08/01/2012 03:27 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

Breaking Down To Break Through

"Desire is the starting point of all achievement." -- Napoleon Hill

The Breakdown.

It's weird the random things you notice during life's most pivotal moments.

At our bankruptcy hearing, the trustee who flipped through all of my documentation wore a tailored suit and expensive tie and I thought, why would you dress like that and even wear jeweled cufflinks to preside over a bankruptcy hearing? I had been in a lot of places in my life and had experienced a great deal of success and a few challenges as well. But I never, ever thought that it would come to this: sitting in front of an attorney, with my attorney in a meeting to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was an official failure.

I couldn't have known then, this was not only the moment of my greatest humiliation, it was also a flashpoint, a lightning rod that would forever help me focus and re-write my own destiny. At the time I didn't see it, but it's clear now. Everyone comes to these places in their lives. It is what we do with them that determines the progress, or lack of progress, we make.

After the hearing I was not paralyzed, frozen or confused -- I just sort of checked out. I felt like there was nowhere to turn. In the silence I recalled the 'learned helplessness' experiment from a psychology class. It goes something like this: You put a dog in a room and electrify half the floor with enough electricity to be irritating and somewhat painful and the dog will quickly find the half of the floor without electricity and stay there. Reverse it and the dog will find the safe half again. Take the same dog and electrify the whole floor, give him no out and once he realizes there is no escaping the electricity he will lay down resigned to accept his fate.

I was that dog.

At the time I thought that I was the only one this had ever happened to, I know now that simply isn't true. Many people -- maybe even the majority of people -- have, for whatever reason -- become partially or completely disconnected from the emotion that drives all human achievement: Desire.

In many cases we have even been told that Desire is wrong, selfish or egotistical. We have been encouraged to disconnect from this driving force because ambition is somehow negative and expectation will only cause disappointment. In extreme cases many exist in a space of complacency or even worse, constant pain -- in a state of 'grinding it out' or (barely) getting by. Suppressed or unspoken desire leads to disappointment and the constant questioning of "what if?" If lasting achievement does occur it is by happenstance or luck.

I refuse to believe that this is how we are meant to live. I think we were meant to do more and to have better lives than the ones so many of us settle for.

Life's challenges and issues can have one of two effects on us. Either we shrink from it and never try again, or we regroup and come back stronger and smarter than ever. For me, it was the latter. Right in the midst of declaring bankruptcy I sat down and wrote on the back of a business card:

I Alex Charfen have the opportunity to travel the country speaking and sharing success with people. I have a happy family and a successful business where I get to help people grow.

Anyone watching me would have thought I was crazy to make this declaration, especially at that moment. Only a few days earlier I had driven my leased car to the dealer and handed them the keys, and I had no idea how I was going to pay rent that month. Maybe I was crazy, but then again dreamers always look a little crazy to those that have forgotten how to dream.

No matter your circumstances, sit down and take stock. Ask yourself, "What do I really want to do and how will I affect those I come in contact with?"

This question is very specific for a reason, and it reveals an important aspect of success that is often overlooked: The level of success you achieve will be dependent on the collective affect you have on others. There really is no compromise here. This is always true.

During one of our seminars, Leo Maya, a contractor who had lost passion for his business and was convinced he needed to do something different, reconnected with his desire to "help and support people." The entire audience watched his countenance and demeanor change right before our eyes as he came to the realization that he could create the lasting legacy he envisioned with the expertise and business he already had.

Join me in stepping outside your daily reality and becoming clear on what it is you want.

Follow this simple ritual to make your goal a reality:

  1. Once you are clear on your desire, commit to it and put it in writing.
  2. Spend time each day deliberately working towards your vision. Looking at your goals once a month or (even worse) once a year simply isn't enough.
  3. Review daily how you moved yourself that day towards your goal.

I found this exercise to be difficult in the beginning. Picking ourselves up off the floor -- or just committing to a new direction -- requires that we face the facts and recognize that we are down there in the first place, right? Acknowledging where we really are and dealing with it is vital, but I can tell you that it works.

Since I became clear on my desire the company my wife and I started during our bankruptcy in 2007 climbed to #21 on the Inc. 500 List of the fastest growing companies in the United States. Our employees have voted us one of the Best Places to Work in Austin every year since 2009. We started and have remained completely debt-free and have not had to take investments or sell any part of our company.

I share this for two reasons, I am proud of what Cadey and I have been able to accomplish and more importantly if a couple mired in debt, in the middle of a bankruptcy, wondering how to buy groceries can pull this off -- so can you.

It was desire that got me off the electrified floor -- what will it do for you?