29 Short Stories + Life Lessons I’ve learnt in 29 Years

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Today is my last day of being 29. I officially get to tick a new box when I’m filling out paperwork.

Turning 30 is one of those rites of passage that tends to inspire deep thought, reminiscing and reflection. I’ve been indulging in all of the above.

I’ve been thinking about my life and all the magic, messy, hilarious, what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking moments that make it up. 

So I started writing and, as I did, the stories tumbled out; stories that I don’t often share and that would be lost if I never wrote them down. Some made me laugh. Some made my cry. Some made me cringe. Some made me do an awkward amalgamation of all of the above. They all shaped me in some way or another.

In celebration of my last day in this decade, I thought I’d share a small selection of those stories here and the lessons I learned.

Some are deliciously deep, others surprisingly shallow. Some may help you out in your own life and others are completely, utterly and unapologetically self-indulgent moments of reflection.

Here, in no particular order, are 29 random short stories and the life lessons I learned from them.


 

When I was 27… I was bridesmaid at one of my oldest, greatest friends wedding. My gorgeous dress had a low back and so I wanted my alabaster skin to look bronzed and beautiful. So I self-tanned myself.

LESSON: Do not EVER self tan yourself. Especially not before a big event where there will be photos.

*There I am on the left – look at my arm! How is that possible?!*

(bonus lesson – don’t make rude jokes with hand gestures when a photographer is lurking)

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When I was 23… I had a disagreement with someone. She sent me an email accusing me of something outrageous and it sent me into a tail spin. I forwarded her email to my husband, complete with foul-mouthed tirade on exactly what I thought of her and her opinions. Only, I didn’t press forward… I pressed reply.

LESSON: Never respond when you’re angry.
Also, maybe just don’t put angry words in writing. Ever.


 

When I was 20… I wanted to woo my new boyfriend (now husband) by cooking my specialty – Beef Stroganoff. He only had a crappy baking tray but I was sure I could make it work. The result was unpalatable brown water with meat pellets floating in it.

LESSON: Good cookware really does make a difference.


 

When I was 18… I met three tourists with heavy accents (side note – I have never been good at picking accents). Anyway, I asked them how long they were over from America. Clearly insulted they turned their noses up and said “We’re Canadian”.

Feeling embarrassed I quickly tried to fill the awkward silence, “Oh sorry… Canadians hate Americans don’t they? I get it. I’m a Pom – we hate the French!”.

They stared back at me before snapping – “We’re French Canadian”.

LESSON: Stop talking. Sometimes awkward silences are the best option.


 

When I was 29… I asked my daughter how she’d like to decorate her room. Underwater theme, or dinosaurs or princesses? She looked at me thoughtfully, with her giant blue eyes, before answering.

I would like jellyfish and rainbows and purple giraffes and lots and lots of dinosaurs and stars and mermaids”.

I explained that it wasn’t really a theme to which she replied (as if I was thick) “of course it is mummy”. And of course it is; Lucy theme.

LESSON: Kids are so in tune with who they are that the limitations of reality or what is normal just don’t cross their mind. You have a lot more fun that way. Be like kids. Do your own thing. Wear the glitter. Say the different opinion. Be bold. 

be different


 

When I was 15… I was riding a horse that clearly wanted me dead. It bucked and reared until I flew through the air and off it’s back. My trainer told me I had to get back on to show it (and myself) that I wasn’t afraid. So I did… and the same thing happened, only this time I landed under it’s wildly stamping hooves.

Seriously shaken, I climbed on a third time. The horse started pig-rooting so violently that I was convinced I was about to meet my maker. Then – out of nowhere like a floral-wearing kamikaze pilot – my 5″2 English mum hurdled over the fence, ran to my side and punched the horse so hard in the nose that it stopped firmly in it’s tracks (sparing my life in the process).

LESSON: No matter how much life hurts – get back on the horse. Keep getting back on the horse. If that doesn’t work – punch the horse in the nose.

 


 

When I was 20… I permanently moved across the country in my boldest (most expensive) show of independence to date. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like everything was perfect. Good friends, great place and a fun job at a local bar. I was finally on track.

A month later, while cleaning glasses, I suddenly felt in every fibre of my body that I needed to call my parents. I told my manager I needed a break and when he refused I – without hesitation – handed him my apron and walked outside (effectively resigning).

Are you alright?” I blurted out, when my dad answered the phone. He couldn’t speak. He handed the phone to mum who, through tears, couldn’t talk either. They assured me everything was fine and they’d call me in the morning. That night, without them knowing, I got on a plane.

The next day I got back to my family home which was empty. To use up my nervous energy while I waited for them to get home, I started cleaning. I cleaned like I’d never cleaned before. My parents love wood, so I grabbed some polish and set to every wooden surface I could find (of which there were many) – floorboards, banisters, furniture and even the grandfather clock. {more on this in a second}.

As my parents drove up the driveway I stepped out of the front door, completely blindsiding them. To this day, picturing the look on their faces, makes my eyes water.

I never ended up going back to Queensland to my lovely life and all my stuff. Instead I stayed with my parents and brother, and we all fought dad’s cancer together.

LESSON: Life doesn’t tend to go to plan but as long as you listen to your gut and your heart, you’ll never regret a single decision that you make.
You might even end up some place better than you imagined.

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Back to the polish… After we gathered ourselves and I absorbed the news, I told them I had a surprise. I smugly led them to the sparkly upstairs. I flung open the doors, we all stepped onto the floorboards and promptly skid across them like Bambi on ice. Wildly, we grabbed onto the banisters which didn’t help at all because they were slippery too. We ended up on the floor laughing.

Turns out I had used antique polish, which had the equivalent effect of pouring oil over the floor. For the next 6 months, the upstairs was like an ice-rink which made chemo comical and – let’s face it – slightly dangerous.

LESSON: In the worst moments you can still find laughter.
And antique polish is extremely slippery. 


 

When I was 3… I was about to start kindergarten in England. The day prior I tripped and scuffed the skin between my nose and upper lip, leaving a dark rectangular scab. Looking back at photos there is a sweet little girl in a sailor’s hat… and an Adolf Hitler moustache.

LESSON: Sometimes you’re going to look silly. Show up anyway. You’ll survive and it’ll make great dinner party fodder down the track.

 


 

When I was 29… I looked at a younger photo of myself and realised just how silly i’d been all those years I thought I’d looked fat. I was bangin’. Then I realised (in 5 years time) I’d probably find myself in some twilight zone looking at photos of me now wishing I had just been happy. 

LESSON: As Susan Sarandon said “When I hear young girls complaining about superficial things… you’re at the peak of your physical beauty right now! Just enjoy it and stop worrying about your thighs being too big. If you’re upset with how you look at 25, life’s going to be tough!” Yes.

 


 

When I was 19… after a bad break-up I was down, out and desperately in need of a place to live. The first “room” I looked at was in a beach-side cottage with a group of surfie guys and gals. They seemed so nice and for $100 a week? They easily convinced me that it was a steal. It was perfect except for one small detail…

My newly rented room was referred to as “the dungeon”. Parts of the floor were missing and went straight onto sand, you could peer into my room from the floorboards above and there was no light. It was damp and didn’t have a door or windows.

LESSON: Desperation doesn’t breed rational thinking. Slow down. Calm your breath. Choose wisely. Stop thinking that the first opportunity will be your only opportunity… you’re much better than that. 

(the story continues)


 

While in the dungeon…  a friend came and saw my new “place”. There were no niceties. From the moment he set foot he told me that I was insane. That I deserved better. That – despite questionable judgement – I was not a damn ogre.

After a serious dressing down, he headed upstairs to give the people renting me the room a serious serve. After a very harsh “get your shit together” talk, he offered me his couch. A few days later I found a nice apartment worthy of my residence.

LESSON: Good friends tell you hard truths.
Lick your wounds. Value your friends.


 

When I was 26… they placed my daughter on my chest for the first time. I looked at her almond shaped eyes, her mop of black hair and her olive skin and remember thinking “how bizarre – I gave birth to a beautiful, little Asian girl” (it had been a long night).

Since that deeply confused moment she has grown into the most complex, incredible, anomaly of a creature that inspires me with her sense of self every day.

She doesn’t fit into boxes. She loves broccoli and chocolate in equal measure. Her favorite animal is a spider. She likes the credits more than the movie. She wants to be a builder and an actress. She hugs and kisses the big, brown, snotty-looking jellyfish down at the river (they don’t sting) and tells shocked passersby that they’re the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. She’s just as happy covered in dirt or glitter. 

She knows who she is and she embraces every weird, wonderful, mismatched dimension of herself .

LESSON: Boxes are boring. Don’t try to fit in them. Rock your weirdness.

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When I was 28…
I tried on a pair of my favorite jeans only to find they had shrunk in the wash. I grabbed out a second pair before discovering that they too had shrunk. 3 pairs later, and totally miffed, I realised that my jeans hadn’t shrunk – my ass had grown (by 15 kilos I might add!).

LESSON: You can’t monitor what you don’t manage. Self-awareness is a vital part of self-care.


When I was 22… my then-boyfriend and I went on holiday. On the first day I bit into a squid ring that was so off that it had liquefied. As I crunched through the golden batter a jet of  liquid squid shot down my throat. Let that percolate for a moment – liquid squid.

The food poisoning took effect quickly and within the hour I was a human fountain – two spouts (because I’m fancy!). Despite the paradise outside, Mark stayed by my side for the entire 2 heaving days, patting my head with a wet flannel and telling me I was beautiful.

When I finally felt (almost) human again we ventured out for dinner to start our holiday. That night Mark got food poisoning. I stayed by his side for the entire 2 heaving days, patting his head with a wet flannel and telling him he was beautiful.

LESSON: When you find someone who will stick by you through vomit, diarrhea and blood shot eyes (and still tell you that you’re beautiful) – marry them.
(I did a year later).  

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When I was 17…  I got a job as the Saturday morning newspaper delivery girl. All that was required of me was throwing papers out my car window which led me to believe that pyjamas were totally appropriate work attire.

As I walked out the door (complete with unbrushed hair and teeth) my mum warned me – “Em, always dress appropriately even if ‘nobody can see you'”. Wo’eva, I can hear myself say before I slammed the door shut.

An hour later the back of my car was in a ditch and the front end (with me in the driver’s seat) was teetering in the air like a seesaw. I had reversed badly out of a driveway and ending up in the storm water drain. Walking home in flannel pyjamas, no shoes and a red face was not my finest moment.

LESSON: Listen to your mum.
Dress appropriately. 



When I was 24…
an acquaintance from a top hair salon convinced me to be a Hair Model. I would get a tasteful cut, colour and style completely FREE – all I had to do was sit on stage while they made me look incredible. No questions asked, I was in!

I ended up walking down a runway, in a hooker dress with platinum silver hair that could be seen from outer space.

LESSON: When things sound too good to be true… they might be.
(and don’t just trust your head to anyone)

(below is the only photo of ‘the do’ that I didn’t incinerate)

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When I was 26… I applied for a job where my primary role was to spend the day on a boat taking photos of dolphins. I knew there was a catch. There wasn’t… It was one of my favorite jobs

LESSON: When things sound too good to be true… they might not be.
(celebrate that shit!)

dolphins


 

When I was 18… I worked as a tour guide on the Aquaduck which is a basically a boat with wheels. One day the duck was hired out for a private end-of-year rugby function. When the driver and I arrived to pick the team up we had a sneaking suspicion that the team had been partying all day. We had that suspicion because they were all naked. The more modest players wore neon pink g-strings and the real prudes went for tulle tutus.

Unsurprisingly it felt wrong. I felt nervous. I didn’t particularly trust the driver (a 50 year old child himself) but it was my job. Fast-forward an hour later and the Aquaduck was driving down the main road of Surfers Paradise deafened by a chorus of 40 naked rugby players (and the bus driver) all inexplicably singing “EMMA LIKES IT UP THE ARSE”.

For one, my name is Emily. Secondly, they would have no idea of my bottoms preferences.

LESSON: Listen to your gut. Don’t get on the bus.


 

When I was 23… I was on my honeymoon. We’d booked hiking trips, canoeing, surfing and horse-riding.

On the second night (after a few champagnes) my husband pretty much broke his ankle. On our way home from the hospital the car broke down. From then onward we were confined to crutches.

We could have dropped our lips. Called it a day. We didn’t. Instead – we had the best time ever.

LESSON: Shit happens. Don’t let it ruin your (holi)day.  

Here are the conditions that let to the broken ankle….

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Here is the exact moment of the broken ankle…

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Here is the “Don’t laugh baby… I think I’m hurt” moment…

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Here is Mark rocking his new wheels.

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When I was 23… I used to walk dogs at a dog shelter. The strict training policy stated that when a dog jumped to stand still, cross your arms and look the other way until they (deterred by the lacklustre response) would cease and desist.

Enter Ben the Beagle.

He was a code red which meant only experienced walkers were allowed with him. That code was impressive for a small dog – it was usually reserved for Rottweilers or German Shepherds. I soon learnt how he earned his stripes.

Ben and I were on a walk when he decided to mount my leg. Though this wasn’t just mounting – he defied gravity – and was wildly thrusting his pelvis into my upper thigh.

For 15 minutes, as countless people walked by, I had to stand still acting complete unfazed as a deviant dog had its way with my femur.

LESSON: Helping doesn’t always feel good. Do it anyway. (And beware of Ben).


 

When I was 15… I was invited to a party with “the popular group”. In an ill-attempt to fit in I got hideously drunk. On Monday, I arrived at school to whispers, stares and sneers. A “concerned” friend let me know that everyone knew that I’d been so drunk that I’d wet my pants.

I knew it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t prove it. Plus humiliation is like catnip to teenagers – they didn’t care if it was true or not. The bullying and the isolation that followed was savage. I begged my parents to leave the school (and got close to doing so). It was the event that triggered a long battle with anxiety. 

As with any dark patch though, there were benefits. Real friends rallied. I reevaluated my own view of what made a cool kid (kindness is king). I lost my desire to be popular. I developed a shit-tonne of empathy. I became resilient.

And then just like that, there was a new victim and my fifteen minutes of infamy was all but forgotten.

A few years ago, an old school friend of mine caught up and were laughing about the good old days. She giggled when she asked if I remembered that joke Rebecca played on me, you know, “the one where they told everyone you pissed your pants“.

LESSON: This too shall pass and when you get to the other side, you’ll be proud  (and so relieved) that you didn’t give up. 

And if you’re a teenager reading this – little games can have big consequences. Be kind.


 

When I was 20… I met my husband Mark at my cousin’s wedding. Both our mums were there (yes,  they witnessed our first drunken pash) and they got chatting. By the end of the night my mum knew all about “Mark’s” recent break-up.

The next day she (rightly) warned me that he wasn’t in the right space to pursue a relationship with and that I should be careful. I considered the information. It made sense not to get involved. But something felt right about him.

Weeks later, when we were officially a couple (I had already moved in) I asked him about his ex. Turns out those stories weren’t about Mark at all… they were about his younger brother.

Imagine what I could have missed out on?

LESSON: Make up your own mind.

 


 

When I was 29… we went Christmas shopping when my daughter had a tantrum so spectacular that it drew a small crowd. Nothing would stifle her screams.

This was a new phenomenon and my husband and I started snapping at each other under the “omg, people are staring, we are bad parents” pressure. There was gnashing of teeth and scratching of nails.

We looked at each other in sheer panic without a clue of what to do. Our eyes met and we burst out laughing. A woman rounded the corner just to saw us laughing at our helpless child. She looked at us in disdain, shook her head and left. This in turn made us laugh harder.

LESSON: When the shit hits the fan, sometimes all you can do is hold each other and laugh until tears run down your cheeks.


 

When I was 27… I stopped paying for expensive baby classes and decided to make my own fun with my daughter. We lay on the floor and played under a $2 sarong for hours. It’s one of my favorite memories and it’s still one of our favorite games.

LESSON: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking fun needs to be extravagant. Beautiful moments don’t require structure or expense.

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When I was 14… I was sitting on a fairly empty bus when I was overwhelmed by the smell of vomit. I turned to see two middle-aged women vacating the back seat of the bus while holding their noses, flamboyantly dry-retching and pointing like schoolkids. What they were pointing at was a vomit-covered old lady who was barely conscious.

I quickly let the driver know who stopped the bus. As I walked to the back of the bus I stopped by the laughing ladies. I looked at them – a pimply teenager with her Dolly magazine – and said “You should be ashamed of yourselves“. I specifically remember feeling odd scolding people that were older than me, but felt smug when they hastily got off the bus.

The lady came to just as the ambulance arrived. She hugged me and the driver and thanked us profusely for being so caring. I felt pretty proud that day.

LESSON: You are never too young to do what is right and stand up against what is wrong.

 


 

When I was 28… we moved into a rental home that we thought was the most beautiful cottage in the street. Sure, there was possum urine dripping through the ceiling and, yes, my husband did get electrocuted at the kitchen sink, but it was gorgeous. I couldn’t understand why people kept asking if the owner was going to knock it over when we moved out.

Nowadays we walk past this house regularly and we can see what everyone else saw; a dilapidated and structurally unsound hovel. It proved to me that if look for beauty you can find it.

LESSON: It may be true that you can’t polish a turd but home is where the heart is and beauty is in the eye of the beholder


 

When I was 28… I was trying to dress my daughter for a party – train her wild hair, fix a bow and put sensible shoes on. But she was adamant that she wanted to wear her tie-dye rainbow dress, a bomber jacket, leggings, fairy wings and multi-coloured gumboots.

When we arrived, I apologised for her and explained that she dressed herself. Later on, as I watched her dancing, twirling and singing with a confidence, spark and surety that most adults can only dream of, I felt deeply ashamed that I’d tried to change that.

LESSON: Individuality is a very, very cool thing. Nurture it in yourself and in others.

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When I was 29… my family was reminded that life is short.

LESSON: The Beatles were right, all you need is love.

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