He’s a business and lifestyle coach with a gender-free clothing line called Limitless. He helps other creatives not only think outside the box, but blow up the box entirely. Please welcome Aiden Clark McFarland.
Well, Aiden, you are officially the first stranger I’ve had on this podcast, meaning we don’t actually know each other outside of Twitter. There’s a lot to talk to you about, but let’s start with your overall journey. We have this in common – we spent too many years in jobs that didn’t serve us. What was your experience and how did you get to your current life as a self-employed creative?
It’s been quite a journey because, I think like many people in our society, I just fell into the oh, here’s what I’m supposed to do. Go to college. Get a nine to five. Do the thing. Follow the rest of the humans in the line. There were a couple of different things going on, which is one, that I was dealing with pushback because I knew I was creative, and I had a lot of things I did creatively as outlets. I was a theater kid. I was in the choir. I did all these creative things. I discovered costuming and love clothing, but I had enough voices telling me that those were only hobbies. I still had to figure out what my real job was going to be. They just stayed that way. They stayed as hobbies.
They were just fun things to fill the time. I was looking for where I could shoehorn myself into some sort of career and a corporate job. I would find something that I would find vaguely interesting or that might spark a little something. I could spend a couple of years there but then within two years, I was usually like, I can’t do this for another day. I would have to find a new job, get into a new role, or change something. I think the longest I stayed at a single company, in technically the same position, was seven years. The only reason that worked out was because, though my title stayed the same and my desk stayed the same, it was right in the madness that was 2008 and I was in the hospitality industry.
Do I keep wanting to push other people’s visions forward or do I want to start finding my own?
I was in the sales and marketing department, but then basically because of everything happening in the financial world, they let go of our entire accounting department and most of the marketing department. My job massively changed overnight to teach yourself some graphic design and help manage the accounting for the department. It kept it new and interesting enough that I was able to stay longer, but still, I kept bouncing around and I was never satisfied. I finally realized that the piece that was missing was that creative piece. I needed that in all of my life, no matter what I was doing. Then I started looking for more creative-focused jobs. I started working in theme parks, in costuming, and I loved it and it still has a lot of the same problems as normal corporate jobs.
I was getting to at least play with my creativity a little bit, but there were so many rules and restrictions. I was still, at the end of the day, fulfilling somebody else’s vision. I think that is where I really hit that wall. Instead of just a bump, it became a wall of like, do I keep wanting to push other people’s visions forward or do I want to start finding my own? Can I build something that incorporates all these different elements of myself without restricting them? That’s where I went, what can I do? How can I start building this? I literally started looking for ways to build an income from scratch. That gradually became a lifestyle.
How did you start creating this lifestyle for yourself? Did you just take a leap and completely leave the corporate world and just say, “I’m going to figure it out‚” or was it more gradual?
I had replaced my job income. I set a date and I left my job.
It was a little bit more gradual. I dipped my toe in and then pulled it out again and then dipped it back in. The first thing I stumbled, by total accident, across somebody who was looking at an ad posted on Indeed or one of those, looking to add a virtual member to their team that used a lot of the same office skills I had used when I was working in hotels in the sales and marketing. I was like, well, if I could make the income I’m making from home doing that, I can start figuring stuff out. If I can eliminate the commute, that gives me back so many hours already, especially because I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Even if I was only going 17 miles, it was an hour and a half commute.
Just even getting that much time back, I was like, I can start really figuring out what I want to do while I’m not losing income. I tried with that company. At the end of the day, it was just not a good culture fit. I hadn’t quit my job yet, so I leaned back into my regular commuting job. Now, I had an idea of like, this is a thing. People do this. I started looking into virtual assistant stuff and actually ended up basically doing an online summit that was all about being a virtual assistant, the skills for that, building your resume for that, and how to look for those jobs. Through that, I actually found a company that, what’s the word, vets virtual assistants, and then connect some with clients.
I joined them and started building up a roster of clients that way. Then just through word of mouth, I ended up just getting some bigger, more intensive clients, just on my own. I ended up leaving that company, just doing things on my own, and really cultivating my client roster until instead of I’m just going to work and keep getting clients and keep getting income, I started fostering it down to which of these clients do I feel passionate about their projects? Do I feel they’re including me versus me just being a cog in their machine? I really was able to fine-tune. By that point, I had replaced my job income. I set a date and I left my job, which at the time, was again at a theme park in costuming.
I set a date. I left my job. I was doing full-time and then I started filtering back the clients. I ended up with this core of, actually at the time, two clients who, while working part-time hours, were still giving me more than the income that I had at a full-time job in the corporate world. That just really opened up all the space to, okay, what do I actually want to do with all my creativity? I’m working with two clients who I really care about. I feel I am part of their process versus just a piece of it. I am feeling fulfilled with them and I have this time to get back to costuming, sewing, and fashion.
That’s when I really took a step back and started going like, what do I want to do with this? I had briefly toyed with custom costumes. I will just put myself out there and do commissions and custom costumes. Again, that was still seeing forward somebody else’s vision because I would just have people come to me and be like, “This is what I want. This is the material I want it in.” I’m like, “Trust me, you don’t want to make it out of that. It won’t hold up.” “I don’t care. It’s pretty. I want it.” I was still finding that same barrier. Also, it’s so sporadic. Just with any contract and commission work, it’s either there or it’s not. There’s a lot of having to really put yourself out there and hunt for it.
I got to this point. It’s tricky because it actually ties in with my queerness in that I was not happy with the clothes I was finding off the rack. They didn’t express what I wanted to express. If I went to the women’s section, it wasn’t built for my body. If I went to the men’s section, it was drab and boring. I wanted to find more clothes that fit me, and then I finally had this duh moment of, well, I sew. I’ve been making costumes and stuff for years. Why don’t I start making clothing for myself? Then I had a few friends go, “I really like what you’re doing. Would you make some for me? I’ll totally pay you.” I don’t know what finally shook the cog loose in my head of why don’t I just make clothing?
Why don’t I start a clothing line? Because I had the income from my two part-time clients, I had that cushion so I didn’t have to worry about it. It was the middle of the pandemic when I finally made this choice. I think there was also that piece of what’s going to stop me? I might as well do it now. If it completely fails and blows up in my face, then I can just be like, it’s 2020. Nobody will remember it anyway. If it’s going to fail, it would fail whenever, but if I do it in 2020, I can just brush it under the wagon and nobody will notice. That’s how it all happened. To my shock, it actually did succeed. Now here I am, with a couple of core clients who I love working with part-time, and the clothing line that is being launched in an entirely different way than I thought it would be because it’s all had to be online.
Limitless is a gender-free clothing line and everything has pockets, which I think is really important to mention because who doesn’t love pockets? You explained why it led to this. You didn’t find anything that you could wear so you had to make it yourself, which is telling a lot of things, because I think that’s where some of the great inventions come about. It’s when you’re looking everywhere for the right answer and the right answer, you just have to do it yourself. How has that expanded into your community? How has the reaction been? Obviously, it’s been successful. Tell us more about pockets. Maybe not pockets, specifically.
Yes. Actually no, but that is how this started. It started as a joke formulating in my head years ago. I was talking to a friend. I think it was a friend who had just bought a new dress and, and she did the quintessential. I complimented the dress and she was, “Thanks. It has Pockets.” We got into this whole conversation about women’s wear and functional pockets or the lack thereof. I joked that with my sewing skills, what I really should do is open a very niche, tailoring business that was just called “And It Has Pockets.” It was just like, bring me your favorite garments that don’t have functional pockets and I’ll fix that. That’s still maybe a subset at some point, but that’s the joke that started it.
Then it just became, well, now that I’m making these clothes, of course, they’re all going to have pockets. The first round of clothing is very unisex, very gender-free, with more tunics, robes, and things like that. I also want to do some things that are a little more gendered looking, but obviously not limited to well, if you’re a man, you can’t buy this. I want this to be that anybody can buy it, but they definitely are more like, this is clearly a dress. This is clearly a skirt, but it has functional pockets. Imagine that. Originally, when I envisioned the clothing line, my husband is an artist and he travels to comic conventions, pop culture conventions, and is in the artist alley showing his art.
As I was looking around these events that I was supporting him at, I’ll be at his booth with him and helping him out. I was looking around and going, I find making these clothes and my friends are interested in these clothes. I started just talking to other people in the community and everybody seemed interested. I’m like, this is something I could potentially bring to the shows too. Then COVID happened and shows stopped. I was like, well, what am I going to do? Because I was originally just going to be like, well, I’ll make a couple of items and bring them to shows and see how they do‚ that option just got stuck off the table. I was like, do I sit and wait for shows to come back, or do I take a back and re-imagine and do this another way? I originally had no plans of doing a Kickstarter or any of that.
I was just going to tease it out like, here’s an item. I’d take it to shows. When that became not an option, I had to really look at this, get really serious, and build a business plan. How much would it really take to create a full line out the gate? What would that look and how much would I need? I did the Kickstarter. What actually was awesome, but also hilarious about the Kickstarter is that, yes, it succeeded. It got fully funded. It’s amazing. I purposely went out of my way to add lower ticket tiers because being the pandemic and hearing from a lot of people how much they were struggling, I was like, I know that the people I’m reaching understand that handmade clothing costs more than fast fashion.
I can’t expect everybody to spend $120 for the clothing items on the rewards tiers. I put in tote bags, stickers, buttons, and all these lower-end things. The first thing that sold out was the highest tier item. I was just floored. The Kickstarter ended up being, in an unexpected way, really good market research for which items were worth pursuing, which were really going to take off, and which may just stay made to order only. I won’t need to keep an inventory of them. Some items I think are still going to have to wait to work in person especially because I know it’s true for me.
The pants, nobody wanted the pants. I don’t think that they didn’t like the pants. I think there is just such a struggle with pants that fit. If they’re not leggings or something that you know is super stretchy and going to be very forgiving, until you can put them on your body, you just don’t know. Now that shows are just starting to come back and starting to think about coming back, now I can start thinking about, well, these items did really well on the Kickstarter so I’ll have an inventory of those. Maybe I’ll do a couple of these items to see if in person makes a difference. Yes, it was an interesting exercise to see what worked, what didn’t go as much, and how people responded, which was amazing.
It was an overwhelmingly positive response. I made a bunch of sample garments for the Kickstarter because we couldn’t even do a professional photoshoot because of COVID. I literally took our COVID bubble and we went out to a park and frolicked in a park to take pictures and do the Kickstarter video and all of this. Those sample garments were made. I let them keep them and wear them. It’s like, literally people will be out in public and they’ll be like, “Those look so comfy. Those are awesome.” “Thanks. This person made them.” And they talk up the business. Already, I’ve had word of mouth being like, “Where can we get these? When can we get these?” I’m just been blown away by the support.
I’m so glad that I finally said eff it and did it because there was such that fine line when I had to switch to online launch of like, maybe I’ll just wait. That’s the story of my life. It’s like, maybe I’ll just wait until this one more thing happens, lines up, or is perfect.
Waiting for one more thing is the biggest enemy to so many people because there’s always going to be one more thing. Sometimes you have to leap right into it like you did. I love about what you said about it being market research. It’s such a great example of if you want to know what people want, ask them. Because so many times people are like, “Well, I’m going to make this course because I think this is what people want,” and then nobody buys it. It’s like, well, who did you ask? “Well, I just figure that this is what people need.” Well, that can work sometimes but the best way to know what anybody is thinking, as a human, is to ask them. So many people are trying to figure it out and they’re spending so much time doing research, going down the YouTube rabbit hole, and trying to just see everything that’s out there, but just maybe talk to some people.
The crowdfunding thing is great because if it didn’t get funded, you wouldn’t have really put too much out there, but you saw very quickly there’s a market for this. People are interested. I need to do this. That’s really exciting.
Yes, because I will admit, whether it was funded or not, I expected largely to recognize all the names on my backer list. I fully expected that, at the most, it might be a friend of a friend. But no. Orders came in from Switzerland and New Zealand. I’m like, “I have no idea who these people are. I’ve never encountered you. What?” There’s clearly a market.
Yes. It’s funny how that happens. I only have one experience with Kickstarter. It was for a documentary about U2. I assumed that my friends and family would be the ones contributing, and the director’s friends and family, because anytime anyone I know is doing any campaign, fundraiser, or anything, I’m always contributing. I’ve never asked for anything. I figured it would be reciprocal, but it wasn’t anybody. There were a few that jumped in but, same as you, there were just people from all over the world. The director had called me one day. He’s like, “There’s some guy in the UK that’s doing a live Facebook right now about our film. I don’t know who he is.” It was this massive support but I’m also almost glad that it was strangers.
That doesn’t sound like proper grammar. But I’m glad that it wasn’t taking money from the people I knew because it felt more genuine. If strangers are contributing to this, it has nothing to do with me. They’re interested in the product. I think that’s the same as with your clothes. There are a lot of people out there who don’t feel like they fit in, who don’t want to wear the standard clothes. I get exactly what you’re saying about pants, though, because as somebody with no torso and incredibly long legs, pants are the worst.
I have the issue of I am wide but short. They believe that the wider you are, you also must be a foot taller for each inch wider. Seriously. If I find pants that fit me in the hips, they are two feet too long. Obviously, I sew. I can hem them but it’s so annoying that with every pair of pants I get, I have to hack half of them off. It’s like, what a waste.
You can do that. Well, you could sew extra legs to the end. With me, I just have to accept that, yes, they’re capris.
Everything’s a capri, versus capris on me are ankle length.
Right, yes. If we could combine our issues together, we would have everything.
Combine our forces, yes.
What are the things that you do besides making the clothes? You work with other creatives to help them find and keep the joy in creativity by blowing up the box. How do you do that?
What they needed was to get comfortable with their voice, with their creativity, with putting it out there.
Honestly, that came about, again, because of my years of trying to fit in these boxes of what jobs were supposed to look like, what a career is supposed to look like, and suppressing my creativity and my voice as a creative and as a queer person and the intersection of those two. Again, it was one of those things similar to the clothing. I started talking to the people I was around because we magnetize others like us. Our community, because we were doing these shows with my husband, is where also a lot of other queer artists, creators, and makers.
I was just hearing similar themes through all the conversations of like, “But I don’t, I don’t want to offend anybody.” A lot of fear of being seen and fear of being heard. Also, “Nobody is going to be interested in what I’m creating. It’s not good enough. I need to do more before I can share it.” A lot of that are holding ourselves back because we don’t think we’re ready or good enough. As I started getting out of my own way, really getting out there, showing my voice, getting on social media, starting a YouTube channel, and putting out the clothing line, I was like, I have this experience of my own to share plus my years in business and admin. I was coming to it from that lens but also, I actually skipped the vital part, which is that when I first got together with my husband, he was just starting out on his path.
He was very much an artist, but he was just starting out on the path of getting money for his art. He very much was lost in that business side of things with like, “I don’t know how much to charge. I don’t know how to approach these contract conversations. I don’t know how to…” so I just started by helping him with the more business side of his art. Really helping him learn how to put his art on social media and the internet, how to review contracts, and how to charge what he’s worth, which is an ongoing conversation because imposter syndrome constantly comes back. Yay! As I helped him, our creator friends saw his business improve, get stronger, and more visible.
Then I had a couple more of them reach out to me more in that virtual assistant capacity with like, “Can you help me with the business side of it?” The more of our artist friends that I was helping with little business things, the more I was seeing that all the business help in the world wasn’t going to get them where they wanted to be because they were still holding themselves back out of the fear of not being good enough, or “My product isn’t going to do the thing or be what people want.” I really started realizing how all the business savvy in the world wasn’t the thing that was really going to propel them. What they needed was to get comfortable with their voice, with their creativity, with putting it out there, and just letting it go into the world.
Letting your child go out into the world and see what happens. It really just became about like, “Stop trying to fit into other people’s boxes. Find what makes you happy however you can now. Don’t wait for the right time. Don’t wait for the right moment. You’re in a job you don’t like right now and financially, you can’t just quit. You just don’t feel safe doing it. That’s okay. What little things can you start doing in your off time that bring that creativity and joy back in? What little things can you do to maybe start getting a dollar or two from it here and there? Little things like starting a CoFi or asking for donations on one of your pages.
Just little things to start getting used to asking for money, putting yourself out there, and then let it build. Just not letting that fear of the unknown hold you back. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say or how you’re going to get judged. Just do it because you love it and you want to do it. It will make you feel more whole. That’s how I’ve approached the whole thing.
Yes. I love all of that. We have very similar ways of thinking about how business and creativity go together. They’re not actually separate things. That fear again with “I can’t afford to stop. I can’t leave my job. I can’t do this. I have to wait.” I always feel start saving the money. Yes, money is important. As you get going, and maybe you start making that dollar here, a dollar there, and you start to build your confidence a little bit, and then you start to think about the value of time. When you’re spending the 40 hours a week plus the commute time, that’s a whole lot of time that you could then be channeling into the things you actually enjoy doing that will make you more money.
You do, at some point, have to trust yourself and take a chance on yourself because nobody else is going to do it. I don’t mean that to sound negative but if you don’t believe in yourself, then you can’t really ask other people to do it. You have to get over that self-doubt and start making yourself believe it. You mentioned imposter syndrome, which unfortunately is a huge epidemic, especially with creatives. That tends to lead to undercharging or undervaluing their work. They start thinking, “I’ll just do this favor. I can’t charge that much. That sounds like a lot of money.” How do you help people believe that they deserve their success and are worth more?
Charging is not just about the value you put on yourself. It’s about everything that has built you to this point.
As I said, this honestly started with my husband. That was the first thing. I saw what he was charging and I was like, “This is not enough. You need to charge more.” I could tell him until I was blue in the face but he had to embody it himself. Somebody else telling you here’s what you should charge because yes, what you said with the creatives. It’s so funny, especially in the pop culture and comic world, those artists particularly, because if you look at fine art galleries, they don’t seem to have a problem sticking a couple of thousand dollars sticker on their painting. You go to an artist alley and they’re like, “Please take my drawing. I’ll pay you.” It is so tied up in that self-worth so sometimes it is a process.
The biggest piece for me has been because you get people who are spent a couple of hours on this drawing. Look at it a couple of different ways. Look at the materials you’ve used to create that piece of art. What did they cost you? What practice and training have you done? Did you go to art school? Have you been drawing every day for 10 years and that’s how you’ve gotten to this level? Did you buy better paints so that the quality is better? It’s not just about you and what you think your creation in that little time window is worth. It’s about everything that has built you to this point.
When I start breaking it down that way, they’re like, “Okay. I guess I can see that.” Even in little things like the cost of supplies. How much did that canvas cost? How much did those paints cost? How many hours did it take you to paint this? How much did you want to charge for that? $50? Okay. Break that $50 into eight hours. How much are you just paying yourself? Because a lot of times, creatives will just look at the project as a whole and they won’t think about it in terms of hourly. I don’t want people to charge themselves hourly but sometimes that’s the moment when they really take a step back and be like, “I spent two weeks on this and I’ve charged myself a dollar an hour.” That can start getting the wheels turning to, well, that’s not realistic.
Why would I expect that of myself and work for nothing, for absolute peanuts? I think when you start pulling all these other pieces of you’re charging for not just the time, but your experience, your education, your supplies, the processes you put into this. One of my favorite things, especially as somebody who sews, is when somebody comes back to you with, “Why are you charging $600 for that ball gown? I could get all the supplies for a hundred dollars.” I’ll be like, “Great. Here’s the pile of supplies for a hundred dollars. Put it together.” They can’t.
They don’t have the experience, the education, the skills. That’s what the charging is about. It’s not just about the value you put on yourself. It’s this culmination of all these different parts and pieces. Also, the piece that I find the most interesting, especially in the creative community, is the lower you price something, the less value people put on it. Whereas as you start charging, more people start looking at it as more. If they see you value your worth and charging more, they start believing in it too. It really is that piece that you were saying about
you have to believe in yourself before people will necessarily buy into you and believe in you. You have to have that confidence of yes, this piece is worth $150. You’re still going to get those people that want to haggle and try to strike a deal. When Harrison, my husband, first started raising his prices, he had a lot of fear that people were going to stop purchasing. Actually, the exact opposite happened. The prices went up and he sold more. That first show after he significantly raised his prices, we made a bigger profit. Not just because the prices were higher, but we sold more items, more prints, more originals, more all of it because people could feel that he was valuing his work. There was value in it that he put in it and that made them want it.
People forget that part of it. I’ve seen that happen with a lot of people. They raise their rates and they start selling more. Not only do they start selling more, but then they weed out those clients who want to nickel and dime and micromanage everything. It’s this weird thing that the more they pay, the lower maintenance they become. You get quality clients and you make more money so you’re working less and making more. You have better people around you who appreciate what you’re doing. They understand that “I’m hiring you because I can’t do this. I’m going to trust you.” There’s a reason. There’s also that psychology of people. If they’re only spending $20, it’s probably not going to affect them as much, but if now they’ve invested $200 or $2,000, now there’s more on the line.
That’s going to make them make sure they follow through with it. It’s this whole psychological thing. Charge more. Always charge more. I teach a class for voice actors about rates. We talk about that quite a bit. When I’m hiring somebody, if their quote comes in too low, I don’t even entertain it because, in my opinion, it’s not that I can save some money on the budget. They must not be experienced if they’re only charging that much. People try to think like, “I have to go work on Fiverr and I have to get paid peanuts.” That just means you have to work way harder to get the same amount of money. You’re bringing down the entire industry.
Those clients are going to be the difficult ones.
The less they’re paying you, I guarantee you, those are going to be the difficult clients. I’ve seen it happen with both arts, with my virtual assisting, and with everything in between. If somebody is going for your bottom rates, that is the client or commission that is coming at you every five seconds with complaints and concerns. “Can you tweak this? What about one more thing? What about one more thing? What if I add this?” Whereas if you start from your high rate, they’re just like, “Great, here you go. Straightforward. I trust you, go with it.” It’s so mind-boggling because it feels counterintuitive. I have that exact situation when I was earlier in my virtual assistant career, in my stint as that with what I did.
I had applied for a position and my rate was still fairly low. She actually emailed me back and said, “If your rate is below this threshold, I don’t get on a call because I know that that right there is telling me something.” I appreciated that advice so much. Having somebody tell me that was a huge eye-opener because I was playing that Fiverr-Upwork’s game of if I sneak in with the low-ball number, maybe I’ll get it. To have somebody say that to me, and then also to see the difference in client quality now that my rates have gone up as a coach, as an assistant, and for Harrison, as his art rates have gone up, the quality of the commissions, the people, again, that amount of trust they put him to work in his zone of genius and just do his thing without them nitpicking it to death has just changed dramatically with the price increase.
It’s amazing how that happens. It’s why I think it’s so important to treat your creativity as a business. As you said when you were starting, there was a lot of stuff or your husband who didn’t know all of that stuff. As a creative, you don’t want to be dealing with the numbers, the proposals, and all that stuff. As soon as you start thinking about your art as a business, that it’s not some taboo thing, you actually can and should make money for your talent. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s getting out of that mindset. You actually talk a lot about things like self-care and mindset, which are facets of business that I think too many people overlook because it’s not all about sales and numbers. Why do you find that part of it so important as well?
I feel like I embraced “eff it” as a spirituality. Being a creative, having the business, and all the mental health and the self-care, it all has to be interconnected.
Part of my whole journey is I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. There were a lot of mental health issues. That was part of the walls I kept hitting, where that it would just get to be too much for my mental health. In the way that we have built a lot of employment, taking a sick day when you can be like, “I have a fever. I’m going to the doctor,” there’s less guilt thrown at you. If you just say, “I just need to take a day,” mental health days are only in recent years. I think, honestly, one of the positives that have come out of the whole pandemic is, I think, people are talking a little bit more realistically about mental health and the need to treat that just like any other health issue.
To your point, it was exactly that. I started to notice this crossover of it wasn’t just business help that they needed, but confidence help to really get past their imposter syndrome. Because our society places so much value on your level of production, artists who are such workaholics, even more so than I saw in the corporate world, I literally have to be creating. If I’m awake, I have to be making something. I have to produce a piece of art a day or a piece of content a day. Just this drive to that I have to be creating or I’m not worthy.
I don’t have that worth. It just results in burnout. You don’t have creative ideas anymore because you’re just burning your brain out. Every bit of your creativity is just frazzled and exhausted. It does you no benefits. As you said, everything is connected. Being a creative, having the business, and all the mental health and the self-care, it all has to be interconnected. That’s a big piece also of my coaching and how I approach it. I don’t look at it as, “Well, now I’m doing my job. Now I’m having my life.” It’s all integrated. It is my lifestyle, all of it together. That means that there are some days where I’m like, “You know what, today is a me day. I just need to disconnect, sit outside, enjoy nature, relax, not look at a screen, not look at a sewing machine, and just be. Maybe put on some good music and dance around, but again, that also comes back to finding that joy, because even if we are lit up by our creativity, if we get stuck into that production-only mindset, you start losing the joy and then the creativity stops being fun. Now you’ve just turned it into the same thing as the corporate gigs, which is why you left them in the first place, I assume. I think I had a bit of that awakening earlier when I started out just being a virtual assistant, where I was just doing get more clients, get more clients, get more clients. I forgot that I was doing this to give myself that creative cushion and that space to enjoy my life.
Because it’s so ingrained in us as a society that you must be hustling and grinding all the time. I don’t know how much was just my mental health hitting a breaking point or how much of it was age. Just finally hitting that age of eff it. I feel like I embraced “eff it” as a spirituality and that I was done with anything that didn’t serve my lifestyle as a whole. That meant adding some things, taking some things out, but I am done fitting into what society has told me life, career, and work are supposed to look like. They made it all up. I’m going to make it up too.
The reason I’m smiling so much is this is exactly how I feel about all of this stuff. I cringe when I hear the word hustle. I think I’ve done an episode about that because there’s this glorification of busyness. People think when they start working for themselves or they start a business, their entire life has to go into that. It does take hard work and you do need to invest your own self and your time into it, but work-life balance is not just a catchphrase. It’s a very real and necessary thing. If you work all the time and you don’t find the joy like you talked about, you will start to resent your own business.
That again, as you said, goes against everything you did. I have said often that I left my job so I could work less and make more. Taking breaks is a huge part of it. I will work really hard when I have to. I know myself and what I can handle very well. There are times though when I will take a break because I’m so busy, I have to. That’s the part that people lose sometimes. They think, “Well, how do you take a break if you have all this stuff to do?” I have to because if I take the break, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a whole day, although that’s lovely. Sometimes just going into the other room for 10 minutes means when I come back into the room, I can breathe again.
I’m going to be more productive than if I’ve just gone with all the stress, anxiety, and everything else nagging at me from behind that, that’s not an effective way for me to work. If I lived somewhere where I could go out in nature, I would go for a walk. In Vegas with extreme or excessive heat warnings, that’s not going to happen here for a while.
You’ll melt. Please don’t.
People have laughed, but sometimes I’ll go take a walk around the kitchen. I’ll just do a couple of laps, listen to a podcast, or do something. It’s a brain reset. I think that’s important for us to do always and we have the ability to do that. Why not take advantage of all the freedom that we have, take care of ourselves, and make sure we’re enjoying it? Otherwise, what’s the point?
Yes, absolutely. I found that when I first started out, when I first left my job and basically became my own boss, I found out that I was actually being the worst boss than any boss I’d ever had. Yes, there was a bit of a rude awakening. I think I try and remember who said it to me because somebody else I was working with said something to me. I took a step back because I kept being like, I have to finish this thing because it was supposed to be done tonight. It was supposed to be done tomorrow. This had to be done by then. Somebody asked me, “Who set those deadlines?” I’m like, “Oh…Well, I did.” That’s now a question that I asked my clients and I ask other creatives.
Because there are some things like if you have a commission and this is literally a delivery date, it was in the contract, then obviously you do have hard deadlines. I feel we tend to set these deadlines for ourselves that are so arbitrary. When you feel that pressure of there’s too much, take a step back and look at the list and be like, which of these actually have deadlines? Which of them are self-imposed deadlines that the only person holding me to them is me? Also, taking a further step back with I love what I do. I’m passionate about what I do but it’s not a life or death situation. If I don’t get that done today, nobody’s actually going to die. I’m not a brain surgeon. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. Nobody’s going to get hurt or die because I don’t finish this today.
It’s a good perspective to have. Again, I’m laughing because I’ve said the exact same thing many times. Nobody’s dying over this stuff. If you don’t feel like you can give your energy to it right now, it’s where the logic comes in. I have a lot of logic, but think about it practically. What happens if you don’t do it today? Can you do it tomorrow? Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow. But I am a big believer in, again, finding that balance because you do have to keep yourself motivated to do things. You don’t have a boss or somebody telling you what needs to be done. You have to do that for yourself, but you also have to be reasonable with yourself.
You’re a human and you can only do so much in one day. If you keep pushing past that limit, you’ll get to that burnout and then you’re going to be sick. There will be less that you’re able to accomplish. Just slow down. It’s okay. That’s one of many things that’s great about working for yourself. You can slow down when you need to.
Know where your limits are, and don’t consistently push yourself past them because that’s where you hit the burnout.
Exactly. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be times where you do push and work a lot. Right now, my last batch of fabric has just arrived so now I get to bust out the last of the Kickstarter rewards. Yes, it is a slightly self-imposed deadline. I just don’t want them hanging over my head forever. These people are being great and patient, but the fabric definitely took longer to arrive than I had hoped. I don’t want it hanging over my head all summer. I’m setting myself a deadline of the end of June to finish the last of the Kickstarter rewards, which is totally doable and means I’ll probably be working a bit more this month, but that means that in July, I can take my foot off the gas and be like, Hey, it’s hot. I don’t really feel being in my studio right now, or only spending a couple of hours there. Then I need to go sit in front of a fan and that’ll be okay. It can come in spurts but you have to be very aware of, know where your limits are, and not consistently push yourself past them because that’s where you hit the burnout. If you occasionally do it, you’re okay. If all you ever do is push yourself past it, recipe for failure.
If you had one piece of advice for other self-employed creatives out there, what would it be? It doesn’t have to be one if you want to throw more in there.
Nobody’s going to die.
Actually, there was something you said that pinged a reminder or something a mentor of mine said to me once. Any situation you’re in, whether it’s the idea of launching something new, putting something new out there, leaving a job to focus on your creativity, or raising your prices, any of it, if fear is holding you back, ask what is the worst thing? What is my worst fear? What is the worst thing that could actually happen? Get out a notebook and write it down. What am I afraid of? What is the actual worst thing that can happen?
My mentor talked about what he did something that he called fear casting. If this happened, the absolute worst thing that will happen is I don’t pay the mortgage and we lose the house. Okay, so what then? We move in with my parents for a little bit. Is that great? No. Am I dead? No. Okay. It’s literally asking yourself, what is actually the worst thing that can happen? Realistically, look at that worst thing and go, if that happened, what would I do? By doing that, we often find we’re much more resilient than we think we are. The fears that are holding us back are really things that aren’t the end of the world. They only feel like it but when you actually take a step back and look at them, that’s not that bad. It might mean a few things have to change a little bit, but ultimately I’d get back up and keep going. It’s not the end of the world. Nobody’s going to die.
Nobody’s going to die. Where can people find you on social media and out in the world?
Out in the world, so limitlesswearables.com is the easiest place to find me right now. My social media handle fluctuates from channel to channel because of character limits, but it is some variation of aidenislimitless or aidenlimitless. I am on Instagram and Twitter for the most part. I also have a YouTube channel, which is Be Limitless and Queerate. It’s this thing behind me, which is probably backward on the screen. That YouTube channel is both my sewing, my creativity, and my coaching. I rolled it all into one. I do interviews with other creatives. It’s become a mashup of this weird life I’ve created for myself of encompassing all the different pieces. YouTube, Instagram, Twitter are the places you could find me the most. I’ll absolutely share all my links with you so you can share them. Limitlesswearables.com is the easy one and it has links to everything else.
You’re everywhere, is what you’re saying. You are everywhere doing everything.
Yes, pretty much.
I like that you have embraced your weird life. Thank you for taking some time to share it with us.
Thank you for having me. This has been super fun.
YouTube: Be Limitless and Queerate