Choose Who You Want to Be: Isaac Lidsky Talks About His New Book, 'Eyes Wide Open'

You could choose to read Isaac Lidsky's new book, Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly, as the story of one man's experience with blindness, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice.

You'd also be directly contradicting the express intentions of the author.

"One thing I really try to emphasize is that this book is really not about me, it's not about blindness, and it's not about disability," Lidsky says. "I would not have written the book for any of those reasons."

Instead, what the book is about is Lidsky's "eyes wide open" philosophy on life.

"It happens that the way I gained this 'eyes wide open' vision was by the bizarre process of losing my sight, but the vision is for everyone," Lidsky says.

The story of Lidsky's blindness is not the core of Eyes Wide Open; rather, at the book's heart sits Lidsky's believe that "in every moment, we choose who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, that is our ultimate power and our responsibility."

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to hop on the phone with Lidsky for a quick chat about Eyes Wide Open. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, minimally edited for style and clarity. I want to start with the title – particularly, the subtitle: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly. Can you elaborate a little on what, exactly, "a world that can't see clearly" means in this context?

Isaac Lidsky: So much of our lives – the way we experience the world around us – is really within our control. We confront circumstances beyond our control, but how they manifest themselves in our lives is entirely within our control.

But it doesn't often feel that way, and too often, we experience our fears as objective truths, our self-limiting functions as truths. We misconceive our strengths and weaknesses. We misconceive success and value in our lives.

The way in which I lost my sight, I sort of saw firsthand the role that we play in shaping the reality we experience. If we're not careful, not aware, we see it as beyond our control. That's what I mean by "a world that can't see clearly."

RC: This leads to another proposition in the book, which is the importance of "tackling your challenges with eyes wide open." So, in contrast to "a world that can't see clearly," what does it mean to see with your "eyes wide open"?

IL: Living and leading "eyes wide open" is about understanding, recognizing, and embracing your role, your ability, your power, and your responsibility to create the life you want for yourself. It's about being brutally honest and transparent with yourself about what's important to you, what success looks like to you, what value looks like, how you want to spend your time, and who you want to be as a person, and it's about holding yourself accountable for those choices.

RC: Do you have any examples that could illustrate what this looks like in practice? Maybe from your own life, or the book, or just general experience?

IL: In chapter six of the book, I talk about how I was fortunate to have a really awesome legal career going. I had graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and had a few amazing jobs in the public sector, like clerking for two Supreme Court justices. I really enjoyed all of that, and then I eventually took the obvious path to a fancy law firm job with a big signing bonus and all that.

While that's a great path for a lot of folks, it wasn't for me. I was pretty miserable. So I put my money where my mouth is with this whole eyes wide open philosophy. I dug deep and figured out what it was I didn't like about my career and what was important to me – what I wanted to do. The upshot was I essentially abandoned my legal career and moved my family from Manhattan to Orlando, Florida, where with my college roommate I bought a small, humble residential construction subcontractor.

RC: Another really interesting idea in the book is the "thin, elusive line between acceptance and surrender." Could you say a little more about that?

IL: Acceptance is critical. We should accept and embrace who we are as people, our different talents, attributes, and capabilities. But it's a tricky thing because too often we're too quick to tell ourselves what we can and cannot do.

I'll give you an example from the book: My wife conceived triplets, and leading up to their birth, I was doubly challenged as both a male and blind. I could have gotten away with not doing diapers and bottles. My wife would have let me off the hook – and it was tempting to be like, "Hey, it's kind of a bad idea. I think I should skip out on diapers."

But that would have been surrendering to my blindness or some notion of my blindness as a limitation. In the short term, it would have gotten me out of diaper duty, but in the long run, it would have done real damage to my conception of myself. Instead, I looked at it and said, "It's not going to be much more difficult for me than it would for anyone to manage diapers and bottles with triplets. It would be hard for anyone, and maybe it will be a little more complex for me, but there are so many solutions and techniques and ways for me to do it."

I needed to know if I was saying, "I know I am capable, and I can do it if need be, but I am choosing not to" or it I was saying, "I can't do it."

Ultimately, I knew that I could do it, and I knew that I couldn't justify the choice not to, because being an involved parent and helping my wife was something I thought was important to do. There was really no escaping the conclusion. So, I've changed a lot of diapers in my day.

Acceptance is often a lot harder than surrender.