Isaac Lidsky, author of Eyes Wide Open, cannot see—but he is not blind. By contrast, most of us can see, yet we stumble through life anyway—completely and utterly blind.
I’ll clarify: Present company included, a lot of us are like Lidsky’s wife who, as a little girl when her father explained that fish swim forward by wagging their tails, immediately assumed they swim backward by wagging their heads. Her harmless hypothesis illustrates a larger point: It’s incredibly easy to become blinded by false assumptions.
It’s easy to let complacency render you the chained man in Plato’s cave who, seeing shadows, mistakes shadows for reality; or the hypocrite in the Gospel of Matthew who, judging another, never suspects that the beam in his own eye is an elephant compared to the speck in his brother’s. We passively allow entire schools of backward swimming fish to swarm our vision, when instead we should actively waive our hands to disperse those nettlesome fish before they get too comfortable.
Luckily, your personal swarm of fish can be beaten. For by actively approaching life—not carpe diem so much as carpe vitam—we see the world as well as our true inner dreams and goals in 20/20. We stop seeing shadows and start seeing reality. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” sure, but the nature of chains is that they can be unchained.
As Lidsky writes, unchaining oneself from imprisoning assumptions comes, like most good things, with effort. Practice. When a young Lidsky was diagnosed with impending blindness, he lost hope. He assumed a future of utter darkness, destined to rob him of everything from his career to his marriage, and he therefore, became blind before blindness, utterly unable to envision a forward path. Yet, after a life-affirming, Stoic change in outlook, blindness became a strength. The obstacle became the way. Lidsky acknowledged blindness and the other obstacles life lobbed his way, sure, but—like fire—he converted them into fuel, burned past them. He recognized his fearful assumptions about blindness for what they were: Backwards-swimming goldfish.
Society’s stereotyping of the blind helped Lidsky realize that what is popular is not always right, and that what society views as success is sometimes actually failure; for when the gap between our being—who we are—and our doing—how we spend our day—grows too large, we become automatons, yearning for one life yet blindly living another. Such a gap between being and doing exists in many areas of our lives, from religion to relationships. For Lidsky, it was his career.
When Lidsky discovered that life at a corporate law firm was for others but not for him, he took action. He did not let life happen to him, tossing him this way and that, but he took control of the rudder, he happened to life, he steered himself towards a form of “doing” more in line with his own personal “being”—in the process launching a business and releasing a book filled with the wisdom that adversity yields.
Eyes Wide Open contains many lessons, but the main lesson is this: “Your life is not happening to you. You are creating it.” Of course, we all begin with different cards, but we can usually play them in such a way as to trigger better or worse outcomes. As Lidsky writes, we are all handed different lemons—some ripe, some less ripe. But those lemons are your lemons. You can convert them into lemonade because lemons contain potentialities. Life contains potentialities. Absent a few truly hopeless situations, we have more control over our lives than we know.
Lidsky put it best: Live eyes wide open; learn to see lemons; take as much control over your life as humanely possible. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum—don’t let your worst assumptions grind you down, not before you open your eyes and see whether those assumptions are truly quite so weighty.