When Isaac Lidsky went Blind

December 4, 2016

4 min read


The child actor faced down his fears and created a new vision for his life.

The year that Isaac Lidsky was chosen to play the part of Weasel on Saved by the Bell was also the year that he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degenerative disease that leads to gradual sight loss and eventual blindness. It was 1993 and Isaac was only 13. He thought his life was over.

"When I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, I knew blindness would ruin my life. Blindness was a death sentence for my independence. It was the end of achievement for me…This was a fiction born of my fears, but I believed it. It was a lie, but it was my reality. If I had not confronted the reality of my fear, I would have lived it."

Instead Isaac faced down his fears and created a new vision for his life. He graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and became the only blind person to clerk for the US Supreme Court in 2008. He clerked for both US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After working for a large, international law firm, Isaac partnered up with one of his roommates from Harvard to create ODC Construction where he currently serves as CEO.

Lidsky has led ODC through significant turnarounds and growth in the past few years, managing meetings with a razor sharp sense of empathy and an incredible ability to listen to others. In 2014 Isaac began speaking publicly about his challenges, and wrote his first book Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunity in a World That Can't See Clearly. In his recent, inspiring TED talk, Lidsky teaches us that we can overcome the false limitations we place on ourselves.

Listening to Isaac's ideas reminds me of a powerful quote from the thought provoking movie, The Matrix: “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Every day we need to decide if we would rather "take the blue pill" and remain ensconced in our own illusions and limitations or "take the red pill" and examine how distorted our perceptions of life can be.

Isaac teaches us that sight is just one way in which we create our own reality. We create illusory realities in so many other ways including allowing our fears to constrict our possibilities. Through the distorted lens of fear, any comfortable, familiar choice looks better than an uncertain one, and we end up sabotaging our own growth. But living with "eyes wide open" can be learned. In fact, we can teach ourselves. We can hold ourselves accountable for our assumptions and our thoughts. We can see beyond the matrix of what we see around us and reach for our inner strengths and values.

“Your fears, your critics, your heroes, your villains – they are your excuses, rationalizations, shortcuts, justifications, your surrender. They are fictions you perceive as reality. Choose to see through them. Choose to let them go. With that empowerment comes complete responsibility. What do you fear? What lies do you tell yourself? What reality are you creating for yourself? Helen Keller said that the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. For me going blind was a profound blessing because blindness gave me vision.”

Why do so many people have sight but no vision? Perhaps it is because we limit ourselves by allowing our fears to destroy our vision for what is possible for us. We are afraid that it is not the right time. Or we are too young or too old to pursue what matters to us. We allow our doubts to cloud what we see.

Creating an extraordinary vision for our lives requires us to re-examine our assumptions and limitations, to live with our eyes wide open and break free by facing our fears and going towards what scares us. We break free by examining the lies that we tell ourselves about why we can’t do something. We break free by looking beyond our fears and focusing on a courageous vision of who we can become. Because, as another quote from The Matrix reminds us, "If you can see through the illusion then you are the solution."

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