A gift at 23 years old with Zach Osborne

Overview

In 2009, Zach Osborne was a 23-year-old Army Ranger serving in Afghanistan. When Zach’s Stryker vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, both of Zach’s heels were shattered, his right tibia and fibula were broken, and he suffered a range of spinal injuries.

Over the course of the next year, Zach underwent 35 surgeries, battled serious infections, and had one leg amputated below the knee before miraculously recovering.

Afterward, Zach went on to receive his MBA from Stanford University, worked for the Boston Consulting Group, and started his own highly successful consultancy.

In this conversation, I speak with Zach about dealing with uncertainty, how his faith provided a fountain of hope, and why he doesn’t regret any of what happened.

Highlights

5:30 – “It began a process of coming to terms with a new challenge in my life… prior to the explosion, I was 23 years old, king of the world… and then in a moment you’re on your back or in a wheelchair for the next year.”

8:10 – “There’s a point where you start to realize you’ve come to the edge of medical knowledge and you stare off into the abyss.”

9:30 – “I have so much respect for doctors and nurses because they have to walk the line between truth and hope.”

10:15 – “That [initial] adrenaline gave way to the realization that things are different.”

12:30 – “One of the things I was taught during my time recovering was that there’s pain in life… but one of the worst types of pain is uncertainty. When you just don’t know, it’s really hard, it’s really, really hard, and I was forced to come to terms with that type of pain quite a bit.”

15:15 – “Walter Reed, I am convinced, is probably the best place in the world to recover from an injury because everybody there has somebody they look at and is like ‘man, if that guy or gal can do it, I can do it.'”

15:45 – “You don’t have a ton of time to wallow because there’s always people there to encourage you.”

18:40 – “To be frank, the biggest source of [resilience] is my faith. I’m a Christian and that faith background gives me a very strong foundation of hope.”

19:20 – “I would not change a thing… I feel very fortunate for everything.”

22:25 – “You know what’ll really bake your noodle? Is when you think about ‘how many IEDs did I step on that didn’t go off.'”

23:20 – “What really connected the dots for me was when I realized, oh wait, this is my life, it was like this before I went to Afghanistan… I am grateful for that experience because it forced me to connect the dots between the two… this idea of ‘I could die at any moment.'”

24:10 – “At 23 years old, I came to that conclusion. What a gift at a very young age. This is your life and you need to live it as if you don’t know what can happen in any moment.”

25:45 – “Going through this forced me to come to terms with where I was sourcing my identity from. At the start of this, I was sourcing a lot of my identity with being in the military, the training I had done, the deployment… And then you get forced to sit in a chair for a year and not be active… and it was really helpful in terms of being thankful for those things but realizing that’s not what makes me, me.”

28:45 – “This experience has helped give me the resources to be more empathetic to folks [during Covid-19]… figuring out how to be empathetic to people regardless of whether you like them is a really powerful tool.”

32:00 – “One of the things to walk away from [the military with]… is perspective… At a relatively young age, you get a pretty unique perspective on life. What is actually stressful versus what is not, or what is dangerous versus not.”

33:10 – “Everything can seem like an emergency, or you can put things in perspective and realize they’re challenging problems but this is how you can navigate the storm and still present a calm, steady, reinforcing presence to your organization.”

Resources

  • A military account of the use of Stryker vehicles in Afghanistan, including a detailed account of one of then-First Lieutenant Zachary Osborne’s missions (starting on page 24)
  • The consultancy that Zach co-founded, Rios Partners

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Thanks so much for listening!