IHRSA 2018 Keynote: To Persevere, Keep Your 'Eyes Wide Open'

Losing his sight yielded unique insights that allowed Isaac Lidsky to succeed at life. He'll tell how at IHRSA 2018.

Though he lost his sight at the age of 19, Isaac Lidsky, undeterred, has become a successful attorney, entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker.

“I lost my sight,” he says, “but I gained the ‘vision’ to define and create the life I wanted for myself.”

He’ll describe how others can do the same in his IHRSA 2018 presentation, “Eyes Wide Open,” sponsored by Daxko.

Leadership Isaac Lidsky Column

CBI: Your keynote presentation at IHRSA’s 37th Annual International Convention & Trade Show is entitled “Eyes Wide Open.” A thumbnail description if you would ...

ISAAC LIDSKY: In every minute, every moment, we choose who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. It’s our ultimate power and our inescapable responsibility. “Eyes Wide Open” is about taking control—making those choices with awareness, intention, and purpose—and holding yourself accountable.

CBI: The presentation is based, in part, on your best-selling book, the sub-title of which is, “Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly.” What do you mean by “can’t see clearly”?

IL: We’re the masters of our own realities, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Too often, we believe the awful fictions of our fears; we misperceive success and value in our lives; we overlook the nuances of “luck”; we perpetuate our insecurities and vanities; and we struggle to listen to each other and to our own hearts.

When we perceive our self-limitations—the machinations of our own minds—as objective and immutable truth, we’re not seeing very clearly.

CBI: The emphasis on sight obviously stems from the fact that, in 1993, you were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which eventually left you blind. Can you describe the personal, internal process that led you from that diagnosis to focus, as an author and speaker, on vision?

IL: What we see feels like “truth”—something out there that’s objective reality, that‘s factual, that’s universal. But, as my eyes progressively deteriorated, I literally saw, firsthand, that the experience of sight is altogether different. It’s a unique, personal, virtual reality that’s constructed in the brain, and it involves far more than our eyes.

I began to search for other examples of ways that I was misperceiving, as objective “truth,” the beliefs and assumptions that were, in reality, creations of my own making—creations that I could change. This “eyes-wide-open” vision enabled
me to take control of my reality and my destiny.

CBI: You once said that, “As odd as it may sound, losing my vision has, in a way, been a rewarding experience for me.” A somewhat unexpected observation—please explain.

IL: When I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, I knew blindness would ruin my life. I was wrong. I lost my sight, but I gained the “vision” to define and create the life I wanted for myself. It turned out to be a profound blessing, one that I want to share with others, so they, too, can make use of the insights I gained with blindness.

“When I was diagnosed with my blinding disease, I knew blindness would ruin my life. I was wrong.”

CBI: You have degrees from Harvard University and Harvard Law; served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; cofounded an Internet-based advertising- optimization business that eventually sold for $230 million; and have turned your current company, ODC Construction, LLC, which was ailing, into a thriving business. What drives you?

IL: Being a father. It is, without question, the most important and rewarding experience of my life, and also the most difficult by far. For me, being a father has taken my personal accountability to a whole new level.

We teach our children far more with our actions than we do with our words—they learn from our example. I know I need to exhibit for my children the behaviors and techniques I want for them in their lives—I can’t just talk about those things. It’s quite a responsibility. It’s raised the stakes tremendously.

At work and at home, my eyes-wide-open vision has brought me immeasurable joy, fulfillment, and success. It’s something I work on daily, and it’s liberating and empowering.

CBI: Have you ever doubted yourself? Have you ever failed?

IL: Yes and yes! Often! Eyes-wide-open is my daily aspiration. It’s a discipline that requires effort and commitment. I confront doubts and fears and anxieties like everyone else, but I work hard to see through them.

In a beautiful way, failure is progress. It’s knowledge and wisdom. It’s the inevitable byproduct of growth and learning. My numerous mistakes and mishaps along the way have often been my greatest teachers in life.

“Failure” is 100% perspective.

CBI: What keeps so many people from pursuing and achieving their dreams? Lack of confidence? Fear of failure? How can you help people move from an “I can’t” to an “I can” posture?

IL: Our fears can lead us to buy into
a false and awful reality. We fear the worst, assuming we’re going to face it, but most fears are born of, or at least fueled by, ignorance—the things we don’t know.

The trick is to be crystal clear about what you truly know and what you think you know. When we’re afraid, we need to take in as much information as we can, to expand our view, and question everything. But, all too often, fear produces the opposite effect.

We’re lulled into playing our part in the awful reality of our fears by the perceived heroes and villains in our lives. This is how our fears become self-fulfilling—when we abdicate responsibility, blaming and celebrating others. Look for heroes and villains

in your life. They’re figments of your imagination. You’re the creator of your reality. You, and only you!

CBI: Since you acquired ODC, you’ve transformed it from a company that manufactured foundations and frames—what you’ve called “a house’s guts”— into a full-service construction and logistics business. What did you “see clearly” in the firm that the former owner didn’t?

IL: My team and I developed a shared vision of a “better way” to bring valuable services to our homebuilder customers, and we’ve committed ourselves to excellence in that endeavor. We also have a lot of fun together. That’s the true core of our success.

CBI: After taking over, you introduced a slew of dramatic changes. You hired your own labor team, rather than relying on subcontractors; hired an industry sales expert; wrote your own software to increase efficiency; developed a logistics system; created a project management team that worked out of a “war room” ... What sort of a process did all of that require?

IL: At bottom, we began to change the company by embracing a spirit of curiosity, and as I said, a commitment to be excellent. We asked the question “Why?” with respect to every aspect of our business, big and small. Why did we do certain things in a certain way? How could we do them better?

Our focus was on incremental progress, the best next step at any juncture. Our priority was adding value for the customer. Our culture was defined and shaped by enthusiasm, an eagerness to do something special together, and to have fun doing it.

“In a beautiful way, failure is progress. It’s knowledge and wisdom. It’s the inevitable byproduct of growth and learning.”

CBI: How does your blindness affect, inform, or enhance how you work with your team?

IL: Because I don’t see gestures or facial expressions, I have to insist on a lot more verbal feedback. In essence, my team is forced to tell me what they think.

At first, this was awkward, and I feared that the awkwardness was a result of my blindness—that I was burdening my team and company in some way. Now, I understand that awkwardness is a natural part of meaningful communication.

When we tell people what we think, we become vulnerable, and it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s well worth it—and critical to the success of a team.

Ultimately, my blindness became
a huge asset for my company, and for me as a leader. It led me and the team to communicate at a deeper level, helped us to avoid ambiguities, and made it clear to everyone that what they think truly matters.

CBI: And the turnaround has taken ODC from what, then, to what, today—in terms of the type of business it’s doing, number of employees, revenues, and its prospects for the future?

IL: From 2011 to 2017, we went from a dozen corporate employees to more than 150; from about 80 full-time laborers to more than 400; from one facility in Florida to four; and from losing money on about $15 million in revenue to healthy profit margins on approximately $200 million. We helped to build more than 5,000 homes in 2017, and we’re still growing rapidly ...

CBI: Would you recommend that other business owners—such as club operators—periodically step back, review every aspect of their business, and consider the possibility of implementing wholesale changes?

IL: Not necessarily. I think you have to start with a larger inquiry—that of defining your goals in life. What is it that you truly want to accomplish? Who do you want to be, and how do you want to live your life? Can you commit to your answers, and can you make a sincere, conscious choice to work toward those goals?

In your business and at home, the test
is: What are the differences between
the way you’d like to live your life and
the way you actually live it—the differences in terms of who you are, how
you treat others, how you allow others to treat you, how you spend your time, and what you accomplish?

If those things are different, and you aren’t doing anything about it, then wholesale change is in order. You need to understand your desired result before you begin figuring out how to make it happen.

CBI: What do owners need to do to have that kind of vision?

IL: Clarity of vision demands that you are absolutely honest with yourself and accountable to yourself—for your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and actions. We do ourselves great harm when we lie to ourselves.

It’s even worse, though, when we avoid facing ourselves altogether. I think introspection is a neglected skill that’s critical.

CBI: Health clubs, in many cases, are in the business of helping individuals navigate lifestyle turn-arounds. Any advice about how they can help people to do so?

IL: Our greatest aspirations are often overwhelming at scale. We experience success in the moment, the next best step, in the process of actually striving toward a noble pursuit. When we become fixated on a distant goal, however, we can become discouraged or lost.

With that in mind, I think perspective is key. “I want to work out more because I want to lose 50 pounds” is a daunting prospect. “I want to feel healthier,” or “I deserve to invest time and effort in my well-being,” or “I work out to feel happier and more energetic”—those are more sustainable propositions.

Make the “goal” a byproduct of a lifestyle commitment, not the sole reason for it.

CBI: You once said, “If you’re going to assess your lot in life or your circumstances, it’s only fair to look at the whole picture. And from that perspective, I’m beyond lucky.” Specifically, why do you think you’re beyond lucky?

IL: I won the cosmic lottery at birth— born to a middle-class family in America, to parents who loved and nurtured me, with three wonderful, talented sisters as role models. I’ve never known hunger, and never lacked for shelter, or healthcare, or
a quality education. I’ve been blessed to have numerous, phenomenal experiences in my life. And of course I share that life with a wife I admire and adore, and with our four beautiful children. I’ve absolutely nothing to complain about—blind or not.

Patricia Amend

Patricia Amend is the Executive Editor for Club Business International.