142: Exceptional Perceptiveness for Exceptional Achievement with Isaac Lidsky

By April 12, 2017Podcasts

 

New York Times best-selling author, corporate speaker, and entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky challenges us to take control of our lives and speaks on the impact of accountability and perception.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you misperceive yourself and your own life
  2. How to make wise choices with awareness and accountability
  3. Why there are no such things as heroes and villains

About Isaac

Isaac Lidsky is New York Times best-selling author, corporate speaker, and entrepreneur running ODC Construction, a hugely successful construction company in Florida. He was a child star for the sitcom Saved By the Bell before being diagnosed with a rare degenerative blinding disease. That spurred Isaac to go to Harvard and graduate by the age of 19 with an honors degree in mathematics and computer science. He then returned to Harvard to study law and graduated as magna cum laude, and went on to clerk for two US Supreme Court Justices.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaac Lidsky Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Isaac, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Isaac Lidsky
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, you have so much of a rich, fun history and career, so I will just open it up in an easy fun spot with people probably asking you all the time. What’s the story kind of behind the scenes being a child actor in Saved by the Bell: The New Class?

Isaac Lidsky
Yeah, that’s often where people want to start. I grew up acting in Miami. I did somewhere from 100 to 150 commercials growing up and I got some small parts in big things and big parts in small things. My big lucky break was being cast as Weasel Wyzell on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. So I moved out to L.A. when I was 13 and had the whole celebrity and sort of the Hollywood fairytale story.
Around the same time though, when I was 13, I was diagnosed with my blinding disease so it was an interesting time and a time of real sort of reflection on where I wanted to go from there and kind of what was my plan.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, that’s powerful. And I wanted to kind of talk about the perspectives that emerged as you were doing that. But before so, I’d like to hear just a touch more in terms of your stellar academic credentials there graduating college at 19 then magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Can you give us a quick taste for what was maybe the secret or drivers behind how you’re able to pull that off? I always assumed it’s just sort of natural brilliance genius born with. Is that the case for you or were there some particular kind of strategies you’re employing?

Isaac Lidsky
You know, I always really enjoyed school and learning sort of different ways of thinking. I’ll tell you, when I was diagnosed with my blinding disease I was certain that blindness was going to ruin my life. I was told that I would progressively lose my sight over years. Doctors said they didn’t know how long it would take, how bad it would get, and no treatments, no cures and, “Good luck,” basically.
So I felt a real urgency. I thought I knew. Frankly, I knew I was wrong but I knew that blindness was this sort of looming death sentence and I was eager to get as much sort of crammed into life as I could which is almost certainly a big part of why I went off to school early and graduated at 19 and started in internet advertising business on graduation, and then went back to law school like you said.
But a remarkable thing happened. As I lost my sight, it actually turned out to be, it gave me a remarkable insight into the way the human mind works, and it wound being a very empowering and sort of liberating thing for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, let’s go there now. So tell us, your initial kind of perceptions for this disease and what it means for you and how you grew to perceive it differently.

Isaac Lidsky
Sure. So, the way that I lost my sight over about a dozen years, the way I tried to describe it is if you picture like a Jumbotron screen in an arena and imagine that you’re sort of watching my life as a movie on that screen and the bulbs kind of randomly break over time, at first you might not even notice then it can grow a bit annoying. Parts of the screen, yeah, you’d be much trouble actually to make out what’s going on and on and on.
So, my visual experience grew very sort of bizarre and frustrating. I had sort of consciously worked to piece together the information I was getting, and here comes the mind as really miraculous sort of predictive engine that’s trying to make its best guesses based on
sort of past experiences. And oftentimes the guesses that my mind would make for me were very wrong so objects would sort of appear and morph and disappear.
It was obviously, well, I shouldn’t say obviously. It was, for me, very, very challenging and difficult but at the same time what was amazing is sort of this illusion that sight is a sort of passive mode of perception where you just kind of open your eyes and see the world and kind of what you see is objective truth. That whole illusion was shattered for me and I got sort of a peek into the wizardry of the mind, so to speak.
And that vision was really, like I said, empowering and liberating. I realized that, in many ways, all of us in many ways in our lives, if we’re not careful, if we’re not aware we perceive as truth, as sort of objective reality, really the machinations of our own mind. And the biggest sort of realization, the first one, was fear.
I realized that everything I thought I knew about blindness that I knew it was going to ruin my life and meant that I would never be married, never have children and on and on and on. I realized that everything I knew, I thought I knew about blindness was this complete fiction, more of my fears, was an awful fiction, these lies and I was choosing to believe them. So, upon sort of realizing I had that power I ultimately decided to make a different choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Now that is such a powerful takeaway there. We perceive as truth the machinations of our own mind. And so you said you had one belief and then you decided, “Yeah, that’s a choice. I’m going to make another one.” Sort of, I guess, what did that look like in practice? Because I think some people just assumed that, as you said, our perceptions are the reality and sort of is the way it is and, “I think what I think.” And so what is sort of like the internal mental dialogue of realizing, “This is a choice and I’m now choosing something different. And the thing I choose is this”? How does that sound inside your head?

Isaac Lidsky
So, with respect to my fears of blindness, it sounded something like, “What do I really know about going blind and being blind?” versus “What do I think of that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Isaac Lidsky
And what I really know about going blind and being blind is absolutely nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Isaac Lidsky
And, by the way, what have I done to learn about going blind and being blind? Still nothing. And what do I want out of my life? Do I want to sort of surrender to this awful scenario, or do I want to take control and see what I can do about building a blessed life for myself, living the life I want to live, being the person I want to be despite my blindness? And that was really sort of an eye-opening experience, if you pardon the pun.
All of us, we all do with our fears. We do it with our sort of self-limiting assumptions of our abilities. We misperceive strength and weakness. We misperceive what success means and what value means. We often will sort of unwittingly perpetuate our own insecurities and vanities and sort of on and on and on. The power is ours, really, every single moment to choose how we want to live our lives and who we want to be.
And I’d argue that whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, we’re making those choices in every moment. So, to me, it seems a better opportunity to make those choices with awareness and accountability and intention as opposed to doing it sort of by happenstance. And I don’t think I would’ve seen any of that had I not lost my sight the way I lost it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so powerful. Thank you. And that question there, it’s like, “What do I really know about going blind?” just strikes me as just a potent one you could use again and again. What do I really know about being rich, about being an executive, about managing people? It’s like, well, often little, or nothing, or what I saw on TV one time, years ago, and that’s kind of running the show.
So I’m intrigued then, are there any kind of particular, I don’t know, triggers or cues or kind of watch-outs, like when you hear your mind going in one direction that you say, “Uh, uh, uh, time out”? Like, how does that dialogue work?

Isaac Lidsky
Sure. So, sticking with fear, and obviously there’s a lot more to talk about. But sticking with fear, I tried to keep a vigilant watch for heroes and villains in my life. In my experience, when fear shows up and tries to fill the void of the unknown with this awful scenario it concocts for us, along with that it all kind of manifests heroes and villains, people that we want to credit or blame or celebrate or falls for our circumstances for our future. And it’s tempting to do so and often sort of feels that these people wield power over our fate.
But really, at the end of the day, they’re figments of our imagination. There are no heroes or villains in the reality you choose to live for yourself. It’s just you. So definitely keep a watch for those because we sort of run away and we surrender basically our stories, our destiny to people when we believe they have control over our fate.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s powerful and it’s interesting because you might think, “Oh, a hero is a great thing. It’s positive. It’s inspiring. It uplifts you.” But you’re saying be careful because when you designate a person as a hero in your life you’re sort of saying that they are responsible for the goodness and, thus, you’re abdicating your own personal responsibility.

Isaac Lidsky
Yes, absolutely. So, not to harp on this sort of blindness thing, but it’s a good example of fear in my life. When I was first diagnosed, and in the first few years of beginning to lose my sight, my villain was blindness, not this sort of medical condition that I had, sort of the condition of sightlessness. But blindness is sort of morphed in this response of boogeyman that was going to destroy my life.
My heroes were the brilliant research scientists working so hard to cure my disease, and in this sort of awful reality of my fears my life was a race against time, me on the sidelines not running the race but cheering for the heroes, the scientists, desperate for them to save me in time to cure my disease, and sort of watching this blindness was out way in front and only widen the gap. And that didn’t leave me in a very good spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, that’s so helpful. Thank you. So, maybe, can you expand a little bit? So, in your book here, Eyes Wide Open, what would you say if you had to synthesize or articulate kind of the big idea? What’s it all about?

Isaac Lidsky
Yes. So we’ve kind of touched on it already. The big idea is the choice is yours to make with awareness and accountability and intention to take control of the way you experience your life. All of us face circumstances that are beyond our control, of course. We all face challenges – the lost of a job, lost of a relationship, our children don’t get into the right school, and on and on and on. But how those circumstances manifest themselves in our lives is up to us. We are the masters of our realities.
For me, I often think about the fact that always there are people who have done far more with far less and critically have been a lot happier doing it. So the answer can’t be in the circumstances, right? The answers have got to come from within. Fortunately, this brain of ours, this mind of ours is immensely powerful, and with the right vision, at least in my life, we really are the masters of our fate.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good. So, we talked about fear in some length in terms of your philosophy and your perspective and how you interpret it. Is there anything you do kind of outside your mind? I’m just wondering about sort of physically, anything that you are, I don’t know, recording, or writing in some way, or actions that you’re taking that sort of pull you out of that thought place?

Isaac Lidsky
Yes. So, throughout the book I touched on sort of different aspects of life, some of the list that we kind of talked about, our fear and ongoing struggle and our perception of luck and all that kind of stuff. So I have developed for myself sort of practical steps or ideas or concepts that I tried to use to maintain control of my reality.
And I should say this Eyes Wide Open vision that I was blessed to get through blindness it’s not a one-shot and then Shangri-La, you’re in a higher plane and you never have to work again. For me, it’s daily effort. It’s a discipline that I cultivate. Some days I’m better at it, some days “pfft” but it’s certainly worth the effort as far as I’m concerned.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you lay out for us a few of those key steps? Are there sequences or processes that are kind of like a one, two, three or A, B, C that you find the discipline to work again and again and again?

Isaac Lidsky
Sure. So my partners and I bought a small residential construction subcontractor in June of 2011, and we thought we were buying a sort of going concern, a business that was sort of steady walk. Turned out we were buying a business that was fast becoming cash and sinking mud. It was a very difficult time, very challenging time but since we’re thinking together, we rallied and we managed to turn around.
In those months, in that sort of nine to twelve months of kind of really basically saving the business from bankruptcy, I really tried to focus on two questions, two very specific questions. One is, “What precisely is it that I am endeavoring to accomplish?” Right? It’s easy to lose sight of that. We have critics, internal and external, who will try to tell us what our definition of success should or should not be, or what we should be doing.
But it’s important to listen to ourselves. Only you can define your success. You won’t succeed by a definition if you follow some other version of success. And if you labor without a definition, you’re pretty much lost in my understanding. Effort without purpose is basically a guess.
Second question is, “What precisely is my best next step, just the next step?” We can overwhelm ourselves with the sort of overarching vista of the entire enterprise, right? The sort of magnitude of our overarching aspirations can be suffocating. But always there’s that next step but you’re not going to get from A to Z if you don’t first get from A to B, I can guarantee that. And, by the way, the world is going to change a million times on your way from A to Z and you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Isaac Lidsky
So that’s some stuff I try to do in the face of sort of business struggle, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s handy. That’s handy. Do you have any other kind of one, two, three kind of processes? We’ll take them. This is good.

Isaac Lidsky
Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t all boil down so neatly and, finally, I’ll tell you though, at the risk of boring you to tears, but I’ll tell you just a couple thoughts on the question of sort of luck in life which I do think you’re thinking about.
So, again we all confront circumstances not as we wish them to be in our lives, so luck, as I see, is a dominant force in life. I think, however, we do ourselves a real disservice in sort of simplifying luck, in this perceiving luck. So I have two sort of particular ways in life.
First, I think is we really tend to want to believe that there’s a sort of good luck and bad luck and it’s a bright line and it’s sort of neat and tidy, and we can characterize events. I don’t think that the events themselves are characterizations as good or bad. I think it’s kind of what we do with them. Certainly, you may argue there are some clear cases but certainly I think much of life is this sort of nuance in the middle and it’s kind of up to us to figure that out. I’ll tell you, I think I was lucky to go blind the way that I went blind there’s no doubt in my mind.
Second way, I think maybe reframing luck could be helpful is, again, that idea that circumstances are beyond our control. Again, no doubt there are circumstances that are beyond our control but I think the majority of life, again, is somewhere in the middle in that nuance where whether matters are in our control or not in our control is up for debate and, by the way, is kind of turns on whether we choose to take control or not. So luck, I think, is a tricky thing. I think we can get into trouble when we oversimplify luck in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, now I’d also like to talk about the concept of vision. So what are some of your perspectives on how we could get sort of a better, clearer vision for our lives, our careers, kind of where our team is headed, and then how to convey that vision well?

Isaac Lidsky
Sure. So in the business context, as in a life context, it starts with having one, as sure as it might sound. I think it’s a shame too often we get sort of wrapped up in the day-to-day, or go through the momentum of life, or we get discouraged, or for whatever reason we don’t spend enough time thinking about what it is that we want out of our lives, what it is that we value, that we prize, how we want to spend our time. And I think that’s important for us to do as individuals and I think it’s really important for leaders and managers of corporations or businesses to make sure that they’re answering that question too for the business and for their team, right?
Not to over-idealized or romanticized work, because work is work, but certainly I think that leaders and managers can create a place where it is understood that there’s a larger meaning in a team coming together, cooperating, leveraging each other’s resources and talents, and trying to do something excellent or special and taking pride in it. And that sure beats the alternative as far as I’m concerned.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. And so then, so articulating it, thinking about it, kind of settling on it. And then any special thoughts for how you sort of share that and enroll others in it effectively?

Isaac Lidsky
You know, you can never communicate it too frequently. You can never sort of over-encourage folks to participate, to buy in, but it’s got to be authentic. So my leadership team at ODC Construction is a group of remarkable individuals . . . as I mentioned earlier, the core team saw some really ugly and dark days in the beginning but we kind of lifted each other up and support each other by kind of reminding each other that we were trying to build something special, something excellent, do things a little different, bring professionalism to an unsophisticated industry, bring technology. Yeah, our goal was that the folks who work for our team, who were in the company in a Polo shirt had a little bit of pride, a little bit of swagger for kind of being part of the team.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Isaac, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure that we cover off before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Isaac Lidsky
I do want to clarify for you and for folks listening that while I gained my vision by going blind, the reason why I’m taking so much time to talk about it and write about it, and the reason why I’m so passionate about it is because it really is for everybody. It’s about our minds and it’s about sort of the opportunity we face to live the life we want to live. And I wrote the book in large part really for my children because it’s a vision that I hope they will share someday.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, now, could you share for us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Isaac Lidsky
A favorite quote. Well, it’s the one I start my book with. Helen Keller said, “Worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Isaac Lidsky
That’s a good question. Again, there’s part in the book, these two Harvard psychologists did this research study where they played a video of six people playing basketball, three wearing white shirts and three wearing black shirts. And they told the study participants to count the number of passes made by the players in the white shirts.

In the middle of this video, which I think was like 10 or 12 minutes, a man in a gorilla costume walked into the middle of the screen, waved his arms, pumped his chest and walked off screen. Fifty percent of the study participants were so engrossed in the counting task that they failed entirely to notice the gorilla. They literally swore there was no gorilla and, in fact, they thought there were games being played with them and there were some sort of trick.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a fun one. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Isaac Lidsky
A favorite book, wow. I don’t know that I can give you a favorite book. I love to read and I love to read everything.

Pete Mockaitis
You can give us two or three-is recent favorite books.

Isaac Lidsky
Two or three recent favorites. Well, I read A Man Called Ove recently. I sure thought that was really, really cool. The Most Human Human, I read recently, something like that, about that sort of touring contest where they pitted an artificial intelligence and was against people or whatever but they actually award the person who has the best success rate against the machine is the most human human award or whatever. It was a fascinating story. Those are a couple that I read in the last months or so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite tool, something that you use often that helps you be awesome at your job?

Isaac Lidsky
So my iPhone, in particular app, has a software called VoiceOver which makes the iPhone accessible to blind people. It might seem surprising given it’s a touch screen interface but I can literally run my whole business off my iPhone – spreadsheets and everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so cool.

Isaac Lidsky
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that keeps you sharp and flourishing?

Isaac Lidsky
So my children are everything to me and I make it a habit to speak to them and wish them good night wherever I am in the world or whatever is going on every day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And is there a particular favorite sort of nugget or an expression of your message that seems to particularly sort of resonate with folks, they’re re-tweeting, they’re nodding their heads, they’re taking notes in a hurry? What would you say is a sentence or two from you that seems to capture folks?

Isaac Lidsky
You know, the book is out not eve a week so I don’t know what the field has to say, but I’ll tell you, for me, I really like this sort of simple passage that in every moment you choose who you want to be and how you want to live your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, Isaac, what would you say is the best place if folks want to learn more about what you’re up to or get in touch? Where would you point them?

Isaac Lidsky
Sure. So you can just go to my website which is just my last name, so it’s lidsky.com. You’ll see my TED Talk there, info about the book, I’ve got a blog. What I really hope is that folks will tell me what they think about my vision and my story and all that because there’s wisdom in community. So, if folks would be willing to hit the submit feedback or whatever link and let me know what they think, I would really appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to send forth to those looking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Isaac Lidsky
Yeah. Take control. Take responsibility. Hold yourself accountable. No more excuses. Just get it done.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Oh, Isaac, this was so much fun. Thank you for sharing the good word, and I hope Eyes Wide Open is a smash hit in all the bestseller lists, and that you continue touching folks with this great message.

Isaac Lidsky
Thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you. I hope I didn’t ramble on.

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