'You Don't Need Your Eyes for Vision': Blind Entrepreneur Floors Glenn With Perspective on Sight

To say Isaac Lidsky has an impressive resume would be a massive understatement. A child actor from Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Lidsky graduated Harvard at 19 and then clerked for Sandra Day O'Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He then started his own tech company which sold for $230 million. By any measure, his accomplishments have been remarkable --- even without the knowledge that he's blind.

Lidsky's lost his sight as a teenager --- a curse that ultimately transformed his view on life.

"Sight is this masterful illusion," Lidsky said. "And as that illusion sort of shattered for me, it kind of helped me to realize all this stuff. By the time I was in my early to mid-20s --- in a remarkable way, in a beautiful way --- the disease itself was reaselly sort of the cure in many ways."

Lidsky joined Glenn on radio Wednesday to talk about his new book Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly, which delves into navigating the abyss and avoiding mindsets that limit human potential.

Enjoy the complimentary clip or read the transcript for details.

GLENN: I just want you to listen to this guy's resume. Because just one of these things people would chew on for the rest of their life and say, "Yeah, I did that." Listen to this.

He was on the TV show Saved by the Bell, the New Class. He played Weasel. He went to Harvard and graduated with a degree in mathematics and computer science at 19. He then graduated magnum cum laude from Harvard Law school. He then went to clerk for the Supreme Court for Sandra Day O'Conner HEP and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He then argued more than a dozen federal cases and never lost a single one.

He then decided, you know what, I'm going to start my own tech company. He started his own tech company and sold it for $230 million. He's the CEO of a construction company, which has grown in value by ten times since he took over. Oh, and I forgot to mention: He realized very young that he was losing his sight. He went completely blind at 25. But it didn't slow him down. After he went completely blind, he decided he was going to start a charity called hope for vision that funds development and treatment and cures for blindness, which he believes he will be able to see again and you'll be able to cure some forms of blindness within five to ten years.

Now, I don't know about you, but I had a hard time getting out of bed today. Let's say hello to the mass overachiever that makes us all look bad, Isaac Lidsky. How are you, Isaac?

ISAAC: I'm doing great. Thank you.

GLENN: Good.

Your book is called Eyes Wide Open. I want to add one more thing to your resume. He lives in Florida with his wife Dorothy and their three triplet daughters. So he's also raising triplets while he's doing the other thing.

So do you ever sleep, Isaac?

ISAAC: Yeah, I do. I do. I sleep, and I sleep well, Glenn. Because I'm very blessed, as you mentioned. I got to do a lot of interesting and rewarding things in my life. And, you know, in many ways, the experience I had losing my sight was -- was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

GLENN: So I -- I'd like to start there. I have macular dystrophy. And if you -- you probably know --

ISAAC: I know it well.

GLENN: You can lose your eyesight quickly, or you can have macular dystrophy for the rest of your life, and it will never change anything.

But I will tell you, when I was diagnosed, it freaked me out. And it's made me a better man. But I didn't lose my eyes.

Can you take us to the tree limb, when you're seven years old?

ISAAC: Sure. Actually I was diagnosed when I was 13 years old.

GLENN: Thirteen. Okay.

ISAAC: Yeah. And at the time, you know, I was living this Hollywood fairy tale. And, you know, like most 13-year-old boys, I thought I was perfect and invincible and, you know, on top of the world.

At the time, you know, I received the diagnosis, basically told you have this disease, you're going to go blind, there's no treatments, there's no cures. You know, we don't know much about the disease, good luck, was essentially the message. I was terrified.

GLENN: And when you were diagnosed with it, did you know that it was going to be a rapid decline?

ISAAC: You know, the doctors -- the experts said that -- he couldn't tell me how long it would take. You know, we hoped, best-case scenario, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you know, before I'm blind. But he really had no idea. You know, at the time, they knew very little about the disease.

I wound up losing my sight, as you said, in over about a dozen years.

At the time of the diagnosis, not only was I terrified, but I knew that blindness was going to destroy my life. I knew it was going to be an end to my achievement. And it meant I would live this sort of small and unremarkable life, you know, very sad and likely alone.

And, of course, you know, those were lies. That was sort of the fictions born of my fears. Awfulizing, as psychologists call it. But at the time, it felt real. It felt like my reality. Like my destiny.

GLENN: So you're sitting on the tree branch. And you're actually 17. Seventeen at this time. And you realize, "It's coming quickly?"

ISAAC: Yeah. So, you know --

GLENN: Oh, you've got to be kidding me. The overachiever can't get good cell service? I think we lost him.

STU: Oh.

PAT: Yeah.

GLENN: So young too.

PAT: I know. We barely knew him.

STU: No, he's still alive. But we just lost the call.

GLENN: Oh, we lost the call? Good. Then can you get him back on the phone, because it would have been a really depressing rest of the show.

ISAAC: No, I'm here.

GLENN: Oh, you're there. Okay. Good. Okay. We lost you. Go ahead. Sorry.

ISAAC: I'm back.

Well, so anyway, by the time I was in my early to mid-20s, I was -- in a remarkable way, in a beautiful way, sort of the disease itself was really sort of the cure in many ways. As I lost my sight, the way that I sort of progressively lost my sight, the bizarre kind of visual effects I experienced gave me just tremendous insight into the -- into the awesome power of the mind, the way our minds work, and our ultimate, you know, power to really create the reality we want for ourselves.

GLENN: You say you don't need your eyes to see the world.

ISAAC: No, no, no. You don't -- well, you don't need your eyes for vision. You don't need your eyes for vision.

So, you know, people -- I'm a big stickler on the distinction between sight and vision. And to my mind, vision's got nothing to do with the eyes. And losing my sight is what gave me this very rewarding vision that really has brought me just immeasurable joy and fulfillment and success in my life. And it's been such a blessing for me.

The vision had nothing to do with blindness or disability or -- I mean, in my case, it came about because of that. But it's really for everybody. And that's why I wrote the book.

GLENN: Can you be the person -- the -- the complete person that you were born to be without some form of adversity?

PAUL: As a general proposition?

GLENN: Yeah.

PAUL: I think so. I think so. To my mind, sort of my experience, what I've seen is really in every moment, we are choosing who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. You know, whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, we're making that choice in every single moment.

GLENN: So how did you learn that, if not through adversity?

ISAAC: I learned it by the sort of bizarre experience I had, you know, going blind, losing my sight. I literally saw that -- far from some kind of passive experience, some sort of perception of the world out there. Sight is this masterful illusion. Very compelling illusion. And as that illusion sort of shattered for me, it kind of helped me to realize all this stuff.

GLENN: Wait. Wait. Go back. That is such a profound statement. And I want to make sure I understand it. What do you mean that sight is a masterful illusion?

ISAAC: So, you know, the experience of sight -- you open your eyes, and there's the world. Right? It feels very passive. It feels like sight is -- we even say "seeing is believing." The fact the the matter is altogether different. The reality is sight is sort of a unique, personal, virtual world that your brain sort of cooks up for you, and it implicates your conceptual knowledge, your memories, your opinions, your emotions.

You know, really only about 10 percent of the experience of sight is data from the eyes in any given moment. And yet, it feels -- it feels so real and so objective. So we literally create our own realities, and we believe it.

Studies -- studies show this. And there's all sorts of optical illusions that show this. You know, just life experience. But yet, you know, it feels so real.

And I saw that firsthand. I literally kind of got a peek at the wizard behind the curtain, so to speak. And then I realized that the same is true of so much of life, the way we experience our fears, the way we experience our self-limiting assumptions about ourselves, what we tell ourselves about, you know, strength and weakness. And, quote, unquote, success and all that. And, you know, so much of our world, our reality is machinations of our own minds. And if we want to be aware of it and intentional and live with discipline, we can take control of that reality and really create the lives we want for ourself in every moment. And that's been my life. And I feel profoundly blessed.

GLENN: And this what you mean when you say, "We have to take responsibility for our -- for our -- I want to quote it exactly." We have to take ownership of our mental images.

ISAAC: Absolutely. Absolutely.

You know, we -- there are so many examples. But take -- you know, take the self-limiting assumptions we make about ourselves, the things we tell ourselves we cannot do, the purported shortcomings we perceive in ourselves.

You know, all -- all these awful cues, you know, we make up from those around -- we read into things. And, you know, a lot of times, it's not always obvious to us, that we're the author of these fictions. But we ultimately -- we are. And when we can see that and when we can see our role, you know, we can make better choices for ourselves.

GLENN: So we're talking to Isaac Lidsky. He's the author of the book called Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly.

And, Isaac, I wanted to have you on because it's my job and my mission in my own life. But it's my job to try to make sense of a world gone mad and not follow it over the cliff.

And we're dealing with so many lies now and so many -- so much chaos in the world. We can't keep up with it. We -- I think we have this -- this -- this cultural fear of -- of losing what we know. And part of that is because there -- we are losing, you know, some of our past. But in some ways, some of it is really good. With high-tech, yeah, we -- we're in this tension now of losing jobs that just are never coming back. But the future is very, very bright.

Where -- what did -- what -- advice do you have on navigate through some of these fears, both real and maybe overhyped or perceived?

ISAAC: Yeah. You know, that's a fantastic question. And it's true. It's a world of madness these days. When truth is -- you know, is a relative term and accountability seems -- seems absent, it's hard to stay grounded.

But I firmly believe it's got to start from within. It's got to start with yourself. And we all face challenges and great fears and struggles in our lives. But what I always come back to, always, always you will find people who have done far more with far less and been a lot happier doing it, by the way. So it can't be the circumstances we face that determine the quality of life that we live. I mean, how those circumstances manifest themselves in our lives, is entirely within our control. And it's not easy to do, but it's certainly worth it. So I would encourage folks to live with, you know, awareness, intentionality, and purpose. Live -- embrace your role as the master of your reality, as the person who gets to decide the life you live in every moment.

And you can abdicate that responsibility, if it's overwhelming. But I certainly think that's a bad choice.

GLENN: Help me out on -- I'm an alcoholic -- recovering alcoholic.

ISAAC: Yeah.

GLENN: And it's -- understanding the 12 steps has just changed my life. Understanding the -- the message of surrender, but that doesn't mean you accept -- you accept the part that you play -- you have you noticed to the things that you're powerless to change. But then you pick up your -- your gauntlet -- you pick yourself back up and you charge ahead.

We don't have a real understanding of what you say -- let me see, a thin illusive line between acceptance and surrender, between confidence and vulnerability. What do you mean?

ISAAC: Yeah. You know, among -- among the many, you know, unfortunate things we can tell ourselves, you know, we have this understanding that vulnerability is weakness sometimes. We get cues from society. And we tend to tell ourselves that. And, you know, I certainly struggled with that, as I was losing my sight. I thought that being vulnerable, needing help, all those things was weakness. I thought disability was embarrassment. And, you know, just sort of awful narratives that -- you know, they're self-fulfilling to the extent that we tell ourselves those things and believe them. You know, we make them true.

But they're -- you know, there's nothing that -- there's no inherent truth in those lies. In fact, they're toxic. So I learned -- and it took me a while. It was a journey that I describe at length. But I learned to embrace, you know, who I am, challenges and all, blindness and all, but to see strengths where I might have first seen weakness or where others saw weakness and define my own -- my own confidence and embrace who I am in my own life. And, you know, think about the circumstances -- you have prisoners of war who have undergone years of torture.

You know, you have Victor Frankel in a Nazi concentration camp. You know, he wrote a book, Man's Search for Meaning. He talks about how he insists that he was going to find purpose and even happiness, in a concentration camp. All these examples of remarkable people who transcend, despite their circumstances. I -- you know, probably wouldn't put it exactly the same way that I do, but I am sure if you ask those folks, every one of them would view him or herself as in control of their reality, as the master of their own fate, as the person who gets to decide how the circumstances -- they're going to manifest themselves in their lives. And that's a power we all have, whether we realize it or not.


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Watch the full episode below:

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

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Watch the short video clip below or find the full podcast here:

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