The Guest Blog

Charfen: Hitting Bottom and Starting Over

Alex Charfen |CEO of The Charfen Institute
Dimitri Vervitsiotis | Photodisc | Getty Images

Everyone who has ever accomplished anything of note has experienced failure, probably more than once or twice. Failure is always a real possibility when you step out to do something great.

Like a lot of people in this country, the crashing economy hit me hard, and about 4 years ago, I lost everything.

But, I started over; I made some remarkable discoveries; I did things differently. I learned valuable lessons from my mistakes and recently the company I founded after losing everything landed at #21 on Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest growing businesses in the United States.

So, how did we do it?

First, I think a little context might be helpful. At 21 I had moved to Florida and eventually started my own successful sales and consulting business with distribution channels and branches in the Southeast and in Latin America, but pretty soon I started investing in real estate. I really liked real estate investment more and more. In fact, I loved it. By the time I’d met my wife, Cadey, several years later, I was hooked. I began spending more time on real estate and focusing less on my other business. Cadey became a real estate broker and I got my mortgage broker’s license. Pretty soon I was investing full time, and after over 10 years of running another business and dabbling in real estate, I began to focus exclusively on real estate.

We bought everything. Condos, houses, multi-family homes—you name it, we bought it. If it was real estate, we were in. Whether in good condition or bad, we bought and sold them. Eventually we began buying and holding more and more. We were involved with over 180 deals in a 19-month period. But we weren’t speculators. We were conservative with leverage and worked hard at rehabbing each property to improve the values. We worked 16-hour days and 80-hour weeks.

Though we were wildly successful, there were signs of trouble on the horizon, but I chose to ignore them. Eventually, we ended up in bankruptcy court where I lost everything. I actually had to buy back my wife’s engagement ring from a trustee. This was as low as I have ever been.

At that moment it was pretty hard to imagine ever being successful again. Our immediate goal was simple: survive. But soon afterwards I came to a realization that would be transformational for me and Cadey: Our fate had been in our hands all along, always would be and still was.

See, during my bankruptcy I’d unloaded my problems on a good friend, Alan Waxman, and he gave me this very direct advice: “Alex,” he said, “You chose it. Now own it.”

I did exactly that, and here’s what I saw in my future:

  • I’d take responsibility for my mistakes and do things the right way going forward.
  • I’d commit to becoming more successful than I had ever been despite having to start from scratch (or less than scratch, really).
  • I’d learn to see through the myths that most of us buy into without thinking about the truths (or lack thereof) behind them.
  • I was going to do things a different way—the right way. I would take as much time as necessary and read as many books as it took to find what I believed to be universal truths about how to be successful in business and in life.


Most importantly, I decided that I would align who I am with what I wanted to accomplish. Before bankruptcy, I was working for the wrong reasons, and had come to believe the myth of me: that I was indestructible. The myth of me led me down a path where I lost everything and put my family at risk.

Now I live my life by a concept I call “Congruency.” Congruency literally means “aligning at all points when superimposed.” Congruency equates to having your personal goals and business goals aligned, and walking your walk and talking your talk.

Why does this matter? Two reasons: First, Congruency equals passion. People who have aligned their work with their purpose are energized by what they do every day no matter how hard they work. And, you can’t fake passion, at least not for very long. If you’re passionate about your work your motivation is pure, it’s so much easier to have your work and life move in the same direction. Simply put, people who have found Congruency don’t have to resolve the conflict between their work and the rest of their lives because there’s not one.

Over the next few years, we would achieve our goals and more. And, it didn’t take long: from the time our bankruptcy was finally discharged to our building a near 10 million dollar business that hit number 21 on the Inc. 500 was 36 short months.

Encouraged? I hope so, because I have good news. You can achieve your goals, too. Yours are likely to be slightly different than mine, but trust me, no matter what your circumstances might be at this moment, they are all within reach if you simply commit and take the proper steps toward them.

Alex Charfen is CEO of The Charfen Institute, one of the fastest growing small businesses in the country. He is also a noted speaker and author. His new book about Congruency and the difference it can make will publish soon. You can learn more about Alex and The Charfen Institute here.