Over the past few months, I seem to have found myself reading books on self-improvement (working on sales skills, overcoming rejection). And biographies and autobiographies of people with disabilities (because we are all on a similar journey with many paths). A few months ago, I read a terrific article about taking a step back and trying not to read someone else’s intentions and the importance of communicating effectively. When I discovered the author of the article wrote a book, I snapped it up quickly, hoping to be able to learn a few things. I did, but not in the way I expected.
Eyes Wide Open
By: Isaac Lidsky
In this New York Times bestseller, Isaac Lidsky draws on his experience of achieving immense success, joy, and fulfillment while losing his sight to a blinding disease to show us that it isn’t external circumstances, but how we perceive and respond to them, that governs our reality.
Fear has a tendency to give us tunnel vision–we fill the unknown with our worst imaginings and cling to what’s familiar. But when confronted with new challenges, we need to think more broadly and adapt. When Isaac Lidsky learned that he was beginning to go blind at age thirteen, eventually losing his sight entirely by the time he was twenty-five, he initially thought that blindness would mean an end to his early success and his hopes for the future. Paradoxically, losing his sight gave him the vision to take responsibility for his reality and thrive. Lidsky graduated from Harvard College at age nineteen, served as a Supreme Court law clerk, fathered four children, and turned a failing construction subcontractor into a highly profitable business.
Whether we’re blind or not, our vision is limited by our past experiences, biases, and emotions. Lidsky shows us how we can overcome paralyzing fears, avoid falling prey to our own assumptions and faulty leaps of logic, silence our inner critic, harness our strength, and live with open hearts and minds. In sharing his hard-won insights, Lidsky shows us how we too can confront life’s trials with initiative, humor, and grace.
You learn early on that Isaac Lidsky has lived an exceptional life for someone who hasn’t yet turned 40. he’s starred in a hit TV show, clerked for not one, but two, Supreme Court Justices, owns his own company, and is a father of four.
The autobiographical portion of this book is told in “fishing Trips”, lighthearted reads, non-sequential essays. You know his wife gives birth to triplets and health problems arise, but you learn this in the early stages of the book, and don’t learn the outcome until closer to the end. His taking over a struggling construction company is detailed first, then, the next “Fishing Trip” essay is about a threat to his employer (a Supreme Court Justice) three years earlier that included his taking a motorcade to a cigar bar. The autobiography is compulsively readable, but it’s hard to follow, because it’s not written in any linear fashion.
Journey Through Sight Loss
From teen heartthrob to law clerk to entrepreneur, Isaac Lidsky has worked hard to get where he’s at, but he had to first come to terms with his declining vision. He believes that he would not be the person he is today without having lost his vision. When addressing his own journey to sight loss acceptance, he uses terms such as “awfulizing” (considering and brooding on a worst-case scenario). He acknowledges that many people view losing their sight as terrifying – he was once one of them – but likens it to a child who fears a monster under the bed and has to be told again and again that there are no monsters. His way of expressing his own journey through sight loss – from denial to resignation to acceptance – is refreshing; he acknowledges that he has to remind himself that others are where he once was, and needs to take that step back and allow them to fear the “monster” of sight loss and learn the truth about the “monsters.”
Self-Help: Eyes Wide Open
The self-help aspects of the book were where most of my conflict lies. There’s not a lot new here, though some of the analogies put into great words things I’ve never been able to express. Everyone has had an experience where they knew they saw a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a coworker somewhere… only to call their name and discover it’s not them. Heck, even someone who knows me had a similar experience. Lidsky uses this universal experience to drive home the point that perception is not reality, and we would do well to remember that.
But what is most troubling is his assertion that life is what you make it, that people will misjudge you but it’s up to you to not allow their perceptions of you to colour your perception of yourself, or of them. This glosses over the very real problems of ableism, racism, sexism that exist in our world. And being grateful that we can read and write, and live on more than $10 a day, doesn’t address very real obstacles that are placed in our path. Lidsky compares life to a game of poker – of skill rather than luck. Yes, what you do and how you respond to challenges matters – and it matters a lot – but constantly receiveing horrible cards puts you in a situation where you’re supposed to bluff your way through life, or you’re so far in the hole that no amount of skill can get you ahead in the next 27 hands.
Isaac Lidsky has lived a remarkable life. He has worked hard to get where he is, and I would never presume to take that away from him. But in many ways he has been given remarkable gifts of a superior intillect, a supportive family, and a drive to succeed in his chosen career and academic fields. For those who simply want a “normal” life, his advice can lead one to feel that their ordinary dreams are not good enough. The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ideas can make those who’ve faced very real ableism, sexism or racism feel marginalized all over again because we “let” someone else get to us and relied on luck rather than skill to dictate the course of our education or career or life.
I’m struggling to rate this book fairly, because I think it tried to be too many things to too many people. As an essayist, I like the way Isaac Lidsky expresses himself. But as a hole, I struggled to read this book straight through. Even picking apart the well-written personal essays – by turns humorous and heartbreaking – I would’ve preferred a more sequential reading. And the self-help “eyes wide open” philosophy – even though it contained some portions that will make me think – doesn’t address some very real problems that do have very real consequences. Yes, we need to step back and ask questions and listen actively, but Lidsky’s glossing over one’s perception of him as a blind man (because, frankly, he has the economic luxury to do so) and encouraging others to do the same, rings quite hollow.
Even so, this book will make you think; it will challenge you. It challenged me in some important ways.