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Turning Your Messes into Successes: You Can't Spell "MESSAGE" Without "M-E-S-S"

We've all had painful things happen to us: rotten childhoods, financial disasters, and a final episode of LOST that was a complete disappointment.

Conventional wisdom has said that we need to get over it, snap out of it, or just move on.

But it isn't always that easy. In my own life I've tried having my head shrunk, chanting some "oms", having my "energy" adjusted with Reiki, and I've explored a variety of pharmaceutical options ranging from ones that "take the edge off" to "where did two days go?"

Still, I wake up in the middle of the night fretting about something painful someone did to me years ago, or something stupid I did to someone else, or about those inexplicable bad things that just happen. It's hard to let go of the past.

But -- there was one thing I didn't try (until recently) to do with the messes of my life: appreciate them.

How do you appreciate something that hurts? When I stopped and examined my life, I found that the messes in my life were usually the turning points that lead me to the successes.

Flappers workshop
"The Message of You" Workshop coming to San Francisco Sunday, May 5, 2013.

When I taught standup comedy, I'd always get a few students who had what most people would consider wonderful lives, with no rejection, no frustrations, and no failures. They had happy families, lucrative careers, expensive cars - you name it. But for comedy purposes - their lives sucked. They just weren't that interesting - or funny - to most people, because most of us live lives of constant struggle. We don't want to hear someone else moan about how hard it is to find a reliable chauffeur. These students often experienced their very first big failure in life in trying to connect with an audience of regular people to make them laugh.

Last year I went through a depressing, debilitating mid-life crisis. (Well, given my age, I guess I should call it an "end of life" crisis.) I was sweating the big stuff and the small stuff: wondering about the meaning of my life, questioning my marriage, and feeling like I'm a bad person because I own a Prius -- but always drive the SUV instead.

All of that pondering and wondering led to my book, "The Message of You."

I learned it's only through pain that we ever really learn anything. That's why when I give a speech, the first thing I do is make the audience aware of their pain. If you ask most people if they would be happy if their lives never changed - chances are their answer is no. What causes them pain -- is exactly the clue they need of what needs to be different.

So, last week when I shared this notion of examining our messes for meaning at a benefit for Safe House during my keynote in Palm Springs - two women shared with me that there were going through cancer treatment, and listening to me speak helped them realize the possibility of a message in what was happening to them. That realization empowered them, in that, despite their illness, they have power over finding that message, and sharing insights and experiences in a way that might help others facing the same difficulties.

So - take time to really examine your own messes; you just might find gifts of strength, renewed faith, or a message to help others. Or -- at the very least -- you may find direction in where your life needs to go next.

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Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.