“Expect the Unexpected” Is the Worst Advice In History

I broke my collar bone and learned why expectations don’t work.


Max Phillips

3 years ago | 3 min read

“How bad is it?” I asked my physical education teacher.

Silence. Then, a grimace.

My heart sank.

Shit, I thought to myself, have I just broken my first bone? No, I’ve played rugby and football for as long as I can remember. I’m an invincible teenager. Well, as it turns out, I was just a skinny one.

My collar bone broke, and my mind was left to pick up the pieces.

Since I was five years old, I’d played football (not soccer, football). So when the time came for me to play rugby, I was scared. Teachers saw a tall, quick kid and thrust me into the team. I hated the physicality of it all. The ball felt unnatural in my hands. It belonged at my feet.

Still, I managed seven years of school without a broken bone. Sure, I had my face smashed in by two forearms flying at full speed, and an eight-week-long knee graze, but nothing as jarring.

I was 17, playing full-back (the last line of defense). The opposing team’s winger broke through our defense, summoning me to take action. I sprinted across the pitch.


I collided with him, smashing him out of play and saving my team’s blushes. It felt great. Until it didn't.

In the impact, his entire bodyweight swiveled and landed directly on my collar bone, breaking it in two places. Later that week, my teammate told me it sounded like a large celery snapping. Gross, I know.

Initially, I downplayed the severity of my injury. That is until I saw the X-ray and nearly passed out. But the pain was immense, and as the days and weeks progressed, it wore my energy down.

For the first time in a long time, my brain stepped out of it’s comfort zone. Adaptation became my newest sport and I was a novice.

At the time of the break, I’d started lifting weights. You might know how it is: a skinny guy realizes he looks like a gust of wind away from starring in the sequel to Up. He grows, likes the feeling, so he chases the pump. That was me. So, to stop doing that for three months was a real blow. As a result, I turned to cardio.

To compensate, I pushed myself. Hard. Repeated sprint sets were accompanied by a sharp pain in my collar and a rollicking from my then-girlfriend. When I picked up a weight again, I was all over the place.

My mind tormented me; “Why, why why. WHY!!!” It screamed.

Eventually, I resumed football. Me being me, I jumped straight back in, expecting to once again be invincible. But my mind wouldn’t allow it.

During the first few minutes of the game, I lept for a header. Clearly lacking strength after 12 weeks out, I was swiftly knocked on my ass, broken side down. For a moment, I panicked. What if I hurt myself again? Luckily, I was okay.

That planted seeds of doubt which, in some ways, still haven’t died. I can’t do dips, sleep on that side for too long, nor can I lift a barbell without shoulder pain. I’ve never truly entered my old life. Invincible no more. It was around this time when I heard someone say the age old advice: “expect the unexpected.”

Did I expect to break my collar bone? No. If I had, would it have made anything better? I really bloody doubt it. People always think they’re wise when they say that. I get why it comes to mind, but for the love of God, it doesn’t imbue you with Jedi master Yoda’s wisdom.

Expectations are overrated.

There’s no real way to reenter your old life. Bone breaks, breakups, deaths — all of it is unexpected, even if you expect it. It’s unquantifiable beyond your wildest imagination. Incomprehensible, unprecedented. All of the big words. You can’t expect the unexpected.

In the words of Bear Grylls: improvise, adapt, overcome.

One page turns, another chapter begins. Don’t expect anything because one day you’re an invincible teenager, and the next you’re in a sling.

Reentry isn't a thing. You’re just entering a new phase, and that’s okay.


Created by

Max Phillips







Related Articles