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Course Creation for Dummies: Designing Programs Your People Can Actually Use

What do you know about course creation? It seems like a big mystery, but the fact is, almost anyone can create one. I’ve designed and consumed a lot of them, and they all follow some pretty basic rules. You just need to understand the structure, and most importantly, the place a course has in bringing you more business. Let’s dive in.

So, what’s a course? And why would anyone pay for one?

The question I am most frequently asked about courses is, “why would anyone even pay for a course? Isn’t all of this information freely available online?”

Obviously, the answer is yes. More or less. All the information is out there, a Google search away. I’ve talked before about the algorithmic trend of voice search. When you search for something, you’re asking a question. How do I? What is? Where and why and when and who.

Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. Where is a map search away. How is accessible in more formats than you will ever be able to consume. Videos, blog posts, Instructables. It’s endless. And there are whole websites that devote themselves to answering the question why. Message boards, Quora, even Reddit in a way.

But who and what and when are harder questions to answer. They are usually very person specific. My when is not your when. My what is generally situational. My who will never be your who.

A good course will supply at least one of those answers. We’ll get to the specifics in a bit, but this is the first step in understanding the value of a course.

Before we continue, it is important to note the difference between a course and a group coaching program. A course provides instruction, but not much in the way of practical application. It probably has some video modules, a workbook, maybe a Facebook group. Group coaching is much more interactive. There are webinars, care packages, emails, maybe even some one-on-one time. These types of programs will cost more simply because you’re paying for personalized time with your instructor.

But a course itself is usually just the materials. And I have to be honest with you. People are just not inclined to drop 1 or 2k anymore on a program that they may or may not ever finish. There aren’t comprehensive numbers, but what there is doesn’t look good. And I can tell you that in our secret copywriter back rooms, we’re talking about the low conversion rates. Practically no one is making the money they want off of one of these behemoths.

So what are we even doing here then?

Well, we’re not building one of those. For one thing, you probably don’t have the audience.

So, let’s play a little game instead. Let’s say you wanted to learn how to do something specific, like make homebrew. So you go to Google, and you say, “how do I brew my own beer?” (I’m more of a Riesling fan, and know almost nothing about beer, which makes it perfect for this game.) 44 million results later, and what I’ve got are some ads for equipment, some YouTube videos, and a bunch of articles.

Now, let’s say that you’re at work, or in class, or putting the baby to bed, or any place where watching a YouTube video isn’t going to work for you. Maybe you just hate video. Either way, you start clicking through some of those how-to articles.

As it turns out, brewing your own beer is, like, complicated and stuff. There’s all this equipment to buy, and different supplies, and it seems like maybe there’s a couple of ways to cheat by using canned malt extract (and don’t EVEN read the comments, because that’s contentious as hell), and by the time I’m five clicks in, I’m back to Riesling.

But I’ll tell you what. If one of those sites had offered me a complete homebrew homestudy, I’d probably have dropped fifty to a hundred bucks on it, just to figure this whole thing out. Out of curiosity.

And that is about what the market will bear right now. Right around a hundred bucks. Maybe even less--another course designer friend says that courses should be the same price as books.

As usual, this is actually good news for you, our intrepid content creator. Because you probably have the bones of a cheap course in your head right now.

First, start with a topic.

If you’re a service provider, your course is the thing that you do over and over for clients or customers. It’s the thing you’ve got a system for. Maybe you already have an actual checklist, or a clear templated process. Maybe you have employees who do the thing. Whatever it is, you’ve been doing this for long enough to be able to teach it clearly to others.

If you sell a physical product, your course is probably related. Three of my homebrew links were for supply companies. They can (and should) supply that information for free. That’s the very definition of good content marketing.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for a more advanced instructional component. And as a storefront, you score a second win by offering a physical copy of your course. Not everyone will order the DVDs. But some people will. (The proof of this is in the number of print books that Amazon continues to sell. Hard copies of things aren’t going away anytime soon.)

Once you have a topic in mind, we can move on to the structural components.

Figuring out your MVP.

Your Minimum Viable Product for a course is basically the least amount of work that you can do that people will pay money for. So, knowing what you now know about people’s unwillingness to buy a course in the first place, what makes one desirable?

In our homebrew example, the point at which I became overwhelmed was figuring out a recipe. I hadn’t even looked at supplies, or the actual process, or the time involved. No, I froze up right around the place where I couldn’t just wander over to my local brewing supply company and say, “gimme this.”

And that’s the place you want to start from. Where does the information get hard? Where do most people get into technical explanations that a newbie just does not understand?

The whole point of a course is understanding that we all start out with the same level of knowledge. Which is to say, none at all. It’s easy to evangelize for something that you know because it means something to you. It’s much harder to explain that thing in terms that a complete layperson can easily understand.

But your knowledge is valuable, and that thing you do is worth sharing. You just have to make it accessible.

So what’s that actually look like?

In terms of actual information sharing, you want to keep things as simple as possible. My general recommendation is no more than five modules, but it’s really about how the information sorts itself out.

To figure out how to do this yourself, go find a comparable course or two that’s already in your niche. You’re not looking to duplicate them, you’re looking to see how they’re structured. Look at CreativeLive, Masterclass, Coursera, Skillshare. The thing you do probably already has a course out there. You don’t need to buy it, you just need to read the sales page.

Some of you might be discouraged by this, but I would suggest you view this as proof of concept instead. If someone else is already making money off of this thing, then you probably can too.

sherlock holmes GIF

Once you see how others are doing it, your job is to do it better. Your impulse will be to add things, but the true magic here is in the subtraction. What can you throw out that is unnecessary fluff? What information complicates the issue?

Remember, you’re trying to distill your thing to make it easier to learn and understand. In the age of information, THIS is what people will pay for. Your buyers aren’t stupid. They just haven’t learned the thing yet. Make it easy to learn, and they will thank you for it.

(On the other hand, if you are too basic, they will curse your name forever to all of their friends. How will you know? Offer a money back guarantee. You’ll know.)

The components of a good course.

Do the best you can with your video. For a hundred bucks, no one is going to expect perfection. They are going to expect it to be better than an Instagram story, but beyond that, you have a lot of options. You can do PowerPoint presentations, instructional videos, lectures even. How would you have wanted to learn this thing when you were just starting out?

You should ask the same question about your physical materials. What kind of resource would have been valuable to you when first learning the thing? Is that a checklist? Printable worksheet?

It’s important to note that fewer people will print the thing than you think. Providing alternate resources like a spreadsheet or doc template are helpful. Fillable PDFs are also an option, but they are a surprising amount of hassle, so that’s advanced stuff.

What a course actually does for you.

At this point, you may be sold on the idea of a course, but not sure of the practical benefits. A course in the $10-100 range works much differently if you’re a service provider or product vendor, so we’ll look at both.

If you sell a physical product, a course demonstrates your expertise. You sell tea? A Tea 101 course is an obvious choice, but then you can talk about how to blend your own teas, herbal tisanes, additions that you can make at home. Maybe you sell yarn. How-to knit and crochet courses definitely, but also more technical things like dye matching or weaving. The goal here isn’t necessarily going to be to sell a lot of courses. For you, simply having them says that you know your shit, which results in more product sales and referrals over time.

If you provide a service, a course can do more for you. If you’re a photographer, you can teach photography skills, yes, but you can also teach a DIY wedding planning course, or a client acquisition course, etc (I worship at the altar of Jenna Kutcher, and I am the world’s worst photographer).

If you’re a coach, then you should have a course (probably more than one). In this case, you use courses to move people further down your pipeline. An email subscriber buys a $47 journaling course, and then a $297 three month productivity group coaching program, and then subscribes to your monthly membership program, and then buys a several thousand dollar coaching package. Once you have all of those, it’s time to look at a certification course or a mastermind program.

Either way, a course allows people to work with you on their terms. They are looking for ways to get to know you. A course is a low stakes way to do that.

Okay great. But how do I sell it?

Ah, the million dollar question. How do you sell the damn thing?

That also depends on what else you sell. So, if you’re in the physical realm, then you probably wanna go after the SEO. Remember my homebrew example? If any one of those links had offered me the homebrew homestudy, I’d have at least clicked on it. SEO is a fantastic way to sell any physical product, and the more targeted you are, the better.

If you are a service provider of most varietals, then a low dollar course is how your customers get to know your work, but they have already gotten to know you long before they plunk down the cash.

If you work locally, that means things like bus benches and flyers and speaking engagements. Really. People need to get to know you, and they can’t do that if you aren’t accessible.

If you work primarily online, you are looking for the same kind of visibility, just in different ways. That means you probably need to have a newsletter, and an opt-in at a minimum. But you can also use things like FB groups, a podcast, guest posting, speaking gigs, etc. As a service provider or consultant, your top of funnel activities are going to be significantly different.

(I’m launching the beta version of Curb Appeal, how to invite them in and keep them stepping down your funnel, in August. It explains the differences in the stages of customer awareness, and what SPECIFIC marketing activities you should be doing at each stage. If you want more details about the program, sign up for my newsletter.)

The obvious answer, of social media advertising? I’m honestly not a huge fan for this purpose.

When it comes to social media, especially if you are an ad, you are playing a losing game. Unless you have a healthy following already, trying to build one AND using it to sell something is not likely to yield great results, unless you have scads of money to throw at the thing.

I mean, be honest--how many courses have you purchased because you saw a Facebook or Instagram ad? Shoes, sure. But a course? It absolutely has its place, but it’s much better to use social media advertising to drive traffic to your website and then target your visitors appropriately from there.

To sum up.

When we talk about a course, we’re talking about an instructional method. And because information is now so easily obtainable, the value is in the distillation of the information to its most necessary ideas.

And while we can and should charge for the expertise required to parse the information into digestible chunks, we shouldn’t have any illusions that that information is unique, or deserves a premium price.

Instead, what you should focus on is a product that creates value and demonstrates your skill. If you are a good teacher, then your customers will value the benefits of your expertise and interactions with them.

Increasingly, that is what we are willing to pay high dollar for. We see the value in actual service. Coaching, consulting, physical products, service providers, all of those things are materially worth paying for.

And a great course will help you get them there.

Understanding Astrology: Make your year amazing with this guide to the planets

Greetings astrology enthusiasts! 2019 is upon us!

I’m issuing my usual disclaimers that I don’t quite get how astrology works (I don’t know that anyone really does), and while I have done a fair amount of research, I don’t buy into all of astrology’s…theories. What that means is that I find some of it relevant, and some of it straight up bullshit. (Stay tuned, because I’m going to be talking about the North Node later, and this falls firmly in the latter category.)

I’ve linked specific resources below, but I got a LOT of my material from better astrologers than me. Naomi Dunford’s 2019 Business Astrology Guide, Your Personal Astrologer 2019 by Joseph Polansky, and Cafe Astrology’s Astrological Calendars, specifically.

The planets in motion.

So let’s start with the good news–2019 looks to be a much better year.

It kicks off the night before, on New Year’s Eve, when Mars enters Aries. Remember how you wanted to take a nap all summer? That’s because Mars was retrograde. Not only do we not have to deal with that this year (for Mars or Venus), but we get to start with some action for once. Aries is a decider. It may take a while, but once the decision is made, there’s no going back. Don’t waste any of your time on indecision this year.

astrology dice with aries showing

That means that you should already have a plan by January 1st. Stay home on New Year’s Eve. Go to bed early. Then wake up and kick 2019’s ass. This is a good year for strategic goal setting and implementation. Do the dreaming and planning now, because the first quarter should be all action.

Jupiter is currently transiting Sagittarius, which means an adventure. Jupiter rules Sagittarius, which makes this a kind of “home base” sort of state, I guess. Any time a planet spends in the sign it rules kind of magnifies the effects of that planet.

On January 6th, Uranus turns direct in Aries, which is great. I don’t know why, but it’s great. (Retrogrades of the outer planets are not something I worry about a whole lot. Their relative distance from Earth means that they can spend half the year or more in Retrograde. I don’t find these transits to be personally significant.) Enjoy the next few months of peace from this planet, until Uranus re-enters Taurus in March. My understanding is that this is going to be a rough transition, but on a global scale, not an individual one.

The rest of the solar system.

Saturn is in Capricorn, here and here. This is good because Saturn governs Capricorn, but Capricorn is also a pretty stable sign. It’s pretty much the definition of “slow and steady win the race,” and I have to admit, after the last couple of years, I will take some of that energy in my life.

Pluto is also in Capricorn, and you can tell someone’s into astrology (or from New Mexico) by how quick they are to defend Pluto’s existence as a planet. It’s…it’s far away, man. (On a pseudo-scientific level, I am skeptical about a planet so far away having any real impact. I suspect Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons are of greater significance.) So I tend to care more about the inner planets, and the bigger planets. Sorry, Pluto.

But since I’m giving you the full update, Neptune is in Pisces right now, which also means stuff.

Now, back to the planets we care about! On January 7th, Venus enters Sagittarius, and everyone’s long-term relationships breathe a sigh of relief. At the very least, you’ll be less likely to kill each other. Remember what I said earlier about Sagittarius being adventurous? Wear condoms, is all I’m saying.

The Moon, Eclipses, and Retrogrades.

If you are the kind of person who sets monthly intentions, then the New Moon on January 5th is the perfect beginning. The moon is in Capricorn, which will appear a lot this year.

A total lunar eclipse on the 21st of January will be visible in North and South America, as well as some parts of Europe. It’s a supermoon too, so if you can catch it, you should. And the moon in Leo means…I don’t know. That you should bask in your awesomeness that day, maybe.

lunar eclipse

There are a few other eclipses this year, a total solar eclipse on July 2nd visible in parts of South America. A partial solar eclipse on January 6th. And a partial lunar eclipse July 17th. These eclipses are on the Cancer/Capricorn axis, which is apparently significant because…we’re cleaning houses?

Mercury retrogrades this year are March 5-28, July 7-31, and October 31-November 20. Get those on your calendar. Obey standard Mercury retrograde protocol at these times. Don’t buy a car. Don’t sign a contract. Think before you speak, ESPECIALLY online.

Thus ends your tour of the solar system for the first part of the year. Next up: we go for a swim in some questionable waters.

When astrology gets…mystical.

Astrology has a lot of math in it. Specifically, geometry. These days it’s all done by computer programs, which is why it’s become a thing again. No one has to crank out the charts and tables by hand. That is an ungodly amount of work, lemme tell you.

So, when planets are in certain alignments with each other, this is a BIG DEAL. This one is a little…out there, but give it a minute. Here’s how it works (in theory). Each planet has an energetic influence. So when those energetic influences come into contact with each other, they create a new energetic alignment. Which doesn’t seem totally crazypants. Get some magnetic balls, play with them on a table. How they interact with each other is how the planets interact, on a much larger scale. Sometimes they attract, sometimes they repel.

astrology charts

Astrology believes that those planetary magnetic fields have a similar effect. On us, but also on our planet. These alignments happen often, because the planets are moving, but there are a couple of big ones this year.

It’s like fortune telling. But with planets.

First, Jupiter will square Neptune, which I’m told brings truth, resonance, and authenticity. And possibly the downfall of famous and corrupt people, so watch for that. This lasts from January to September.

Then Saturn will sextile Neptune, bringing material gain from your highest and loftiest pursuits. I mean, that sounds pretty sweet. This runs from February to November.

There are specific days when the actual intersections happen, and if you like fortune-telling, then this is something you should explore further–astrology has a ton of it. For the rest of us, it’s enough to say that in order for these specific planetary hookups to happen, they have to stay within the same relative range for a while.

And finally, we reach astrology’s sub-basement. The floor is slick down here, so tread carefully!

Believe it or not. I don’t even care.

This year, we have a North Node in Cancer. This is significant because….okay. Check this shit out, guys. The lunar nodes are a period of approximately 18 months. They’re not actual planets, they’re mathematically derived points on the natal chart. It has something to do with where the moon is in your chart, but I don’t see how or when or why.

This means that you’re reincarnated in groups of people who are here to learn the same lessons as you. That’s your node. And so a node in Cancer means that you’ll grow claws and do the Zoidberg or some shit, I don’t know, because when we get to this kind of religious quackery, I throw my hands up in disgust, and announce, “and this is why people think astrology is crazy.”

But, like all magical or metaphysical systems, I firmly believe in taking what works for me, and then ignoring the rest.

Now, on to the practical application!!!

This year should be one of action and adventure. You should put your mind toward developing those areas of your life. Then focus on making things happen and creating amazing experiences.

Move your work life forward. Maybe there’s a professional conference you want to attend this year. Maybe it’s time to attend some networking events. Maybe it’s time to get a new job.

Travel. See new things, even if they’re close to home. Schedule a trip to a local museum or gallery or tourist trap, and learn about the place you live. Try new restaurants, find tiny little bakeries, explore and engage.

sitting under a full moon

Meet new people. Make new friends. Expand your real-life network. Making friends as an adult is hard. Be deliberate about this commitment, or you’ll decide not to do it.

Spend significantly less time on social media. Monitor it, make rules about how you use it, turn off notifications. It’s about taking control of your time.

How to make it work for you.

Be mindful of what you’re consuming this year. Uranus in Taurus means that we’re spending time examining our resources and how we use them. Going vegan isn’t practical for everyone, but less meat consumption overall is always better for the planet. Buy used or sustainable products. Have as many No Spend days as is feasible.

Finally, it looks to be a better year for your relationships overall. Plan FUN into your life. Dates with your partner. Field trips for your kids. Board game nights. Like everything else on this list, be deliberate about getting it on the calendar.

I make note of this kind of stuff when I’m doing my monthly review, and then slot it in where there’s time. The key to making this stuff happen is to make it realistic. So, plan one field trip. One food excursion. One date. One networking event. One movie night. Keep your list to four or five things–that’s one a week.

Then when it’s time to actually do the thing, you won’t bail on yourself. Don’t look at this stuff as “have tos,” look at it as “want tos.” Events to be planned, anticipated, and savored. Research indicates that more than half of our enjoyment of something is in the anticipation. So get good at creating that for yourself. Find things, large and small, to look forward to.

Make 2019 something to look forward to.

Motivation or Spoons?

It’s going to be one of those days. I woke up with a to-do list a mile long, and every intention of doing ALL the things.

But we’re stuck in the middle of a high-pressure system, it’s cold and windy, humidity is high, and the pollen count is off the charts. Consequently, even after a massage yesterday, my joints are screaming, my head feels like it’s filled with molten lead, and I’m still not out of bed, at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Just another day in the life of a spoonie.


The question becomes then, what the hell do I do with my to-do list?

I think one of the most common complaints I hear from people who struggle with chronic illness, whether physical or mental, is that they suffer from a lack of motivation. But for us, that’s a lie.

You aren’t unmotivated. You just can’t today. There’s a HUGE difference.

I am incredibly fortunate to be able to structure my life and my career in a way that I can accommodate most of the obstacles I encounter daily with my body, and I recognize not everyone has that privilege. But there are a number of things that you can do to minimize challenges and maximize what you are actually capable of right now.

Cultivate your support system. Not gonna lie, I am profoundly grateful to have married a fellow spoonie. His chronic illness is different than mine, but when I tell him, “I don’t have the spoons for that,” he never questions me. Our support for each other in this regard is unwavering, and the end result is that I am much more confident in what I AM capable of.

Everyone needs a cheerleader. If your current situation doesn’t offer you one, then start seeking them out. I’ve found tremendous value in online support groups, and they’re relatively accessible. In person is always better, though, so find ways to add value to your social relationships. Churches, volunteering opportunities, and community support programs are out there for you.

And yeah, these are long-term solutions, but I promise you, the rewards are worth it. The spoons it takes to get there are worth the tangible benefits of having someone who believes that you absolutely can do the thing.

Implement systems. My days, (even the ones spent in bed), have a general itinerary because I’ve spent years figuring out exactly what I can do on those days. Even mental health days, those days where my anxiety or depression get the better of me, have a plan. It absolutely doesn’t matter that the plan is an entire season of The West Wing, a new coloring page, and takeout for dinner. That’s the plan, and when I accomplish it, I can feel okay about my day.

And just in case you’re wondering, you better believe there are days when I actually write that stuff down and check it off, too. I’m a big believer in pen and paper, but you don’t have to keep a physical to-do list. There’s any number of digital alternatives out there for you.

Regularly evaluate where you’re at. Part of my morning routine, before I even get out of bed in the morning, is to assess my pain and energy levels. Based on those numbers, I give myself a spoon count for the day, which is literally the number of tasks I think I’ll be able to accomplish that day. This is a vital part of my process; because it helps me go about my day without guilt. If I have three spoons, that’s it. I can do three things today. Everything else gets delegated or deferred (both of which I’ll get into in a moment).

Figure out your absolute minimums. There’s a difference between thriving and survival. I’m still technically in bed, but I’m dressed, and it’s made. It took real effort on my part AND one of today’s spoons to make those things happen, but I NEED them. Because instead of wasting the day on Facebook, I’ve spent it writing. I know what my absolute minimums are for all my different days, which means that I actually can go about my life accordingly, to the best of my ability.

Your absolute minimum to thrive will be different, but you know instinctively what makes you feel good. Make those things a priority in your daily routine, and it will give the rest of your day more purpose.

Plan ahead. One of the biggest struggles for me on days when I can’t get out of bed is making sure that everyone eats well. And by everyone, I mostly mean me. Takeout is also not always an option. I now meal plan meticulously, and batch cook when I’m feeling up to it, so there are ready-made meals available when I most need them. I also have quite a repertoire of pantry staple type meals, so that I can throw a few things in a pot and eat thirty minutes later. Most importantly, there are healthy breakfast and snack options regularly prepared, so that I can just grab something and eat.

Your struggles will be uniquely yours, but chances are good you can figure out a way to accommodate some things ahead of time. So that when these days inevitably happen, you’re already ahead of the curve. Not only is it helpful, it’s also tremendously empowering to know that you’re taking care of yourself.

Learn to delegate. This is what you had kids for, right? Yeah, I’m only kind of joking. There’s a lot of household chores on my list today that will be given to my children to do instead. Will it be done to my exacting standards, with my general attention to detail? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Will I have to sit and supervise? Yep. Will I get frustrated and have to repeat myself eleventy million times? Quite probably.

But the actual cost of doing those things is still less than doing the task by myself, so that’s what we’re doing. Delegating to competent adult-type people is even better. We regularly evaluate household chores based on life and job circumstances around here. Folding laundry is a physically backbreaking task for me, so my husband does it. When it’s financially feasible for us to do so, we outsource that one entirely.

There are a significant number of other work related tasks that I pay someone else to do or barter services for. As much as I can, as often as I am able, I try and get help where I need it. This is not a weakness.

Keep things simple. I hate clothes. Loathe them. I hate shopping for clothes, I hate trying clothes on, I especially hate spending money on new clothes. But you would never know it from looking at my wardrobe. Because I outsource it to my husband and my mother-in-law. They both have impeccable taste in clothing, and more importantly, an understanding of what looks good on me personally. They know my palette, favorite fabrics, and that it had better be comfy.

But having my own personal shopper is only half the equation. I also regularly solicit my husband’s help (and trust me, he has much better fashion sense than I do), to cull my wardrobe into a manageable size. I utilize a capsule system, with seasonal and nursing and maternity capsules, since I still hope to do that stuff again. I get easily overwhelmed by my clothing options, so everything works well together, and I can put together an outfit on a whim—what I’m wearing is dictated by any number of factors, so when I get dressed in the morning, it has to be easy.

I guarantee you there are areas of your life that you can decide are no longer worth your time and energy. HOW you simplify is a matter of discretion; I could have just as easily decided on a uniform of scrubs in a million different colors (and to be honest, I did, which is how I came by my current arrangement, as I was the only one happy with that idea). But it still works. I don’t have to think about my clothes, and they definitely look better than scrubs would have.

Learn to be flexible with deadlines. I’m not talking about the hard and fast deadlines that are impossible to get out of. I’m talking about everything else. Because trust me, almost everything falls into this category.

This isn’t some platitude about how laundry and dishes can wait, because babies or chronic illness won’t. But it is important to come to an understanding of what must be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow.

How many of your deadlines are self-imposed? How many of those self-imposed deadlines are attached to things that you want or need to do? How many of those things are really actually things you need to do, not things society has told you to do? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I can practically guarantee that if you really answer them honestly, you’ll find that you don’t have as many deadlines as you thought you did.

Which means there’s always tomorrow. It’s now well after midnight. My list has grown substantially since I first started writing about it this afternoon. In fact, I added more than I got done. My work day isn’t quite done yet, but when it’s all said and done, I’m deferring a lot of tasks to tomorrow.

I’ve learned to be okay with this. This isn’t procrastination. It’s not laziness, either. It’s the fundamental realization that over the course of my lifetime, I will be more than what I did this day.

Productivity with chronic illness isn’t just about what you do. It’s about how you think about it.

A change in perspective is required. Look, you know what you’re capable of. You know the same as I do that your illness isn’t an excuse, it’s your reality. But the only way it stops you is if you let it. I’m not physically able to do any strenuous hiking now, much less the rock climbing that I once loved. But it doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the outdoors. It’s just experienced in smaller doses, or with a really great air mattress.

Your reality may have changed, but your dreams don’t necessarily have to. You always have a choice in the shape of your dreams. And if it’s really important to you, you will figure out a way to make it happen.

A few final thoughts.

You already know this one, but keep some extra spoons in reserve. I probably would have neglected to mention this, except that life intruded while I was finishing editing this piece, in the form of vomiting from the five-year-old. The husband was still at work, and the teenager is completely unhelpful in these situations, so I was on my own. That meant I had to strip down his bed, plus go through several wipe downs and clothes changes. Not to mention the carnage that was the bathroom. This was physically backbreaking and draining work, but it was unavoidable.

And I am wiped out. I have nothing left to give, but I’m still not quite yet done for the day. Which means I have to generate an extra spoon or two.

Figure out how to create emergency spoons. In the long run, these will cost you. I tend to sacrifice sleep to make these things happen, which is often counterproductive. But when you gotta, you gotta. Tonight, that means a hot bath and really good sex. Between the two, I’ll be able to do the final few things on my list that can’t be put off until tomorrow.

At the end of the day, it won’t have been the day I planned. Not by a long shot. But I’m definitely counting it as a win.

Defusing Deflection

Here you are. Fighting. Again.

This time, you were going to do everything right. You had one subject you wanted to address, knowing that things might get heated, but it’s important. You stuck to your guns, had clear intentions about what you needed from this conversation, and were ready to go to the wall for it.

Which would have been great, if the wall hadn’t suddenly moved four feet to the left.

You, my friend, are a victim of conversational avoidance.

Defusing Deflection

Because instead of having the conversation YOU wanted to have, you’re suddenly having a totally different one, quite possibly about you and your faults. This was not at all what you had in mind. And now you’re also probably angry—it’s highly possible you weren’t before. Impassioned, maybe, but angry? Not until the conversation changed.

And of course, you’re now angry AND irrational. Because obviously, you’re going to have to do this crap all over again another day. There’s still no resolution to the original issue.

So what do you do?

Let’s start with understanding the source. Deflection is mostly about blame. Specifically, feeling as though you are being blamed for something. Say I’ve asked you for help cleaning the house. My intention is simple—the house is a disaster area of Chernobyl proportions, and I am simply not capable of getting this job done on my own. But what you might hear is that you never help me clean the house, ever. And of course, you’re defensive, because you know full well that you have, in fact, cleaned the house in the past. You also know that you aren’t responsible for the state the house is in, at least not entirely, which makes you righteous in your indignation, because you’re being blamed for something that isn’t even your fault. You can probably predict how the rest of this conversation is going to go.

However. I never once implied or insinuated that this was your fault. Nor did I ever suggest that you don’t clean the house. So this blame that you’re feeling? It’s mostly self-created. This is different from feeling guilty, because I’m far more likely to act so that I can ameliorate my guilt. But blame allows you to deflect—not just your feelings, but your actions as well. If I am not at fault, then I am also not responsible for fixing the problem either.

Chances are good, this is where you get stuck. Because if I am not at fault, and not responsible for fixing the problem, then there’s really not much left to talk about, is there?

And in point of fact, this is exactly why I do this. Deflection WORKS. I may not be able to make you go away, but I have made the conversation go away. And sometimes, I’d rather fight about something completely unrelated than deal with the matter at hand.

I’ve talked before about ground rules for fighting, and those can definitely help, but this is a different sort of problem. At its core, this is about who has control of the conversation. If I ask for help around the house, and you respond by saying that you work all the time and don’t have time to help, the conversation has suddenly become about who has more time, and whose time has more value. If you respond by telling me that I said I’d do it, the conversation has turned to MY inability to fulfill my obligations. If your response is not about the house at all, but instead about some other, more pressing commitment, then you’ve avoided engaging entirely, and have shifted the conversation to something you want to talk about.

In every example, that conversational avoidance puts me at a distinct disadvantage, because my immediate impulse is to offer a rebuttal to your deflection. After all, that’s the goal. The goal of deflection, at least in this case, is to dictate the terms of the conversation.

So now that you understand why it happens, let’s talk about ways to prevent it from happening.

First and foremost, you must be reasonable about your expectations. This is a conversation, one that you’re having with a real, live person, NOT with the version of that person who lives in your head. You simply can’t predict how the conversation will go, or why it will go that way. Have you ever had a seemingly benign post on Facebook blow up in your face? You thought you were sharing something cool, but by the end of it, you were wishing you’d just clubbed some baby seals instead, because that’s probably less controversial? This is just like that.

Even if you think you know what the response will be, you don’t. You may be able to predict a pattern of response, but the devil is in the details. You may guess that I’ll deflect, but you won’t know how or in what way. Don’t even try to prepare for that, because the very attempt puts you on the defensive from the start. Which leads us straight to:

Keep your cool, dude. I realize this is harder than it sounds. Personally, I have a very hard time with this. But, if you want to set the direction of the conversation, then you need to set the tone, too. There are so many metaphors to abuse here, I’m hard-pressed to choose; so… don’t bring a gun to a knife fight, okay?

Be specific! And I’m not talking about your argument, I’m talking about your request. There’s a HUGE difference between knowing what you want to say, and knowing what you’re asking for. Make those details work in your favor here. Let’s go back to my housecleaning request. Do you know what I want help cleaning? No, and that makes it infinitely easier to deflect from. However, if I say, “the kitchen is a disaster and I can’t make dinner until it’s clean. Will you help me out by doing some dishes?” You can say no, of course, but that’s about all you can do. There aren’t a whole lot of rabbit holes to chase down with a request like that.

Specificity of language is important. It’s not just about what you say, but also how you say it. The more direct your ask, the more direct your response will be. And, speaking of….

Knock off the always/never crap. Yeah, I know. I always do this, or I never do that; except, I don’t. If I can think of just ONE time where I DIDN’T always or never do that thing, it’s like I’ve won the deflection jackpot, baby.

I think it’s important to note here that, generally speaking, deflection isn’t deliberate. It’s an emotional response used to take power when we feel powerless. And we all do it—this isn’t about gender or gender roles. Men tend to deflect bombastically, women tend to redirect through changing the subject, but there aren’t any hard or fast rules there. The chances are good that once you become proficient at avoiding deflection, you’ll realize when you are guilty of it as well.

Set up is important. If this is a long-standing argument, or it has the potential to go badly, give your partner some warning. “I’d like to talk about dishes after the kids go to bed tonight.” I will acknowledge that this could possibly work against you—if deflection is your partner’s weapon of choice, this gives them time to marshal those arguments. On the other hand…. How do you feel when a potential gold mine of conflict is just dropped in your lap? Pretty pissed, would be my guess. So, if it’s possible to not blindside your partner, then you should do that.

However. DO NOT say, “we need to talk.” Because what I inevitably hear is, “you need to talk/yell at me for a half hour while I just kinda nod my head in abject misery.” Again, your specificity of language is important. “We need to talk.” About what? Are you dying? Are you leaving me? Did someone else die? Okay, yes, that may be MY anxiety talking, and no one else’s, but even if it’s not, those words can strike terror in the coolest heart. Even if it’s intentionally vague, SOME kind of set-up is better than that.

Finally, a couple of tips for what to do if deflection happens, even if you’ve done your best to avoid it.

Table it. This one works for me somewhat infrequently, but it’s worth trying. “That’s actually a really valid point, but what I want to talk about is this. Can we come back to it?” Remember, you’re having a dynamic conversation. Both of you have to agree to tabling an issue. But if you can learn this skill, it’s worth using—you are far more likely to have a conversation instead of a fight this way.

Provide options. This one is going to depend a lot on when deflection happens, but we’ll just stick with chores. “Look, I really don’t want to fight about this. I need help. You can either do the dishes or help with homework tonight. Your choice.” I won’t kid you, this is absolutely one of my favorite tactics for getting help. And once again, it is so specific that there’s not really any place to go.

Don’t take the bait. Another one that is easier said than done, but if it’s at ALL possible, don’t allow the deflection to work. “I’m not talking about that right now. I’m talking about this.” This is hard because it requires you to actively engage on so many levels, but it CAN be done. Keep your cool, keep your focus, and don’t allow the conversation to change. You likely WILL get resistance to this, and you’ll probably have to repeat yourself. A lot. But, if you do it calmly, without raising your voice, you have a real chance at directing the conversation.

And ultimately, that’s what this is about. It’s your conversation. You absolutely CAN take charge of it. And like anything, practice makes perfect. The more often you do this, the easier it will be to avoid. Let me know how it goes.

Give Yourself Grace

What do you do when your life is overwhelming, and all the balls you’ve been juggling for so long come crashing down around you? How does it make you feel? Take a moment, and really consider it.

Because let me tell you, panic and guilt are pretty much my default response.

“I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe I forgot that; I can’t figure out what to do here; and oh, by the way, I suck.” I have been working on consciously controlling my inner dialogue for almost twenty years, and STILL this crap creeps in.


I can tell you about emails I haven’t responded to from two years ago. I sent a book to a client the other day; because I’d forgotten to recommend it to her a month and a half ago. I felt guilty for forgetting to cook corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s day. We are neither Catholic or Irish.

And all I can think is, this is fucking ridiculous.

The tragedy of it is, we do this to ourselves. It’s not about our commitments or our obligations. No, this is about how we FEEL. 

And what I feel is failure.

I know why, of course. So do you. It’s because I’m not Supermom. I have missed the mark at the Feminine Mystique. My eyebrow cannot compete with the Beauty Myth. My Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand has not yet afforded me that house in the Hamptons. Therefore, I am a failure.

But knowing this intellectually does nothing to prevent the way I feel. I think I might have mentioned something about failure? Yeah. Still there. So, we have got to start looking at this another way.

I believe the answer is grace.

Mercy, clemency, pardon, says, which is all a rather clunky way of saying forgiveness. But forgiveness is an act; grace is a state of mind.

Grace is forgiving yourself.

Which sounds a little big, so let’s talk about what it’s not first.

Grace is not about forgiving yourself for failure. You know, hundreds of inventions before we got to the light bulb. Keep failing, and you too can be the next Edison. Oh yeah, and this too shall pass.

No. That’s the kind of self-help crap that is designed to be self-serving. You are NOT a failure. Seriously. Logically, you haven’t failed, because it’s virtually impossible to succeed. Do you blame yourself for not being able to win the lottery, too? Because it’s kind of exactly the same.

Grace is also not about a lack of integrity. “I said I’d do this thing, and I’m a woman of my word.”

Uh, no. Your word is valid tomorrow, too. Do you fire your employees for calling in sick? Do you disavow your friends for forgetting to do that thing they said they’d do? I’m not talking about a pattern of behavior. I’m talking isolated incidents. We give the people in our lives a great deal more forbearance than we grant ourselves.

Grace is most definitely not appropriated self-care. My inner Goddess tells me a lot of things, and I shan’t be sharing any of them with you. I’m sure you’re fifty shades of glad.

Nerp. The things you find sacred are your own. I can’t tell you where to seek meaning, only that it is there for you. I’m not just talking religion here, either. I’m pretty sure every single numbered list of “Best Self-Care Tips!!!1” has, in point of fact, just made me feel guilty for all the ways I’m apparently not taking care of myself.

Grace is something that comes from within, so all of the building blocks are inherently yours.

Which sounds terrifying, but I promise, there’s also relief there. Because when you find it, it can’t be taken away from you. Because it is you.

Great, Briar. Sounds fabulous. If only there were some trumpets somewhere.

I won’t lie to you. Forgiving yourself for shit is fucking hard. I really wanted to not curse there, but I can’t. There are not enough words in the English language to adequately describe how much it SUCKS to have to forgive yourself.

But, if I can forgive myself for killing a baby, then I’m pretty sure there’s some margin for grace in your life, too.

Yeah, ouch. I know. That one probably stings a little.

So how do you get there? Sorry. No clue. That’s yours to figure out.

Look, you already know all the steps. You’ve read all those self-care articles same as me. Maybe it’s journaling, a hot bath, a trip to Sephora, kitty snuggles. Maybe you need a therapist. Maybe you just need a damn day off. Not gonna lie, more often than not, it’s really great sex for me.

And no, it’s not that simple, either. Sadly, sex does not equal forgiveness, especially if things aren’t going well in your partnership. Again, it’s about more than the act. It’s a mindset you’re looking to cultivate here.

Much like repairing your partnership, you repair your relationship with yourself a little bit at a time.

You start small, because starting big is what got you here in the first place. The myths we compete against are societal creations, but we give them meaning.

I made fun of my eyebrows earlier, but I am very consciously letting them grow out right now. I don’t think I actually know what they look like unaltered. I have shaved or plucked or brow barred my way to someone else’s standard of beauty for years, because I internalized it. Which isn’t to say that I’ll keep them this way forever; this is a practical act of grace. This is my body. I’ll not apologize for it.

Not apologizing kinda sounds like the opposite of forgiveness, but it’s not. An apology is not required for forgiveness; but because we’ve connected the two, we apologize for simply being ourselves, thinking that forgiveness will be forthcoming.

Oh, how we apologize. So much so that we’ve started telling each other to just stop doing it already (oh, and by the way, just should probably go too). But that’s bullshit designed to make you feel guilty about your language, not the impetus behind your actual words. I mean, if we’re laying it all out here, I can’t curse, can’t say sorry, just or like, or really, have an independent thought about anything without being evaluated as something less than the ideal woman by somebody for some reason.

I’m pretty sure there’s not a single shred of forgiveness in that.

So, like almost everything else, you have to do this one yourself. And it’s okay to be angry about that, because frankly, I need to add another thing to my plate like I need elective dental surgery. I’ll happily turn in my adulting card at any point if it means that I don’t have to figure out one more thing for myself, because it’s exhausting, and I don’t wanna.

And…. That’s where you start. You forgive yourself for being human.

This probably won’t be a cakewalk, but it’s significantly easier than trying to forgive specifics. It’s pretty easy to forgive the foibles of humanity in others, even if we do it through sarcasm. “Bless your heart,” comes to mind. You’re being obtuse, but excusably so. Or something.

Okay, not easy, either. But you have to start somewhere, and the fact of your existence as a member of the human race is just as good as anywhere else.

Say it with me this time: it’s about the mindset. You have to deliberately cultivate an environment in which your response isn’t self-blame. And I’d like to point out here that I’m not even asking for you to modify your first response.

Be it biological, cultural, or environmental, your immediate reaction to a crisis is simply a part of your identity. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to change this response without years of active work. So I’m not asking you to.

I’m asking you to change your second response.

It’s incredibly invalidating to be told that how you react to something is somehow deficient. It’s just another way of breaking you down emotionally. And if it’s not the ideal (whatever that is), then it’s because YOU are somehow damaged. Screw that.

So, by all means, have a grown up temper tantrum. Revel in it. Everything sucks, and I am sick and tired of dealing with it, and it’s never going to get better, and why didn’t I listen to my mother, and I’m a sorry excuse for a human being.

You know how you flee to the woods to build the ice castle before you sing the power ballad? It’s just like that.

Feel your feelings first, and then let them go. Don’t bottle them up, don’t internalize them, please, please, please, do not apologize for having them. If anything, you’re entitled to them.

It’s what comes after that’s important.

That’s where grace lives. That’s when you say, I am going to be okay. Somehow, I will survive this. A minute at a time if I have to, but I am stronger than this.

Language matters here. Be precise, and don’t lie to yourself. Sometimes, everything’s not fucking okay, okay? But, you will be. Eventually, YOU will be okay.

And when you believe that, you will have found grace.