The Strangest Secret for Succeeding in a Tough Economy

secretsTalk to enough people at the local coffee shop or watch enough late-night news and you’ll think the sky is falling. Fast!

Unemployment doesn’t seem to be improving. Families are losing their homes. Businesses are going under.

I’d say the pessimism among many freelancers I talk with is at a five-year high. In fact, until last year, I’ve never heard the words “starving” and “freelancer” used so frequently in a sentence. Many are even using their struggle as a badge of honor! (Sorry…but when did being broke become “cool”?)

The Sky Is NOT Falling

Well, I hate to break the news, but it’s not all doom-and-gloom, folks. Yes, I recognize that many people are in financial trouble right now. I’m not blind to reality. But, just as thousands of businesses are going under, thousands are also doing very well despite the troubled economy.

A few weeks ago, I talked to the vice president of company that is having its best year in its 14-year history. Impressive, considering that this company manufactures a high-end specialty consumer product (not a necessity by any means).

I also have a client that’s currently in serious growth mode. This company hired five new sales reps recently and brought in a VP of business development. Its prospects have never looked brighter.

Who are these companies? They’re smart businesses that have found a way to rise to the top of their respective industries, despite the slump in the general economy. And many of them need freelancers NOW. Either because they can’t handle all the work internally or because they don’t want to add full-time employees right now.

As a result, many freelance professionals—both new and established—are doing anywhere from OK to very, very well.

The Strangest Secret

What do you need to do to join this elite group of thriving freelancers? I don’t have all the answers. And even if I did, the answers to that question could fill an entire book.

But, I do know this: Attitude matters…more than you might think.

I learned this timeless secret almost 20 years ago from the dean of self-improvement, Earl Nightingale, when I heard him say, “You become what you think about.” (Nightingale called it “the strangest secret.” And his program by the same name is responsible for launching the super-successful company Nightingale-Conant.)

I find that the older I get, the better I understand the power of that statement and how relevant it is today, especially considering the negative environment we’re living in.

Fact is, you attract what you dwell on. If you dwell on economic panic and financial strife, you will get more of that. However, if you choose to approach each day with confident expectation and a joyful attitude, you will start attracting more positive outcomes to your life.

It’s not just me who believes this. The Law of Attraction has been around forever. In fact, the most successful people I know go about their daily work with a positive, can-do attitude. And they somehow stumble upon opportunity after opportunity. This reinforces their winning attitude, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your Choice

These are challenging times for many people. No doubt about it. But whatever you do, don’t fall prey to all the negativity floating around, even if you’re in financial straits right now. Nothing good will come out of that.

Instead, try (as best you can) to stay focused on your goals. Stay focused on success. Use each little win (no matter how small) as the fuel for tackling the next obstacle.

Before you know it, you will have created a vicious cycle of positive outcomes. Plus, you’ll be well on your way to longer-term freelance success.

Tell Us Your Story!

Have you developed a winning mindset—one that has enabled you to overcome great business challenges?

How do you maintain this attitude when your current situation doesn’t seem to warrant such a positive outlook?

Image by soylentgreen23


  1. says

    This article should be called “Life lessons from a freelancer”. I’ve been trying to teach this to my friends and family for years. I never really understood the concept until a good friend of mine taught it to me. It is great in all aspects of life!

    Best. Post. EVER!!

    Keep up the awesome articles!

  2. says

    It doesn’t matter how bad the economy is, there will be always good opportunities for smart people to make money. Only lazy people complain about the situation in instead proactive people start looking for opportunities to get ahead of the game.

  3. Melanie says

    GREAT post! What a wonderful way to start the week! I have just been laid off and am taking this opportunity to get into freelancing full time. This is the perfect push to keep going. Thank you!

  4. says

    I’ll admit that that back when the economy tumbled I couldn’t help but buy into the fear. As a result though I made a plan to look for more clients, found them and my business continued to grow. I pretty much carried on as if a bad economy never happened.

    A little cautiousness is reasonable but, giving in to those fears will doom you.

  5. says

    Great post.

    After getting made redundant in January 2009, I was surrounded by worry and fear about the future.

    My fiance bought me a book called ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne which is all about the law of attraction. It has genuinely changed my outlook on life from one full of pessimism to one of positivity and optimism, and I’d recommend it to anybody who needs that injection of positivity to spur them on.

  6. says

    I do believe that positive work and personalities will likely result in people actually wanting to hire you, work with you, and be around you. I like to be around those people too.

    The problem with ‘the secret’ is the flip side… so if you lose a client, get cancer, get divorced, lose a child… the philosophy tells you that you also attracted this into your life which ends up being a major shame/blame game. It’s hard enough to deal with catastrophe without blaming yourself.

    Work hard, stay positive, and likely you’ll earn some good work and reward (don’t give the “Universe” the credit for your hard work!)

    But if it doesn’t work out… don’t blame yourself for what the “Universe” did. Get up and try something else.

    You don’t run the Universe and don’t have to feel guilty for everything that happens in it.

  7. says

    “You become what you think you are.” How interesting this one line is to me.

    When I left my day job and our family moved to another part of the country I attended a meeting to get to know others in our area. At that point I had left behind a seriously stressful (but well paying) job and wanted to change direction altogether. In the year before I had illustrated a small book for very little return because it was a cause I belived in and it would benefit project of the UN. All through my workday career I had spent time drawing, painting creating stories but never had a thought about doing this full time as we needed the income from our professions to help us pay the bills.

    But now, with no day job, I sat at this meeting of friendly people who asked me

    “What do you do?”

    “I illustrate children’s books.”

    That was an extremely ambitious statement and more of a wish than a reality. But it was and is exactly what I have always wanted to do and had been moving toward.

    The answer came so easily I had to think about it more seriously when I got home.
    So far I had only done that one book and with practically no fee.

    But I loved my answer. So I acted upon it. I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators , I began working with a critique group, I developed a web page, and all the while kept working at drawing, painting and storytelling .

    The results were quite interesting. It did not happen overnight, but with time to work at my craft and establish an online presence I was soon busy creating illustrations for children’s picture books, educational publishers and self publishers.

    Even in a slower market I am finding places to show my work, grow as an illustrator and yes, finding work.

    So when people ask me today “What do you do?”…five years later than that first time, I can easily and happily answer ~ with a very big smile,

    “I illustrate children’s books. “

  8. says

    This is so true! The reality is that some of the most dynamic and successful companies in business today were started in recessions. It’s not a time to panic, but a time to seize opportunities and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

    I’m a firm believe that if you do what you love, it’s not considered work, and you’ll be successful despite the odds. Attitude, drive, and passion are the biggest components of success.

  9. says

    In 2009 I had the best year of my life :-) +400%. Ok I started from low, but as everything was looking at the lowest bottom, I said to myself that things could just become better.

    And actually, each time people are in trouble they should think positive about next step because it can just become better. When everything is too fine, one must be careful. Something wrong might happen. That’s the wave low.

    Also what is good is diversity in business. I’m doing hosting. I’m putting the web sites of my clients on a dedicated server. I have great Linux skills so that my web sites clients are giving me money every year for hosting of their site and their emails. Also It prevents me to have any limits in the server features. So that with those skills I can’t also set up their office infrastructure. That’s convenient for clients to have to speak to only one guy for everything. It makes their life more simple. By the way I put a dissuasive price on their computer maintenance as I think that I’m wasting my time in boring stuffs at fixing their Outlook.

    I do only what I’m enjoying to do and I get paid for that. One must love what he is doing or do something else.

  10. says

    Great article for inspiration and motivation! I think now for freelancers you should expand your skills or expand your network to create a virtual skilled team.

  11. says

    Just the right note for a Monday morning. I’ve long believed that attitude is a key component of success. When I was a kid, I tried selling holiday cards door-to-door. My sales were terrible, but people always complimented my smile. I’ve used that same philosophy with freelancing. The week may be really bad or I may hit a slow spell, but I never let my clients–and prospective clients–see that. When I update my LinkedIn status, I’m always careful to put my best, “busiest” foot forward. Businesses are emerging from “re-trenching” modes and are looking for positive, can-do freelancers to help them grow their sales.

    p.s. Love the headline!

  12. says

    This is so true, I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago on the fear of freelancing, I wrote that you could never really be poor if you didn’t want to be poor. You could be temporarily broke, ie if you just lost your job, but if you didn’t want to remain that way, you wouldn’t, because you’d naturally do anything it took to not be poor. ;)

  13. says

    It is amazing that something so simple and do so much for you. This is something that I believe in but forget to do. Thank you for the reminder.

    The great thing is, when you have a good attitude, it seems to be contagious and those around you start having better attitudes.

  14. brauny says

    Reminds me of the Henry Ford quote “Whether You Think You Can or Can’t, You’re Right”.

    Thanks for the article.

  15. says

    it’s a great post, and I loved reading it. I don’t know through quirk of fate I purchased “The Secret” today and have been reading it since afternoon. I found it very useful and timely. I’m currently struggling to settle down in a new city where we relocated. I have had the belief that I would meet some good people who can help me. Today, I met two good people who are ready to get me across some contacts.
    Thanks for the post, it’s so so nice!!!

  16. says

    Wow! Great comments, everyone! What a way to start off the week. Appreciate all the kind words, and glad to hear this is resonating with so many of you.

    I’m getting inspired by all the great stories here. Goes to show that we have a choice: We can dwell on the bad stuff… or we can choose to find opportunity. The world will continue to operate the way it does no matter what we choose. It doesn’t care. So I choose to find ways to prosper by adding value in better and more unique ways.

    Someone recently told me, “Ed, you’re delusional and a bit out of touch with reality.”
    The negative commentary and doom-and-gloom forecasts coming out of the press every day?

    Are some people suffering? Of course. But rather than dwelling on that, I’m trying to focus on improving my own situation. Because if I can do that, then I can help others directly AND indirectly.

    I just don’t see what good comes out of focusing on the negative every day.

  17. says

    Sean – This quote summarizes my feelings on that issue: “Work like it all depends on you… but pray like it all depends on God.” (Substitute “Universe” for “God” if you prefer that.)

    Basically, we can’t just sit around waiting on some force to do it all. We have to do the work and put forth the effort first.

    L.Z. – Thank you so much!!

    Ginger – What a great story! Inspirational! All the best to ya.

    Jesaka – You bring up a great point in that a positive, can-do attitude will make you much more attractive to potential clients (as long as it’s sincere, of course). Have experienced this many times. Great job!

  18. says

    Great post and so true! Last year I got laid off which propelled me to become a full time freelancer and it was my best earning year ever. A positive attitude, always being on the lookout for opportunities and good work will keep the jobs rolling in. I believe that if you offer quality work then the work will always find you. Have a great week!

  19. Megan says

    Really enjoying this article. I know a lot of people having good years, and a lot that are having a hard time. I’ve got to see first hand that the difference is in their attitudes. The people who keep their chins up and plow ahead are getting ahead, while the others are quickly falling behind.
    It’s always nice to have a reminder that you have to keep your head up and plow ahead to make a difference.

  20. says

    Oh wow.. I’m not the only one that can see so much potencial in what’s going on in our economy, with our relationships, in our careers, and so on.

    Things aren’t always the way they seem, rarely are they.

    I could’nt agree more with everything that was so beautifully articulated above. Thank you so much for sharing! You made my day.. and I am so thankful.

    In love and light..

  21. says

    I’ve added a third leg to my writing-editing business (added translation)- and have reaped the rewards. There’s plenty of work out there- I can tell you that. I can also tell that 2010 is going to blow 2009 out of the water for me, based only on the past 2 months.

  22. says

    I haven’t watched the news in 4 years. Really. The news is mental poision. It reminds you to fear the “faltering economy”, losing your job, and any number of negative ideas on a daily basis.

    I surround myself with positive people and spend 2-3 hours a day in personal development. Meditation, visualization, performing affirmations, and studying books like Think and Grow Rich, The Millionaires of Genesis, The Science of Getting Rich. I found out that world-changing people spent hours a day working at improving themselves in addition to their daily work chores, so I decided to imitate them.

    Your mind becomes saturated with whatever it feeds upon. Watch what you’re eating, in a mental sense.

  23. says

    To say that one need only think positive and positive things will happen in the job front is as cruel as it is foolish.

    The very notion that “there is always work for smart people” is spoken like a person who has had enough connection and sheer luck to never have had to struggle for employment in their lives.

    Being unable to find work is not about being lazy of negative. Its about being the victim of a system stacked against the unconnected, and against merit. Merit based hiring is all but extinct now, and its about finding [edited for language] in order to get ahead.

    Read this thread if you think only lazy and stupid people cannot find jobs.

  24. says

    Ed, this is so true! I’ve noticed many wonderful things happening as I make small positive adjustments in my mindset. It’s a challenge, but the results are almost like magic. I now realize, much of success is an internal process (what and how we think) as much as external (what we do).

    Thanks for the wonderful post!


  25. says

    Victim? or Victor? It is a choice.. a state of mind.

    The Victim: They play the Blame game, and refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions, thoughts and choices they make in their own lives.

    The Victor: Usually has played the role of the Victim at some point in their life (if not most of it), and has taken that role and has transformed it into an opportunity to learn and grow. They have accepted their power.

    Please, I hope no one takes what I have said here… personally. That is not my intention. I only wish to share my own life lessons/experiences to help others help themselves and thus suffer much less.

    In love & light

  26. says

    I personally believe that your income has nothing …nothing to do with the economy. You could still make money in the share market or get enough projects coming your way despite all the hype & story telling around you.

    I think we all need to understand that whatever samples of data are used to tell these stories or events is just partially true.(me included -it’s easy to get swept away iof you don’t watch out!)

    Making money, getting good projects depends on your Self Esteem! Funny as this may sound, I see the direct corelation to ‘ You become what you think'; If you think you are going to be poor because the economy at large is not doing very well, then that is what will happen.

    I am sure there are enough people making good money even when the times are apparently not too encouranging.

  27. says

    As a new freelancer I actually found that the struggling economy has helped. I know a lot of people who are looking for work, so I offered my writing services for resumes and cover letters pro bono. This has already led to one person getting a job and now she is directing all of her company’s writing needs my way. I’m hoping that there will be more of this in the future.

  28. says

    These are some great comments, everyone! Lovin’ this thread.

    Ashwin – You bring up a great point. No matter what’s happening in the economy, you can always take a data sample that will tell a different story. IMO, that’s what the mainstream media has been doing — taking a sample from the side that’s struggling.

    Doesn’t mean it’s a lie. Bad stuff is happening. I know. But why not also take a sample from other groups? Why not show the other side?

    Since I stopped watching the news, commentary shows and talk radio, every time I catch a glimpse of those shows (at someone’s house or at the gym), their manipulation is now SO obvious. They know that stuff sells. I can’t believe I got caught up in it for so many years!

    Here’s another thought, which is tied to the whole data-sampling comment above: If you’re a multi-national corporation, you’re no doubt feeling the recession. Why? Because your business is directly tied to the mainstream economy — it’s a sample of the economy as a whole. But if you’re a freelancer, that’s not necessarily the case. You only need 3 or 4 clients keeping you busy week after week to have your best year ever.

    Can you find 3 or 4 clients somewhere in the world (who says they have to be in your city or country) that are doing well?

    With some sound strategy, great work and steady action… yes you can!

  29. R.L.Magyar says

    There’s no sustittute for dedication, tenacity, and hard work to achieve your ultimate goals. It also pays to be resourceful as well. Remembe the brilliant advice of the ancient general, Hannibel, who said “If we cannot find a way, we must make one!”

  30. PK says

    Thank you for this.

    On a similar, but possibly deeper note, the greatest secret (in my humble opinion) is that most people desire/want what they currently have – whether that is failure or massive success. Desire is the fuel, the fire, and the force that drives change. Some people never figure this out in the span of their life while utilizing it every single day.

    You want to quit smoking?

    You want to lose weight?

    You want a girlfriend?

    You want to be one of the best at doing what you do?

    Do you really?

    If you really want something – you would be doing it or getting it each and every day. Desire is paramount and it’s also the hardest to realize because it requires perseverance, giving something up to get something else, and absolute focus with dedication that does not end at 5 pm. Round up everyone you know that is successful in whatever they have done – all of them (1) desired it in some form, (2) stuck to it with razor focus, (3) persevered through ups and downs, (4) wanted it so bad that it was not a catch phrase in some book they just red or some website they happened to find, and (5) wanted it so bad that they changed their attitude to reflect their will power above their circumstances, above their handicaps, above the sheer inertia of the comforts of just saying it versus shutting the “F” up and just doing it…

    Do you really want it? Sure you do or yes you do. There is no in between.

  31. says

    Certain ideas make me sing inside, and no matter how many times I read “you become what you think about” I still get that absolute sense of YES!

    Love it. Love, love, love it.

  32. says

    I remember when the book first came out and I read it but it did not make an impact until later in life. It is truly the strangest secret I have ever been exposed to. i really enjoy reading and listening to it over and over.


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