Overthrowing the Tyranny of the Ideal

Isaac Lidsky is one of the most inspiring people you’ll ever meet. He was born with a degenerative eye disease that caused him to gradually go blind…and he also went on to study math at Harvard, to graduate from Harvard Law and serve as a clerk to two Supreme Court justices, to take a business from $15 million to $150 million, and to form a nonprofit aimed at curing blindness.

He’s also one of the nicest and most humble people you might meet.

We’re very lucky to share with you an excerpt from Isaac’s book — on how to fight your internal critic and embolden your inner “strong man”.

The tyranny of the ideal

The critic in your head intimidates and overwhelms you with the ideal. He proselytizes faith in the potential to achieve perfection. His dogma draws you in with a superficial optimism, a hint at the divine in man, a promise of inspiration. He tells you perfection can always be attained in theory, and there is a warmth in the idea. You want to believe it. But the critic knows you will never be perfect in reality. You know it, too. There is coldness in this truth.

Often fear lurks behind the critic, filling the empty spaces of the unknown with the most awful possibilities. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of the uncertainty that is as abundant as your challenge is difficult, as pervasive as your struggle is worthwhile. The critic offers you the easy way out. “Why bother? Face the facts. Be realistic. This isn’t worth it.”

The voice of the critic is often loudest before you’ve even begun. This is when he can do his greatest damage. You have yet to commit to your goal. You have made no investment in your aspirations. You have risked nothing in pursuit of your plans. For this and this alone the critic will commend you. Your inaction is a proxy for his own, his commendation a rationalization of past cowardice. The odds never justify the critic’s wager because you are guaranteed to fall short of perfection, as every human endeavor would. The critic’s is a fraudulent faith of failure foreordained.

The strong man worships effort, struggle, momentum, growth. He finds none of these things in perfection and thus has no use for it, in concept or otherwise. To the strong man, perfection is a vacuum, like death. There is no progress in the void of perfection, no motion, no life.

For the strong man, the “best” is a fallacy. He assesses the quality of the effort expended, not the results obtained. He understands that external comparison is meaningless in this context. There is no unit of measure for grit or determination. Language is insufficient to classify with any precision our struggles, let alone to compare them. You cannot quantify the heart you put into the fight or the meaning you ascribe to it. Those are feelings, inherently personal, of no comparative value.

They are the feelings the strong man lives for and the gauge by which he holds himself internally accountable. For the strong man, achieving some theoretical maximum on that gauge would be like suffering the sterile death of perfection. His gauge has no maximum. He might achieve his personal best thus far. But he will never achieve his personal best. He can always improve, can always grow. He yearns for better, always better, but knows no best.

The strong man is rooted to the ground. His reality is the moment, his focus crisp. He studies the proximate terrain with care, glancing at the distance casually and infrequently. His obsession is momentum, progress. Confronting the cliff to be scaled he sees toeholds, paths of ascent, the leverage of his tools and gear. He is aware of the summit, of course. But his world is now, this reach. Stretch, grip, pull.

“What next?” he asks. It is his mantra. “Just keep moving.” Failure is a fertile soil for knowledge. Strength is built of muscles tearing. Today’s mistake is tomorrow’s innovation. We discover vistas of great beauty when we are lost, and somehow we find our way, as long as we keep moving. The strong man knows all of these things, and his knowledge is fear’s antidote. The strong man lives with the peace of conviction and the humility of awareness. “This is quite a journey,” he thinks.

The strong man savors the first step. He is impatient for it, craves it. As long as he strives valiantly, with his first step he has already won. He will thrive in the arena, marred by dust and sweat and blood, daring greatly. The strong man welcomes the triumph of achievement to nurture his great enthusiasms and devotions. But he leaves the measure of that achievement to his critics.

They will not disappoint. Your critics—the real ones and the one in your head alike—seek you out. They volunteer their unsolicited opinions and advice. They promote their purported expertise about you to anyone who will listen. Critics are loud and aggressive, vexations to the spirit.

The strong man leads by example and teaches by sharing his experiences. He speaks his truth quietly and clearly. He does not offer advice, he inspires. The world is full of strong men, though they often go unnoticed. You will find them in your life if you look for them. When you do find one, study him, learn from his example, relate his experiences to your own. Be inspired.

Excerpted with permission from EYES WIDE OPEN: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly by Isaac Lidsky. © 2017 by Freshly Squeezed Citrus, LLC. TarcherPerigee, a Penguin Random House imprint.

About the author: Isaac Lidsky has an eclectic resume. He played “Weasel” on Saved by the Bell: The New Class; graduated from Harvard College at age nineteen with a degree in mathematics and computer science; graduated from Harvard Law School and served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; transformed a struggling $15 million concrete subcontractor into an industry-leading $150 million business; and founded Hope for Vision, a nonprofit that funds the development of treatments for blinding diseases. Lidsky was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease of the retina that caused him to gradually lose his sight. Lidsky lives Florida with his wife and four children. Learn more at www.Lidsky.com.

Eyes Wide Open book cover