to Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly author Isaac Lidsky, fear and circumstances don’t need to rule our reality — it’s how we respond to them that matters most.
As a former child actor who went blind from retinis pigmentosa by the time he was 22, Isaac’s story didn’t end with the loss of his sight — which he says “began as a curse and ultimately proved to be a blessing.” Isaac shares what came next, which includes entrepreneurship, graduating from Harvard Law School magna cum laude, serving as the only blind law clerk (to date) for the US Supreme Court, and becoming the CEO of Florida’s largest residential shell contractor. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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THANKS, ISAAC LIDSKY!
If you enjoyed this session with Isaac Lidsky, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly by Isaac Lidsky
- Isaac Lidsky’s Website
- Isaac Lidsky at Twitter
- ‘Saved by the Bell’ Star Goes Blind? via The Doctors
- The Invisible Gorilla
- The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo by Colin Turnbull
- Do We See Reality as It Is? by Donald Hoffman, TED Talks
- ODC Construction
Transcript for Isaac Lidsky | Eyes Wide Open (Episode 333)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:04] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave and we want you to become a better thinker. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you'd like to learn and improve, you'll be right at home here with us.
[00:00:40] Today, one from the vault with my friend, Isaac Lidsky, author of Eyes Wide Open. He's the only blind person to serve as a law clerk for the US Supreme Court. He was a child actor on Saved by the Bell among other things. We'll discuss how going blind in his 20s was actually one of the best things that ever happened to him and how his personal vision grew even sharper, even as his eyesight faded. We'll also discover how our brains construct our reality based on our own mental models. Some of which we can actually control. And we'll learn how to reframe events and luck that seemed negative to work to our advantage.
[00:01:16] If you want to know how I managed to book all the guests for the show, it's always about networking. That's the name of the game, and it's been that way since I started, honestly, back in my law firm 15 years ago. I'm teaching you how to create and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in great company. All right, here's Isaac Lidsky.
[00:01:50] It's funny. I never really thought, "One day, I'm going to interview Weasel from Saved by the Bell."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:01:56] Well, it's funny. When I left L.A., I never thought I was going to be interviewed again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:01] Yeah. I guess it seems like you went from child actor and commercials to everyone knows who you are to, "Oh, I've got to get a regular job now, I guess."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:02:10] Yeah, L.A. was fun. It was a neat experience to be sure but right around the same time that I moved out there to do Saved by the Bell is when I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, so obviously I had a lot more going on than just kind of going out there to do the sitcom and moved on pretty quickly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:24] Tell us the story of how this came to be because it seems like you were – okay, child actor, living in Florida, you get the biggest gig of the ‘90s, Saved by The Bell, and then you're on top for a minute and then it's like, "Oh, by the way, you're losing your vision." How did that all play out?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:02:39] Yeah. So when I was 13 and one of my three older sisters started having some issues with her sight so we all went to the sort of neighborhood ophthalmologist office and one thing led to another, and he told my mom that she had to take us all to this sort of retinal specialist at the medical school downtown. And off we went and after a grueling day of testing that the expert came in and told us that we had this rare eye disease that causes progressive loss of sight and ultimately blindness, and we'd go blind. And he said, "There are no treatments. There are no cures. I can't tell you how long it's going to take. We really don't know much about the disease. Good luck."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:12] Geez. Quiet car ride home I assume.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:03:15] Yeah, that car ride home was awful. I was terrified and my mom was trying not to cry without much success. My sisters were crying and I was trying to figure it all out. And what's amazing to me is, looking back, during that car ride home, I knew that blindness was going to ruin my life. I knew it was going to be the end of independence and achievement for me. I knew it meant I was going to live this kind of small sad life. I didn't think any woman would ever truly love or respect me because I couldn't imagine sort of loving or respecting myself and on, and on, and on. But these were lies, right? These were the sort of fictions of my fear, but they didn't feel like things I thought they felt real. It felt like something that I just knew and that was tough.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:55] Right. So it's a nightmare coming true here and "I'm never going to fall in love. I'm going to be a burden to my family. I'm never going to have kids." A lot of catastrophizing from the sound of it.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:04:05] Exactly right. Or there's another term psychologists use, which I love, awfulizing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:09] Yeah.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:04:10] That's what our fears do. We fill in this sort of void of our ignorance and the unknown with the most awful possibility.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:15] But at the same time, then you'd take the car ride home and you show back up and it's like, "Hey, here's this awesome job that every kid in America who even dreamed a little bit of reaching the stars." You have it. You're the "it" guy. You're in all the little teen magazines, and I'd imagine people are taking pictures with you at the mall and you're just thinking, "This is all going to come to an end." It almost makes it worse, right? Because if you just had a regular life, it's like, "Well, okay, this is terrible." But now you have in theory, this amazing life and you're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:04:46] Yes, you're right. I mean, in some ways it was worse. I experienced sort of the blessings of my life with the perspective of these are the things that I will shortly lose. It was almost like a preemptive mourning. The loss of what had been promising to be a pretty fun and cool and interesting life. It left me feeling a real sense of urgency. I really moved on from L.A. in a hurry to squeeze as much as I could into my life to do as much and accomplish as much as I could before it was too late.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:15] Was it a kind of, "I need to go see the Grand Canyon," or what are these things that you're trying to cross off the list before the clock runs out?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:05:21] Well, I mean, sort of all the above. There were definitely things I wanted to see or experience or do, but also I wound up skipping my senior year of high school having already skipped a grade or two along the way. So I graduated college at 19. I did this tech startup for a couple of years feeling like I had to get the whole Internet boom and had to make some money quick. I went back to law school at Harvard and kind of racing again a lot under my belt.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:44] Going to law school is not something I would do if I had a limited amount of time. I went to law school. I don't think I would go back even if they're like, "You have a hundred more years to live." "Well, let me spend three of them reading legal documents from 1865."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:05:59] My dad was a lawyer. He's retired now, and I always wanted to learn to think like him. So I always wanted to go to law school. But also I have long had this dream of clerking for the US Supreme Court, and you kind of got to go to law school first.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:11] Yeah. That's for sure a pre-requirement for clerk in the Supreme Court. And you're the only blind person to serve as a law clerk for the Supreme Court so that worked in your favor. So when you're clerking for the Supreme Court, are you reading these legal documents in braille or are you listening to them? How's that working?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:06:26] I am listening to them. So there's great software and technology screen reading software. I got some help from the Supreme Court library to get stuff digitally when it wasn't available otherwise, so I did a lot of listening. Burned up the ears. But an amazing thing happens when you lose a sense -- like we were talking about earlier, you start to develop the ability to kind of get more from your other senses. So I speed up the playback rate at which I listen to documents or websites or email or whatever. But the bottom line is I can read quote-unquote a lot faster now than I ever could with sight.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:57] How fast can you read to compare to -- if we're looking at say 3X on the audible, are you like at 5X or something? I mean, you must be really well-practiced at this point.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:07:07] So the average person, the average American English speaker speaks 150 words a minute. The average American English reader can read about 300 or 350 words a minute. I can listen to somewhere between 700 and 725.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:24] Oh wow. That's fantastic. So you can listen twice as fast and change than most people can read with their eyes.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:07:30] That's correct.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:31] Wow. That's super useful.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:07:33] Yeah, it's awesome. It's funny. If I had a perfect site tomorrow, I don't know that I would change the way I read documents.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:40] If I had discovered audiobooks and figured out that I could have maybe even gotten through legal documents from listening, I would have been such a better student because I lose all kinds of focus. My eyes lose track of the page. I'm not a bad reader in terms of I know what the words mean or something like that. I don't have a learning disability in any way, but it was just so hard for me to stay focused looking at the same thing. I grew up in front of a freaking television, which didn't help but listening, I can listen to something and retain so much more, and this is something I, unfortunately, discovered probably when I was 34 instead of 14 or 10. I can see why that would just be super useful. So you discovered a whole lot of things after going blind where you're thinking, "Actually, this is even better than when I was sighted." Obviously, this curse, this nightmare ultimately proved in your words to be a blessing.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:08:25] There's absolutely no question that losing my sight, the way that I did, this sort of bizarre progressive way that I lost my sight, turned out to be among the best things that ever happened to me in my life. There's no doubt about it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:37] A lot of people are hearing that right now are thinking, "Okay, that's just something you say when you have something that you can't avoid."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:08:44] No, I know. And I would probably say that too. I'm not this like, "Ooh, Shangri-La," you know, everything is wonderful and then happiness and, and all that, but very sort of practically, objectively, realistically, I know that the insights I gained, the knowledge I gained by losing my sight, has helped me to achieve immeasurable joy and fulfillment and success in my life. I literally saw firsthand as I was losing my sight, the awesome and empowering ability that we have; the way our minds create the realities we experience. We confront obviously circumstances beyond our control, but how those circumstances manifest themselves in the way we experience our lives is entirely within our control. And it doesn't always feel that way, it doesn't always seem that way, but I saw that very clearly as I lost my sight and it changed my life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:32] And how old were you when you actually fully lost your sight more or less functionally lost your sight?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:09:37] Early 20s.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:38] Okay. Wow. So you graduated from college, not law school, to be fair, but college and then after that, it was just, "Okay, now I can no longer read as well, see as well. I can't drive anymore." All those things change. Was it sudden? Was it like, "Okay, I'm at the point where I can no longer do these things"? Or was it a long slog?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:09:55] Long drawn-out slog, and it's hard to say exactly when it started or ended and it's hard to pinpoint milestones. The best way I have to explain it is if you picture like a jumbotron screen at an arena, that screen has millions of bulbs that sort of collectively create the image you see. The photoreceptor cells at the back of your eye, at the back of your retina, are kind of like those bulbs. They fire in response to light and sort of send all this information to the back of your brain. If you imagine watching my life as a movie on that jumbotron screen, then imagine that the bulbs start to break sort of randomly over time. That's kind of what it was like.
[00:10:29] So at first, you might not even notice it, then it might become annoying. Certain parts of the screen will randomly have a higher concentration of broken bulbs and be more problematic. Other parts of the screen might be less problematic. And as images are moving across the screen, you can imagine recognition dawns and things sort of come into existence. And then sometimes have guesses of your brain -- the guesses your mind is trying to make -- make some sense of the information you're getting turned out to be wrong. So objects morph into other objects. It was this very bizarre experience, but like I was saying, I saw that the experience of sight itself is this masterful illusion that our minds create for us. That implicates so much more than just information from the eyes. I mean, it involves conceptual knowledge, memories, opinions, emotions, all sorts of stuff. And yet it feels so real. It feels like passive and objective and truth. You open your eyes and there's the world. We even say, "Seeing is believing." That contradiction, that fundamental contradiction was -- pardon the pun -- eye-opening for me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:30] All right.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:11:31] Yeah, well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:32] I can't do that. You can do that, but I can't do that.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:11:34] Yeah. It was a revelation, let's say. We create our own realities and then we believe it, experience it as truth. We do that in so many aspects of life beyond sight. We do that in the way we perceive our strengths and weaknesses. We do it in the way we think about success and value in life. We do it in the way we imagine others perceive us. The self-limiting assumptions we make about ourselves. The way we can sort of feel lucky or unlucky and all these things, it's not often obvious, but you know, whether we like it or not, or whether we believe it or not, in every moment we are choosing who we are and how we want to live our life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:13] To go back into a little bit of neuroscience, we'll dip into this. We see with our brains and not our eyes. And that's a funny thing for us to realize, and I'm learning more and more about this. But basically going back to what you'd said earlier about how a lot of times the predictions that your brain is making are incorrect and things like that, what scientists have found -- and you probably know a lot about this as well -- is that there's a lot more bandwidth going from one area of the brain away from the eyes than to the eyes or something like this. And I know I'm explaining this wrong, but basically, the concept here is that your eyes get a lot of input, but it's 10 percent of what you think and the rest is your brain predicting where things are going to be, which is why there's so many weird little mistakes or something can startle you or you cannot see something that's right in front of your eyes. Like the gorilla walking through, people passing the basketball kind of example. Your eyes see it, but your brain is going, "Ah, this isn't fitting the model I'm creating right now," even though the info is getting to your eyes, your brain is just ignoring it.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:13:09] You're absolutely right. So our retinas, our eyes can send a tremendous amount of information back to our visual cortex. It's like something like as many as two billion pieces of information, and that goes back to the visual cortex, which like we were saying earlier, is about a third of the brain by volume. That visual cortex is linked to all sorts of other areas of the brain. And by the way, it's active doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with data from the eyes.
[00:13:34] Like when you're dreaming, you're literally playing your dreams and your visual cortex. If you think about an elephant, the elephant detectors of the visual cortex, that sort of networks of the brain that are associated with the concept of an elephant will fire. And here's one for you, in terms of visual illusions and stuff, so think about like the blind spot or whatever. We have this optic nerve, it's basically the dense cable that goes from the retinas in the back of the eye. Well, there's a blind spot. There's a part of your retina that has no photoreceptor cells. It's not doing anything because that's where the cable is, so to speak. But your brain has developed the ability over time to just filter that right out. Every visual experience you have by definition is virtual, is artificial.
[00:14:12] Think about it another way. The retina is two dimensional, or at least the retina is recording two-dimensional information. Where do you get three dimensions from? You get three dimensions from the visual cortex, from the brain. Experiencing how amazing the brain is in creating this immersive experience of sight, getting a peek behind the proverbial curtain as I lost my sight, and then starting to see all the unintended and sort of bizarre and unfortunate effects that happen when you degrade the data. Like I keep saying, it really was just a profound realization in my life that made me question all sorts of other ways I was assuming to be immutable truth, things that really were creations of my own mind.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:14:51] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:23] And the example you give in the book is really interesting. It's at the pygmy and the buffalo. Can you tell that real briefly? Because I thought that was a great illustration of how our models basically dictate what we can actually see.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:18:33] Sure. So there's an anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, who spent some time with a pygmy tribe in a dense rainforest where, you know, the inhabitants of the rainforest had no experience with seeing across long spaces, large open spaces, so to speak. Everything is really dense and compacted. And one day, he took on a member of the tribe as like an assistant. One day, they were driving and had kind of reached a rare open clearing. And there were these large buffalos on the horizon. And to his assistant, this pygmy, who had never had sight across a large open space before, he saw them as ants like right nearby and went to like try to grab them. He thought they were some kind of strange insect and Turnbull explained to him, "No, no, those are large animals far away and let me show you." They hopped in the jeep and started driving towards them and as they did, of course, the buffalo started to appear larger and larger.
[00:19:23] Another experience that a member of the tribe had never had, and he became very uncomfortable and thought that there was witchcraft at work. So his visual cortex never developed the linkages with the conceptual understanding -- large distance and how size changes over distance -- that wasn't there. The data from his eyes was no different than any average person but once it got back to the visual cortex, there was no linkage with a network of conceptual understanding to tell him what to make of that experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:53] So even a human baby who sees something far off in the distance, who's -- I don't even know what age -- can tell that something is far away. But this adult man who'd grown up in the jungle and had maybe never seen anything on a horizon ever couldn't tell that the buffalo was on the horizon was actually a large animal that was far away. He actually saw it as actual size. His 3D-depth perception basically halted at, I don't know, 20 meters or whatever distance in the jungle that you have to deal with regularly, which is incredible. The fact that he had never developed that mental model and yet his eyes were perfectly functioning, here it illustrates the concept of our entire reality of what we see is dictated by the mental models available to us in our brain.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:20:32] That's right. This is not just sight. This is across the board. We are built to infer, to predict, to assume. The brain builds up a vast database of experiences and develops logical networks to reason from those experiences. And it's obviously very useful and very powerful and it's great and in many respects, but that sort of fundamental aspect of the brain can also do us great harm. But, you know, we're blessed to be aware of it and if we want to be aware and intentional and recognize our role in shaping our own realities, we can do something about it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:01] You mentioned that we play memories and dreams back through the visual cortex. How do you process memories that you have after losing your sight? How is it different from memories that you processed before? So when you probably remember seeing Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell when you were younger and being like, "Yeah, I would like that introduction." But after losing your sight, how are those memories processed differently? Do you still visualize things just as you did when you could see?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:21:27] Yes. I still visualize things. It may sound odd, but I'm a very visual person, so I dream in color and then images and I'm often visualizing things -- in my mind, conceptualizing and visualizing things. Touch becomes a great substitute for the eyes in terms of getting information about something's appearance -- its shape, its texture, et cetera. Based on that information, I can start to visualize things. But yeah, I mean, there's no data coming in from the eyeballs, but that visual cortex that developed from when I was born through into my late teens and early 20s and it kind of had the normal experience of tuning itself up with data from the eyes or whatever, that's still there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:03] Wow. So the visual cortex is still hard at work with just no data to change things or getting data from some other place. I mean, I guess that's a neuroscience question and not really our department, but yeah, of course, it's still getting data. It's part of the brain.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:22:14] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:15] So you'd mentioned that sight isn't designed to give us an accurate perception. It's designed to further our evolutionary goal of survival and reproduction. You said that that can run us into trouble and I definitely understand that. Our minds are a lot less concerned with getting it right than they are with getting it useful so that we don't die or whatever. You give a brilliant analogy in the book about how the desktop, the GUI, Windows, Mac OS, whatever you're looking at, even your smartphone -- what you see on the screen is not an accurate reflection of what's really going on inside the computer? You're not really dragging an app from one part of the iPhone to another part. It's just a visual representation of that. This reality that we construct really only exists in our minds, and then we just turn around and believe it to be the objective truth because, why wouldn't we? It's our perception of things and it's not. I think that that's fascinating and that you essentially had to come to face cold reality in that your objective truth could not be real because you're still visualizing things and yet there's no data coming in from your eyes. How did you deal with that? That's a weird, sobering realization that none of us really ever get.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:23:18] It's a tremendous realization. I wish I could take credit for it. It's actually Dan Hoffman who is a brilliant scientist who has done all this work to show this evolutionary purpose of sight is to be useful, not to accurately represent the world around us or whatever. So his metaphor is a picture, an icon of a blue folder on a desktop. The data that that icon is meant to represent, is it in any sense blue and located in the bottom right of the physical computer? No, nothing about the desktop tells you anything about what's actually going on in the computer, but it's like super useful and it abstracts away all sorts of stuff you don't need to know. Well, that's what our brains are doing based on the data we get. While we're on the subject of the data that we get, we have this thing we call the visible spectrum. It's the sort of spectrum of wavelengths of light or electromagnetic radiation that's our eyes' response to and a bit of hubris -- us humans call that the visible spectrum.
[00:24:08] That visible spectrum comprises one 10-trillionth of the range of electromagnetic radiation in our world. Our eyes respond to one 10-trillionth of the light that's out there. Then our brains abstract away all sorts of build-up, this sort of complex virtual world in an effort to guide our behaviors so that we survive and procreate and all those things. And yet we walk around thinking that we know what the world looks like. The notion of what the world looks like is itself just absurd.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:39] Right, it's essentially the objective reality that's out there is all this, I don't know, it was like an episode of Star Trek where one person is perceiving this beautiful beach and the other person sees a rocky desert landscape that's dangerous. The things that we perceive all these visible colors and light and patterns and surfaces that feel smooth or feel soft -- all that is our brain constructing an image of different pieces of input, which is why our super comfortable house in bed looks totally different to some kind of eel that can only see in the water-based on electrical signals.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:25:13] Yes, that's exactly right. We feel that what we're quote-unquote seeing is out there and it's just not. It is what is in our brain.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:20] Right, it's completely constructed in the brain.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:25:22] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:22] And I just think that's super interesting because as your site failed, you had to build other ways of interacting with the world. So how did that process look and feel and work for you? You gave an interesting story in the book about how you knew where the restaurant bathroom was that I thought was kind of incredible. I replayed that a bunch because it just showed you that even you were surprised by this concept of your brain figuring out how to see without your eyes.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:25:45] Yeah. I was pretty startled. My wife Dorothy and I went to dinner with another couple in a restaurant that none of us had ever been to. And we waited for a table a little bit and then we were kind of led to the table, a long walk and sat down. And the woman we were with said she needed to go to the restroom and ask if you know anyone knew where it was. And Dorothy said, "Oh, I bet it's probably in that back corner over there." Visually, that's where she assumed it would be. That's kind of what made sense. And I sort of blurted out, "No, that's not where it is. Remember about halfway down the bar, we made that right turn into that narrow hallway and at the end, we made a right turn. If you had made a left instead and gone down the stairs, that's where the bathroom was." And everybody was like, "What are you talking about?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:24] Yeah, how do you know.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:26:25] And I was like, "What am I talking about?" So I had gotten all sorts of information along the way. You don't need to see to know you're in a bar. Generally, when you walk to a restaurant, you go into a room. It's a crowded room, it's loud. You hear drinks being poured, you hear snacks, and you kind of know you're in the bar. Turn into the hallway. It feels narrow. I mean, narrow spaces have a -- the air pressure is different. The reverberation of the sound, you just know you're in a narrow space. We got to the end of the hall and made a right turn. I heard a woman's sandals slapping against stairs as she was kind of walking up the stairs or whatever and I heard a toilet flush sort of down below. So the data, the information that I got to tell me where the bathroom was, it was nothing remarkable about that. What was remarkable to me was that as sight seems so effortless, right? You just kind of open your eyes and there's the world, these other ways that I was working to capture information about my environment or whatever, I realized then that they were starting to become just as natural. Originally, it took a lot of conscious effort and thought to listen to the environment, think about it, draw logical conclusions. Memory was something that took a lot of conscious effort to remember, the layout of a room or the layout of the restaurant. All those things that I devoted a lot of time and effort working on developing those skills. But the brain is just so awesome. We are infinitely adaptable and you know, over a matter of years, not that long, all those conscious efforts became natural and just as passive as sight.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:47] How do you know if you're not walking into the women's restroom, by mistake?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:27:50] So I have walked into many women's restrooms by mistake.
[Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:52] And then you just go, "It's all right. I haven't seen anything for years, so you're all safe."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:27:56] Yeah, exactly and then people are freaking out. I'm like, "Look, first of all, I can't even see you," so everything is cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:04] Yeah, I would imagine. And do you use a cane to get around?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:28:07] I do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:08] So it's pretty self-explanatory pretty much right away, I would imagine, for anybody who sees you walking in while they're applying makeup or washing their hands, they kind of know what's going on.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:28:16] Right, I make my best reasonable effort and when it's just too hard to tell sometimes nature calls.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:20] Sure, yeah, sure. Your book is essentially -- it's not just about adjusting to the world being sightless. You're talking about how your personal vision grew sharper even as your eyesight faded. Tell us about that process because it's easy for a lot of people or would be easier anyway to just kind of go, "Well, you know, your earlier prediction was right, you're screwed now and everything's downhill from here, so settle in for long days of listening to Netflix or something like that and just forget about it. Forget about all your ambitions."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:28:47] Yes. When I realized our power to shape the way we experience the world and to shape our lives, to shape our realities, for me, it was then crystal clear that I have a choice to make. And having realized this, having seen our power. It's also our responsibility. So if I wanted to choose to advocate that responsibility to feel myself a victim, to feel sorry for myself, to wallow in sorrow or whatever, I could make that choice. What I was not going to let myself do though was lie to myself and pretend that it wasn't a choice. Accountability became a pretty important feature of my life in brutal honesty and introspection because if I'm at work creating the life, I experience every day, every moment, I'm going to do so with awareness and with intention and with purpose as opposed to sort of living by happenstance or as a reaction. And it's not easy. I don't mean to suggest -- again, this isn't like a moment where all clicks into place and you know, ah, you're up on some mountain. It takes effort every day for me, a lot of effort, and some days I'm better at it than others, but it's certainly worth it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:53] Yeah. I would imagine at some point you ask, "What reality am I creating for myself?" And you've got these key concepts that you mentioned in the book. "Ask yourself what reality I'm creating for myself." And you mentioned accountability as well. Tell us how this process works and how people can apply it for themselves. Because even if somebody is not losing their vision right now or has already done so, there are people that are in their mind, certainly in a very similar situation -- their careers falling apart, their marriage is falling apart, or some other health challenge. I think there's a lot of people who find themselves in similar shoes.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:30:23] Oh absolutely. I did not write the book and I would not have written the book to talk about myself or blindness or even disability. This vision that I gained, which I called living eyes wide open, is for everybody. That's what has me so sort of passionate about it and so excited about it. Because like you say, we all face awful circumstances. We all have fears. We all have disabilities. Maybe not in the sort of precise legal definition. I was lucky to have lost my sight in a way that I did to view these insights, this sort of vision. The vision itself really has nothing to do with blindness.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:58] So where do we start with asking ourselves questions like, "What reality am I creating for myself?" If we don't need to have a watershed moment, like going blind, how does this process work? Are you journaling this? Are you sitting down and thinking about it, or does it come to you gradually?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:31:11] Sure. So first and foremost is brutally honest introspection with yourself. So what does success mean to you? What does value in life mean to you? How do you want to be spending your time at home or at work? What kind of spouse do you want to be? What kind of parent or child or sibling or friend do you want to be? They're tough questions, but man, they're pretty important questions. And then to the extent that the life you're living differs from your answers, from those things that you'd like to choose for yourself, it's the recognition that the responsibility is yours to do something about it if you so choose.
[00:31:49] In the book, I've tried to go more specifically into particular themes. There's a chapter on how to confront fear. There's a chapter on perceptions about sort of strength and weakness and competence and vulnerability and all that. There's a chapter about luck. There's one about ongoing effort and struggle in the face of a challenge, and I try to offer concrete ways that my vision has been helpful to me and certain nuances or aspects of life. However, the core of the ideas is pretty straight forward. Who do you want to be and how do you want to live your life? You are answering those questions every moment. You might as well do it intentionally.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:26] Right, you're doing it through your actions and if you're not thinking about your actions, you're doing it unintentionally.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:32:31] Yes, exactly. You're doing it with your actions, with your words, with your emotions. You are the master of your reality. I mean, again, whether you like it or not, your life is not happening to you. You are creating your life.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:44] How do you hold yourself accountable for your choices? How does that process get started for you? I think a lot of people do think life is happening to them, and there's got to be a point at which you brace yourself and you to stick your hands out and you go, "I'm going to slow this train down and take charge here." But that can't be easy to just suddenly do that because usually, of course, when we decide we need to do that, that's when we're spiraling so far out of control emotionally or logistically in our lives that -- our accountabilities seldom come when we're sitting there going, "Man, everything's going so well for me right now. I just have to step back and take some credit for this." It's usually not that situation.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:37:19] I'll tell you a story to give you an example. When my wife Dorothy and I decided we were ready to have a child and she naturally conceived triplets. When the triplets were born, the question arose, "Am I going to participate in changing diapers and then feeding them their bottles?" And doubly challenged as both blind and a man, I could have very easily gotten out of the hook, and I could have told myself, "You know what dude, you're blind. Just give yourself a break." But -- and here's where the accountability comes in -- I said to myself, "Okay, is it possible for you to change diapers and feed the babies?" "Of course, as possible, we can figure out some sort of practical solution to do it." "Is it going to be overwhelmingly burdensome?" "No, probably not. But at the end of the day, it probably won't be that much harder than it is for a sighted father." "Well, is it important to you? Do you think it's something that you as a father want to do, participate in your children in that level of care when they're infants?" "Yeah, it is important to me." All right, well if all of those things are true, it's a really bad choice to say, "Hey, I'm going to beg off the diaper duty because I'm blind."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:21] Right, because then you're just letting yourself off the hook for one hard thing and you might as well do it for the next.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:38:27] Yes, you are lying to yourself. In that situation, I would have been lying to myself. And the problem with these sorts of self-limiting assumptions that we develop about ourselves -- the things that we tell ourselves we can and cannot do -- they propagate and they grow in severity. Today, it's changing diapers and tomorrow, it's going out to dinner one-on-one with one of my kids. And who knows? And then these things take root and breed. Again, the core of this whole – my vision really is this awareness of the decisions, the choices you're making in every moment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:58] Is this a conscious process for you or at this point it seems like it's probably unconscious, but how did you get started doing it?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:39:04] It's a conscious process and it's a process that requires discipline and commitment. Let's take fear, for example, I still confront fear. There are still times where I'm afraid. We all face fear. Well, fear is so pernicious because just like we experience this world of sight as something that's sort of true and objective. Our mind can create sort of all of those awful scenarios of our fears, the lies of our fears. We can feel those to be just true, irrefutable truth. That's how I felt in the car that day on the way home from the diagnosis. So concrete specific ways to kind of see-through that fear.
[00:39:35] One big one is I always ask myself a couple of questions whenever I sort of start to feel afraid. The first one is "What precisely is the problem that I am confronting?" Broken down into its smallest, most discrete form. Right now, today, this moment, what precisely is the problem? Not overwhelming doom and gloom, some awfulizing, some huge scenario out there in the future. Second question is, "What precisely can I do about it?" The emphasis on the I there is important. The way that our fears perpetuate themselves. The way that our fear kind of keeps us on the sideline is we very often manifest heroes and villains in our lives. People we see as in control of our fate, and we want to celebrate them or blame them, credit them, pray to them, and really that's just kind of a con. That's the way that our fears keep us on the sideline, keep us from taking control from breaking the spell.
[00:40:22] So another thing that I'm constantly doing in my life is I'm on the lookout for heroes and villains. Those are figments of our imagination. They do not exist. Finally, I believe a lot of life is about momentum and progress. Just keeping momentum, keeping motion, keeping progress going. You will not get from A to Z in your life if you do not get from A to B. There's just no way around it. The world's going to change a million times between A and Z, you will as well. Until the day you die, there is no Z. Those are a few ways concretely that I endeavor to mitigate the force of fear in our lives. Because fear, you know, like I said, can really be corrosive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:58] How did all of these skills and all of these realizations come into play when you decided to start or acquire your business? Because we haven't talked about it yet, is that you run a large construction company that you bought after all of this went down, instead of just tapping out and go on, "I've done a lot and I'm just getting by now." You actually decided, "Nah, I'm going to make my life even more complicated and buy a business."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:41:20] No, that's not exactly the way I'd put it. Again, accountability to what's important in your life. So here I was, I had a great stretch in law. I got to represent the United States and federal appellate courts, which was awesome. The Supreme Court clerkships were amazing. I loved all that. And then, I kind of wound up making the obvious choice and going to work for a big law firm and got a huge signing bonus and the money was great. Now, I should say it's for folks who find meaning and success in practicing law, who enjoy it. That's great. There's no problem with it. My problem was that I wasn't one of those folks. I was pretty miserable practicing in a sort of big law firm law. It was important to me to spend as much time as I could with my children and then with my wife. At the time, we were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with infant triplets, a dog, and a cat. So none of that looked good. Working 90 hours a week wasn't a great plan for me. And so I wanted a house with a yard so I can play with my kids and I could have dinner with my wife. Again, accountability, right? So if that's what you want and the life you're living doesn't resemble the life you want then you got to do something about it.
[00:42:18] Well, it seemed like a good idea to buy a small business that was kind of getting along, treading water so to speak, and to try to turn that small business into an excellent company of my own. So I partnered up with my Harvard college roommate and we looked at businesses all over the country. He kept his fancy day job in the world of finance, but I left my fancy day job behind and moved to Orlando, Florida to take the helm as the CEO of our residential construction company, ODC construction. Again, the plan was a humble one. It was to develop a better quality of life for my family and find a career for myself that I enjoyed, that I could explain to my kids and that I would find rewarding.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:53] So you acquire the company and everything goes smoothly…the end, right?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:42:57] Sort of. So a couple of Harvard guys buy a residential subcontractor in Orlando, what could possibly go wrong, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:04] Yeah.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:43:05] A lot of things went wrong. You know, we realized about three months in that these financial data we had meticulously analyzed was really nonsense. It was kind of garbage in, garbage out. Nobody really had any idea how the kind of business was doing overall or even on a job by job, project-by-project basis. It was a mess and worse, it was hemorrhaging money. I was sinking like a stone. About three months in, it looked like we were going to lose the business. And of course, in addition to losing the business, I had put every single penny that Dorothy and I had into the company. My roommate Zack had put most of his, and then we had to sign all these personal guarantees for bank loans and our vendors and stuff. It looked really grim. It looked like we'd be filing for bankruptcy and actually had a conversation with my father-in-law and my wife about whether we could move in with my in-laws and our then year-old triplets. That was a lot of fun.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:53] Oh, man.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:43:54] Yeah, it was a really, really tough time. And in the midst of all this, my mom tells me that she has squirreled away $350,000 in cash, like physical currency that she's just been saving here and there over 40 years, and she passionately insists that I borrow it to save my dying company, which was -- in a lot of ways, it made things even more difficult, even harder because then I actually had a decision to make. Could I possibly take my mom's money? I wrestled with that decision for a few days, which was a really interesting and challenging time for me, and ultimately decided to have faith in my team and our vision for the industry and have faith in some of our customers who indicated they would stick by us. So we took the money and then we had ourselves a very different business. We had ourselves a pretty dramatic turnaround situation. I stopped drawing a salary. Others in the business took reduced pay. We were hustling every day doing the deeds that had to be done and that took about a year.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:52] A year is really quick in a turnaround but also having taken your mother's $350,000 in couch cushion money would be pretty good motivation. Because you can file bankruptcy yourself, you can even move in with your in-laws, but you can't lose your mom's life savings.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:45:07] That's exactly right. That was good motivation. Also, Dorothy has always had remarkable faith in my abilities and has supported me to no end. And here I showed up one day and said, "Hey, consistent with my philosophy on life, I don't want to be a fancy Harvard lawyer anymore. I want to go into residential construction in Orlando. Are you with me?" And she said, "Sure." So I definitely wanted to vindicate her faith. First and foremost, I should say I'm blessed to work with a phenomenal team of people that really stepped up and transcended and thrived, and heck, it even started to become fun after a little while when we saw a way out. Now, we've built a business that we are immensely proud of and it's just been a heck of a journey.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:48] What are the things that you mentioned in the book that of course, circles in part around the turnaround in your business is the concept of luck and how everything looks like luck if you zoom in on the timeline. Maybe on the one hand of poker, I think is the example, the analogy you give in the book. Can you break that down for us a little bit? That's a really interesting concept. I think a lot of people could be served by that.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:46:07] Yeah. So the quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. He says, something to the effect of a, "I'm a big fan of luck. And I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." We can have a tendency to misperceive the force of luck in our lives at least a couple of ways. So we think that luck is sort of good or bad and can sort of neatly be divided into two categories. The reality of the situation is who's to say, I mean, events are events and what we do with them, what we make of them is what's important.
[00:46:33] So I think a good example is me losing my sight. Was I unlucky to go blind? I wouldn't say that. I would say in some respects there was one of the luckiest things that happened to me, but more importantly, who cares? Lucky, unlucky, whatever, those are just that. We tend to minimize our own role in our lives when we focus on these labels of lucky or unlucky.
[00:46:50] The second way that I think we get luck wrong a lot is events can be neatly categorized as in our control or out of our control. And the truth is often blurry or gray or nuanced. And we generally underestimate our power to impact events in our lives. I like to tell this story in the book of -- imagine a casino's owner and chairman of the board, a billionaire guy just standing behind the roulette table, and here you are on some big winning streak and you got a hundred times more money in front of you. And then when you're starting your risk it all on red and it hits red, and now you've doubled your money again. The casino's CEO screams, "How lucky am I?" And throws a fit and he's miserably unhappy about it. That seems preposterous, right? Well, why is it preposterous? It's preposterous because the casino has a business plan that guarantees returns on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of spins and deals and pulls the slot machine and whatever. It's not about any one hand or any one roll of the dice. The same is true in our lives, but we fail to see it. We throw a fit about that one spin of the roulette wheel when our blessings are compounding all around us. I think that a nuanced understanding of the force of luck in life is very worthwhile.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:03] Especially when we can look at it like a timeline and when you zoom out on the timeline, you end up with the ability to create your own luck, steer the path. Whereas if you zoom in on any one hand, it always looks like luck. So there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way that people who view themselves as having an internal locus of control and being in control, they're looking at the timeline and they're including luck. They're including this aggregate of everything over a long period of time. Whereas people who view themselves with an external locus of control where they don't control things or maybe looking at each hand individually, each event independently and thinking, "This was lucky or not."
Isaac Lidsky: [00:48:39] Yes, exactly right. And I talk about it more in the book, but I think poker is a great example of that, particularly the game of Texas Hold'em, which I absolutely love. There's this question is Texas Hold 'em, the poker game, predominantly luck or predominantly skill. The answer really depends entirely on perspective. If you look at the game of Texas Hold'em as one hand, 10 players at a casino table or whatever are dealt the two cards and you play one hand and that's it, the beginning and ending. Yeah, there's a good argument to be made that it's predominantly a game of luck but I have no doubt that Texas Hold'em is, in truth, predominantly a game of skill. When you look at the people who consistently win tournaments, consistently wind up at the World Series of Poker, develop their game over time, develop strategy, hone their craft. There's just no question that there are people who are better or worse at Texas Hold'em, and then at the end of the day, over time, playing Texas Hold'em skill matters a lot more than luck. Now, does the best Texas Hold'em player have a bad beat, where that one card that was super unlikely to fall, falls and they lose it? Absolutely. Of course, it happens.
[00:49:37] The same happens in life all the time. We have that beats. But that doesn't mean that the game of luck, right? It doesn't mean, by the way, also that we play the hand wrong. I think this is something that we really do ourselves a disservice when we try to judge the quality of our decisions or actions or behaviors with reference to the results obtained. And that's just totally backwards. All the time people make good decisions with the right intentions and the right motivations, and it doesn't work out. If it ultimately doesn't work out, you can't go back in time and say the decision was wrong or bad, just it didn't work out. But we beat ourselves up mercilessly all the time for good decisions that didn't work out. And of course, the opposite is true too, right? We make bad decisions that pan out and then we like to tell ourselves that we made a great decision or we saw things that others didn't. That's not fair either.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:22] So as we wrap up here, this might be a really hard question, but would you go back to being sighted if you also had to give back the lessons you got from going blind?
Isaac Lidsky: [00:50:32] Nope. Never.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:33] Really.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:50:34] That's not a hard question at all. No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:35] That's so funny. I'm just like, this might be really tough. Maybe we'll have to pause. Not even a second.
Isaac Lidsky: [00:50:40] No, I'm telling you, I am so blessed. The life that I live is phenomenal -- family, personally, as a man, spiritually, in business -- and it's directly a result of this eyes wide open vision. I wouldn't want to live my life any other way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:54] Isaac, thank you so much, man. This has been amazing. Big thanks to Isaac. The book title is Eyes Wide Open. Links to his book and his shows and everything else he does will be on the website in the show notes. Please do use our website when you buy books. That always helps support the show. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode. This one is no exception. You can review what you've learned here from Isaac Lidsky. We also now have transcripts for each episode and those can be found in the show notes as well.
[00:51:23] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The problem with kicking the can down the road, trying to do it later -- well, a lot of people right now cooped up, maybe lost your job, are finding out that you really did need to dig the well before you got thirsty. Build your network before you need it, even if it means starting from scratch. These drills take just a few minutes a day. That's why it's called Six-Minute Networking, people. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. It is absolutely crucial and I'm giving it to you for free because it will help make you a better person and make the world a better place. Probably get you a raise in the meantime. It's all free at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to this course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social media. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[00:52:19] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. And this episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions and those of our guests are their own. And yeah, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. So if you know somebody who would find this kind of information interesting, whether they're interested in the brain vision, maybe they are also blind and haven't heard from anybody like this. Hopefully, you find something interesting in every episode, so please share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:53:09] A lot of people ask me which shows I listen to and/or recommend, and right now is a great time to be catching up with the news but you don't want to read 700 articles. You don't want to read the fear-mongering stuff. You don't just want to tune the TV and have them blare everything they will at you. So check out The NewsWorthy. And I have the host of The NewsWorthy here, Erica Mandy.
[00:53:29] Erica, tell us a little bit about why your show exists instead of people just digesting the regular news.
Erica Mandy: [00:53:34] Yeah. I mean, I realize that people are being inundated with so much information about this new virus that we're dealing with right now, but also news in general in today's world. So really our goal at The NewsWorthy is to make it easier to stay informed by giving you the news in just 10 minutes. And also keeping it unbiased and making it a little less depressing. So we really have a goal to inform without alarming and in an unnecessary way. And I know Jordan you had a recent guest who said mindless fear is pointless. And I really agree with that whether we're talking about this pandemic or we're talking about everyday news that I think can feel very overwhelming and we can get so many different opinions from so many different places. So at The NewsWorthy, we really try to cover all of the different things, the serious concerns that we can all take action that is necessary but also talking about some of the hopeful research that's coming in, some of the everyday things that impact our lives. Even YouTube is going into SD right now because of everything that's going on in so many people working from home. So we really do this with the coronavirus. We do this with other types of news on a regular basis where we're really trying to give people news in a fast, fair, and fun way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:41] You can find The NewsWorthy at thenewsworthy.com or anywhere you find your podcasts, and of course we'll link to it in the show notes as well.