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Setting boundaries within his new work-at-home life was not something Aiden McFarland ever dreamed he’d have to worry about.
Discovering he had become his own worst boss, he slimmed down his client base, started to focus on only the work he truly loves, and is now living the life he actually wants — he’s no longer living just to work.
With his extra time, he is now exploring his creative side and finding ways to give back to his community. Becoming a freelancer doesn’t mean you have to hustle 24/7, which is exactly what McFarland would love for you to learn from his story in this episode!
Read the transcript of the Work-At-Home Heroes podcast Episode 56 here. (Quick hint: Want to save the transcript for later? Feel free to save it in your iBooks or file app on your device!)
You can also read the entire transcript below!
Have a question for Aiden? Contact him through his website.
Aiden is also a repeat guest on our show! Check out his previous interview here!
Get the first 5 chapters of Caitlin’s book Work At Home for free by going to workathomeschool.com/book.
Don’t forget to join the Work-At-Home Heroes Facebook group!
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Full interview transcript
Intro: This is the Work at Home Heroes podcast. Your host, Caitlin Pyle, digs deep with people from all over the world who make money from home. Get ready to wake up to a world of possibility for freedom, flexibility, and a life you love.
Caitlin: Well, hey everybody. Welcome back to Work-At-Home Heroes. I’m your host, Caitlin Pyle, and we’re back. We decided to mix it up with a series of 10 episodes. It’s a series called Where Are They Now? as we’re bringing back previously featured guests to take a look at their progress over the last year and a half or so since we last spoke back in season one. You’re going to find the link to previous episodes or the previous interview in the show notes for these new episodes. Join us now as we’re following up with Aiden McFarland. He was on the show, again, about a year and a half ago. He originally started working from home as a VA back in 2018, and that’s virtual assistant. If you’re new to the show, that’s virtual assistant is what VA means. He’s now built a multifaceted career in that time that fits his varied interests, working part time as the community manager and executive assistant for a few different coaches and authors. You’ve got your own one-on-one coaching business. You’re supporting other queer creatives, so we’ll go into that. You’re in the process of launching a gender-free clothing line all from home, and you’re working less than full-time hours for more than you made in your previous jobs. What? Welcome back, Aiden.
Aiden: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Caitlin: I’m so excited. So, and that’s all been about three years and you’ve done that from full time and I’ve just got my notes in front of me to help me compare between last year and this year. You’re doing about $1,500 more a month than before. Between $3,000 and $4,000 a month. That’s amazing.
Aiden: It’s sort of crazy.
Aiden: Thank you. It’s like I hadn’t even realized how much of a switch it was until I was starting to prep for doing my taxes.
Caitlin: Oh my gosh. Wow. So what was that like?
Aiden: Definitely doing self-employed taxes is a little different. But it was nice to see it on paper because I think we get so fixated on just doing, doing and doing, but then to see the numbers going gradually up month by month in front of me. You can’t ignore that. It’s right there.
Caitlin: What has been going through your head since you’ve seen those numbers grow?
Aiden: Oh, it’s amazing what happens when you let go of the control.
Caitlin: When you stop trying to control everything and just let things flow and live more in the moment and just take it day by day, which is so hard to do because I think we’re trained to want to know what the end result is and-
Aiden: Where is the money coming from? Exactly when? Exactly how?
Caitlin: Yup. We’re trained for that system. We go to school and we’re told we’re going to get a full time job and it’s going to be working 40 hours a week, most likely Monday through Friday, nine to five or eight to five in my case. You’re going to get paid every two weeks and you’re going to save for retirement and you’re going to, at some point, you get married and have kids and life just does not fit into that mold. I want to say that’s an antiquated model from the eighties. The American Dream is dead. If you have an American Dream now, you’ve got to build it yourself because it’s not a sustainable model. Not everybody can have the American Dream. Whereas if we’re doing it on our own and we take it into our own hands but at the same time, so we’re taking control but to take control, you have to release control. Right?
Aiden: It seems so counterintuitive, but it works.
Caitlin: Yeah, it works. So I want to know more about how you did that. How did you have to let go of control between the last time you were on the show and this time?
Aiden: Well, the biggest thing is that when I first started as a virtual assistant, I was definitely grabbing clients to grab clients because I was still very much in that scarcity mindset and having these income numbers that I wanted in my head. So pretty much every opportunity I saw I was like, “Yes, I’ll work for you. Yes, I’ll work for you.” I found myself getting overloaded with too many different types of things from too many different people, lots of little small things instead of big projects. So I was quickly approaching a burnout again and I was like, “Well, this isn’t what I wanted.” So I started getting really serious and focusing on which of the clients I was really enjoying the work with, what that work looked like and what those relationships looked like. And I slowly started actually phasing out the ones that didn’t align and building up the relationships with the ones that did, asking for more work and refining what I did with them and just making those relationships even stronger. So I was able to phase out some of my smaller clients and I’ve actually now focused down to, I have exactly three clients that I’m still working in a community management or executive assistant capacity for. One of those is about 15 hours a week. The other two are more sporadic. It’s occasional research projects and specific projects they need help with, but our relationships are so good that I want to keep them going even though they’re not consistent. But that has freed up so much of my time and my brain and my creativity. It just started flowing and I was like, “I need to do something with this and I want to give back.” But yeah, so letting go of all those smaller clients and that need to just be focusing on that number and hitting that income number just opened up the doors for everything else. For these better relationships with my existing clients, for having creativity so I could start thinking about this clothing line and for being able to give back to my community and do some one-on-one coaching with other LGBTQ creatives like me who don’t fit that American Dream and who don’t fit the standard rules of what life should be and trying to figure that out and helping them understand that they can build the life that they want, that they don’t have to follow these societal rules and just really helping them find their paths and ignite their passions.
Caitlin: I love that so much. So you’ve been doing that — you’ve been working locally with people one-on-one?
Aiden: Both locally and virtually. I have a few people that are literally here in the Pacific Northwest area with me because there’s a great artist community up here. But also I’ve been able to work with a few people virtually. So far, everybody I have worked with as a coach one-on-one has been somebody that I already knew, that has reached out to me seeing the change in my life and been like, “Tell me more.” And so it’s gone from there. There have been a few long-distance clients, but they’re people that I did already know.
Caitlin: That’s really cool. I think that’s a great testament to — you never know where your clients will come from and just leading by example and you don’t have to get salesy about it. These people came to you just because they saw the change in your life, as you said, and saw you go from the stressed out, overworked Aiden to now Aiden is just flowing, creativity is coming out of him and he’s happier and less stressed. Are you still with your same partner and things are going well, I’m assuming?
Aiden: Absolutely. Yeah. Things are going so well.
Caitlin: Good. Yeah. So they see all those changes and they’re like-
Aiden: Because we have more time together.
Caitlin: It really is about the time. I know I’m in a new phase of my life as well and I thought, I’m not going to build this next version of my life around my work. I’m going to create a social schedule. I want to create friendships and then build my work around that. Because I did it wrong last time. I got ahead of my husband and then my job and my blog and it was just, it consumed me. If I didn’t have anything to do with that, then I was like, “Well, I guess I’m just waiting until the next work project,” and I did not invest in relationships the way I should have, and it hurt me in the end. I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want to feel like it’s wrong to not be obsessed with work, because I think that’s something you can fall into as an entrepreneur. Maybe you’ve come up against this as well. It’s this hustle culture. This you got to be your work and your work is you and I made that mistake. Not doing that again. I’m not doing that again.
Aiden: No, absolutely. There’s very much that, like you said, that hustle culture and I think that’s what I fell prey to in the beginning and it’s like, “No, I don’t want to live to work.” That was the whole reason I left conventional employment was to have a life that I enjoyed. So if I’m still just living for work, then that’s not what the point of this was. The point is the work supports the life I want. So yeah, building relationships first. Absolutely.
Caitlin: So what does life look like now? What is the life that you want? What is that?
Aiden: The life right now is that my husband and I have been focusing on finding more things to do locally and we literally, when I plan out the months, it’s like we’ll have at least two date nights that are just us going out and enjoying the community and each other and not talking about work or anything else. And we’re traveling more, trying to travel even more. Because it’s still all mostly been local travel and we want to do some farther travel soon. Spending more time with our pets. Spending more time out in nature. The goal is by about halfway through this year when my husband finishes his master’s program to also retire him from his day job so that he can focus on his art full time.
Caitlin: Yay. What’s he getting the masters in?
Aiden: Visual development for art.
Caitlin: Very cool. So he’ll be able to focus in on the art for his work, then.
Caitlin: That’s sweet.
Aiden: Because right now he’s very much, he comes home from his day job pretty tired. So it’s really hard to be creative when you’re exhausted. He’s got all these great ideas on this art that he wants to do and put out in the world, but he’s too exhausted to do it. So we’re going to free that up for him.
Caitlin: Yeah, that’s so smart. Then you have income coming in that can support him in that process, which I think is fantastic because that’s going to take stress off of him. You’ve already worn the path ahead of him and every path is a little bit different, but you are an amazing coach for him and that probably helps him feel less fear as he moves forward as well. I think that’s the beauty of relationships like that, is that you can support each other as both of you grow and you have the same goals for wanting to build a life together and not have it centered around work. You want that creativity and to have that space for actual love instead of just that hamster wheel, which hah, gosh, that’s exhausting in itself. You don’t want to change one exhaustion for another exhaustion, which you learned that and you are helping him avoid that, which I think is amazing.
Aiden: Definitely. It’s both of those things in that because he’s seen what I’ve been able to do, I think that has taken some of the fear off of him because he has definitely had a lot of fear around letting go of what the world views as a secure income though we know in reality that’s not true necessarily. Layoffs could come in anytime, something else could happen, but this idea of job security and it’s very hard to let go of. I think seeing that I’ve succeeded has definitely helped him to not have that huge fear about that. But then, yeah, also the hamster wheel. I definitely discovered that I was a harder boss on myself than most of my previous bosses had ever been.
Caitlin: Ooh. What was that like? When did you realize that?
Aiden: It was right when I was in the middle of taking on the more and more clients and really the hustle culture, feeling that a little bit in the beginning. I was realizing I was spending 10 plus hours a day attached to my laptop and all of this and I had these crazy deadlines for the work I was doing and when I step back and look at it, I realized all those hours, all those deadlines were ones I was imposing on myself. It wasn’t like the clients had said, “I have to have it by this time,” or “I expect you to still be responding to messages at this time.” It was me. I hadn’t set that boundary for myself and I was like, “I’ve done this to myself. What am I doing?”
Caitlin: And you didn’t know you had that side of yourself, the high expectations and being, you had mentioned you wanted to learn to give yourself some grace. It sounds like you’re well on your way.
Aiden: So I, literally, I have a deadline each day where it’s like, Nope, the laptop gets closed and I walk away. I will set down my phone and not look at it for hours. I have set times when I check my emails. I set up those systems for myself and I’ve set expectations with my clients. Yes, they will get a timely response, but no, I am not attached to my electronics. I’m allowed time off and downtime. It’s working well. There are definitely still times when certain projects come up where those lines blur a little more, but for the most part I am worlds better than I was when I started.
Caitlin: Good, and I can just tell. I can hear it in your voice. You sound relaxed, you sound happy, you sound adequately challenged but not overly so, which I think is really good. You’re definitely on the right track. What annoyances or stresses besides the ones that you’ve already mentioned with overcoming yourself, what other ones were you able to overcome?
Aiden: Absolutely the biggest thing was the thing about not getting in my own way in terms of setting unrealistic expectations and everything like that, but it was not being too hard on myself and it was that thing of I actually was finding, because I was spending so much time, I have a laptop, that’s what I work from and yet I was sitting in my home office all the time. I was like, “I can literally pick this up and walk anywhere with WiFi.”
Caitlin: So why don’t we do that?
Aiden: Exactly. Again, it’s like we fall back into the old conditioning of even though I’m not in a cubicle, I’m in this lovely home office that I am designing to be a comfortable workplace, but I am not obligated to stay chained in it. It was also committing to myself that at least one day a week I would take my laptop and go work elsewhere. The other big thing has been being clear from the get-go with clients and everybody else about communication and expectations because for my own sanity, so I didn’t end up back in that overextending myself and over. It was just being very clear up front, like I said, about setting communication boundaries of, you’ll get timely responses, but that means that I’ll respond to texts within this amount of time. I’ll respond to emails within this amount of time. So nobody’s expecting instantaneous responses and just being really good with communication when a client sends in work to respond back with, “I can have this done by this date or time, does that work for you? Does this have a different timetable?” And it’s just really cultivating those communication skills has been so important. But it was definitely a challenge at first because I think with the way corporate America works and the way we’ve all gotten used to responding to bosses, we’re scared to ask for what we need.
Caitlin: So true because it’s all like at-will employment and there’s so many people willing to take that low paying job. Right?
Aiden: I literally had bosses in the past tell me how easily replaceable I was. So I think getting over that fear of like, “No, I can stand up for myself. I’m not an employee. I’m contracted.” I can go to them and say, “these are my rules and these are my boundaries,” and that’s okay. But that was definitely, getting through that fear on my own level, was definitely a thing.
Caitlin: I think sometimes there’s trust issues as well. Coming from a corporate background myself where it was basically there’s somebody breathing down my neck all the time, and then working as a freelancer after that, I was almost expecting my clients to be like that. Sometimes when they were, I would be afraid to stand up for myself and say, “No, you can’t send me this and ask me to not charge you extra when it was not my fault that you waited so long and me to just give you a break because of your poor planning, that’s not fair to me.” But feeling okay with actually doing that was hard and being able to let those clients go and getting rid of that money scarcity but knowing that if I got rid of that annoying pesky client that wanted to spend 30 minutes on the phone with me for every job, even though I was not even going to make 30 bucks on it, it was like, “That’s not something I want to do.” Being okay with standing up for myself and setting boundaries and I had to learn what boundaries were. Even now as a boss, I can feel okay with knowing that my people can manage themselves because it was almost like some people expect you to hold their hand and I don’t work with those people. I have to work with people who can own it and treat my company as if it were their own. Because largely when working for a common goal, it does become their own in a way.
So let’s talk about some fears that you might still be dealing with and maybe how things have evolved. Because something I always say in my book, and I’ve said it many times on the show, is that fear doesn’t go away, it just changes its face. It’s wearing a different mask every time you see it and you can’t have courage without fear. So it’s something that we have to learn to deal with more than get rid of or work with it and have it work with us and have grace with ourselves. So how has your fear changed its face over the last two years?
Aiden: It is funny because I think a lot of people when they start out on new projects, new careers, new anything, they think like, “Well, everything’s going to be better.” It’s like, “No, you just end up with different problems.” — everything you could get through it. But it’s always a constantly moving target and every new step, whether that’s gaining clients, letting go of clients, starting the new projects like the clothing line, everything starts with uncertainty. I can’t know how things will end up or how they will go. All I can do is do my best. So it’s like I haven’t conquered fear and my fear keeps evolving, so it’s just learning new ways to cope. It’s just reminding myself constantly that I can only control my own actions. Do my best, put in my all. But I can’t control how anyone else is going to respond to it or react to it. I can’t control, in the grand scheme of things, what the world is going to do with it, but no growth will happen if I don’t take risks and step out of my comfort zone. That is my biggest way of dealing with every new fear that comes out, is just reminding myself I can only control myself. I am fully responsible for me. Everything else is up to the universe. And then of course, occasionally I scream into a pillow. You know.
Caitlin: Yeah. We all have coping mechanisms and yeah, for sure. I got my medical marijuana card to help me chill and I’ve been doing float therapies, sensory deprivation therapy where, it’s like they’ve called it meditation with training wheels because some people, I have a lot of body conscious issues where I’m constantly aware of imbalances in my body and I have tinnitus pretty badly as well. So just sitting there meditating is really hard, but flotation therapy makes it way easier to subtract all of these external distractions that help cause you to forget that on the inside everything can be calm and peaceful. Everything can be calm and peaceful if you realize that that calm and peace can only exist on the inside. Because things can be chaotic on the outside, but if you’re okay on the inside and you’re like, “Okay, well whatever happens, it’s going to be fine. Even if I die tomorrow, things are probably going to be fine.” Everything’s going to work out because the only constant is change, and if we are not going to be attached to certain outcomes and making them mean something like, say you don’t get to work with that client that you thought you really wanted to work with because that becomes an opportunity for growth in another way. Just before I recorded with you, I recorded the update episode with Brittany Long, who had mentioned —
Aiden: Oh, I love Brittany.
Caitlin: I know. I love her. She’s great. My very best friend in the whole world, and she was talking about how she’d been wanting to get pregnant for five years. She’s currently pregnant and she’s talking about how the timing was so much better. Even though it was painful waiting as long as she did, the timing was so much better. So everything does happen in perfect time, but we just have to decide we are only in control of ourselves and what’s happening in this moment. It’s about being in the present because joy does not exist in the past. It does not exist in the future. It exists only right now and our only hope for experiencing joy is by being in the present and accepting what is and making what little change we can in the present moment to help ourselves feel better and help ourselves take the next step. And of course, giving ourselves grace and not beating ourselves up or beating ourselves into a mold. Right?
Caitlin: That’s what I struggle with. It’s hard for me to, well, rebuilding my life after a divorce and choosing to consciously step out of my comfort zone, make new friends, and create a social schedule which I didn’t have apart from my ex-husband before. Cultivating relationships and around that I will build my life. Not around my work and about what I do and how productive I am. I want to have relationships. I want life to mean something regardless of whether I have this job or not. I want to feel stable in that capacity. It’s different for everybody. It’s different. I think all of our journeys are teaching us something new. I think that’s what’s so much fun about having these conversations is that we can see how other people are doing it and find hope and camaraderie in sharing our journeys together. You are definitely a Work-At-Home Hero.
Aiden: Thank you.
Caitlin: It’s so, so good to catch up with you and so good and encouraging to hear how you’ve dealt with the ever-changing face of fear and your life has improved so, so much. You’ve got so much more time and freedom, you’re exploring creativity. Tell me about this clothing line, too.
Aiden: Yes. The basics is it’s designed around comfort instead of gender because for me personally, I don’t want to just wear structured… Men’s clothing is so structured, which sometimes is appropriate, but sometimes I just want something a little more flowy and I can’t really find that unless I go shopping what’s labeled as the women’s section. But if I go there, it’s not shaped for my body. And I have people on the other side of that who are female bodied who want something slightly more structured, but that will fit their curves. And obviously if they go to the men’s section, nothing’s going to fit quite right. So this whole line is designed around comfort instead of any gender labels. It’s all very loose and flowy and like I said, super comfortable. There’s a lot of hoods and pockets and thumb holes and it’s in more muted colors except with pops of color. All in the forms of space fabrics like galaxies and stars. I was down in LA a couple of weeks ago. I managed to get the last fabric I need to get started on creating all the sample garments. So I’m literally at this point where we’re going to start putting together the sample garments. My illustrator is supposed to be getting the actual design, the artwork of the designs to me soon, and I’m getting super, super excited to start sharing it with the world because it’s just been like, “No really, it’s coming,” for months now and I’m so excited to actually have things that I can show people very, very soon.
Caitlin: I can’t wait. A lot of work has to go into that, like sourcing the fabric. You went to Los Angeles to find a fabric. That’s intense. It takes a while.
Aiden: Well, and the interesting thing was that I went to Los Angeles and found one of my fabrics for much cheaper than anticipated. So that super helped the budget, but the space fabrics that I wanted, the one thing I learned is I went through the fashion district and I went through the garment district and the fabric I wanted didn’t exist. So we’re custom making our fabric. We’re getting a custom printed fabric. Because I mean, if I literally go to the fashion district and cannot find what I want, then it doesn’t exist.
Caitlin: That’s exciting, though. So you’re going to have something completely new. Completely different.
Aiden: Yes. The fabric actually has my husband’s artwork on it, so yeah.
Caitlin: How cool. That might be something, an outlet for him to plug into where you guys can have a project that has the essence of both of you. That sounds very exciting. Especially as he comes to the close of his degree program and starts building something. You can plug into something that helps him thrive and it’s something that you’re passionate about, and I see that going so many beautiful directions. I am very excited for you. That actually answers my question about what’s next for you. We already covered that.
Aiden: Yup. That’s what’s next.
Caitlin: Getting this launched and you’re doing things before feeling fully ready. I think that’s something that we all have to get used to doing. It’s just like you’re never going to feel ready. You’re never going to feel not scared. You’re never going to be… You’re always going to… I’m always battling the anxiety monster and figuring out new ways to do that is basically a full time job because it’s just, “Oh, I just didn’t think it was going to get any scarier,” and it does.
Aiden: It finds ways to. Like I said, fear doesn’t go away. Just new ones.
Caitlin: Yup. Just completely new ones and things that you never thought you were going to have to deal with. I faced the depression demon, the divorce demon, anxiety demon, and they keep coming but it’s not getting easier. I’m just getting better at dealing with it. Even though I was in a space not long ago, maybe less than a year ago where I was like, “Things are never going to change. Things are never going to get better. I’m never going to get better.” Because there was that depression monster will tell you, you can’t get better. You can’t feel better about yourself. There’s nothing that’s going to make you feel better. But that’s the grind, too. I think having to face the fact that you’re never going to be done and the growth is going to keep happening. The change is going to keep coming and you have to learn to roll with it and you have to find people that will roll with you, that are safe. I call them safe people. People that are genuine and authentic about their own lives and are encouraging but not overbearing and they’re not too perky. They’re not, I don’t know, I have a whole list in my head of, who’s a safe person? I think everybody has that, whether they’re conscious of it or not. But surrounding yourself with people that are supportive and helpful and have been where you are or maybe currently where you are and you feel safe sharing your journey with them. I think it’s so important that we have those people in our lives. That makes me even happier to hear that you’re pouring into your own local community and helping other people with some of the same issues that you’ve dealt with. So where can people find you online? We’re going to tag you on Work-At-Home Heroes just like last time, where people can come and talk to you about this episode and about your journey. Where can people find you online outside of that?
Aiden: So I actually, because I used to hide behind all these names, like the artist admin and other things and I’ve chucked all of that. So it is aidenclarkmcfarland.com.
Caitlin: Oh yay. I love that.
Aiden: It is my name and that’s where you can find me on other social medias as well. I think the only one that is different is Instagram, I think it’s just Aiden C. McFarland because of letter limits, but on Facebook, Twitter, I am Aiden Clark McFarland. Like I said, aidenclarkmcfarland.com and that also has a link to all my social media, my coaching, and my clothing line.
Caitlin: Super exciting. That is in the show notes as well, folks. It’s going to be on Work-At-Home Heroes. You can find them on Facebook and you can also get the first five chapters of my book Work At Home, which we didn’t really talk about it, but Aiden is a Work-At-Home graduate.
Aiden: It’s such a good book. Yes.
Caitlin: Yeah. He also reviewed my book before I even had it printed in its first edition. Thank you so much for that. You got a signed copy of that as well as an inaugural Work-At-Home School student and so we’ve got a testimonial on the air but we didn’t have to talk about it because you’re a walking testimonial for the work-at-home life in general and you have, I think, just one of the best attitudes of anybody I know. So folks listening at home-
Aiden: Thank you.
Caitlin: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for being on the show. Folks listening at home, if you want more of Aiden, you’ve got the link to his previous episode in the show notes and you can also get the first five chapters of the book that we just mentioned for free by going to workathomeschool.com/book.
If you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on your favorite platform. That’ll help us reach more people and bring more great content, more interviews just like Aiden’s. You can find more episodes of this show at workathomeschool.com/podcast.
Again, join us over in Work-At-Home Heroes Facebook group, too so you can talk with Aiden. Again, thank you so much, Aiden, for joining us again on the show and for giving us some glimpses into your fabulous life out there in Pacific Northwest.
Aiden: Thank you so much for having me back on. It’s always a blast talking to you.