When people first meet me, I can guess what they see and what they might assume about me. My own grandkids once told me that they thought my background was that I am rich and always have been. And because of this they assumed I couldn't have a clue about the kinds of problems they faced every day.

But what they — and many others — didn't know is that I've been in recovery for years. I've had my share of troubles, and I certainly haven't been successful my entire life. I've been flat broke — more than once.

I've gone through difficult times in the past. I still do. But I've taken some lessons from my recovery process that I try to apply to business as well as everyday life.

First, setting yourself up in a positive environment and surrounding yourself with positive people contributes to your success. On the flip side, cut out the negative in your life. Sometimes that means focusing on your personal problems first. You can't perform the way you want to in your career if you're being dragged down by your personal problems.

The same goes for running a business. I've turned around a number of failing companies, and the way I've been able to do that is by weeding out the people with bad attitudes. I don't want to work with or be around people who aren't going to try. I would rather have a smaller team of people who want to be there than a large group who aren't interested. When you keep people around who are always looking to make an effort, no matter what situation you're in you'll find yourself always presented with opportunities.

On a related note, holding yourself accountable for your actions and choices applies to business as well as your personal life. Part of moving you and your business toward success requires acknowledging where you've gone wrong before.

I've had numerous failures: I've had business failures, relationship failures, legal failures, moral failures. And for every failure, I recognized I was at fault. It wasn't because of the economy or a bad break or someone else. If I was cheated, it was because I let myself be cheated; I let myself get into that situation. Owning up to past choices can be difficult for people and takes some time. However, once you stop blaming other people and look to how you put yourself in certain situations, you can learn from them and learn how to move forward.

Third, set goals for yourself, and don't let anything get in the way of achieving them, including your own excuses. I've found there's a serious disconnect between our goals and what we're willing to do to advance them. Understanding who you are and what you want — and staying focused on those — is a challenge people have in business or in life planning. Remind yourself that your effort is worth it for what you want to achieve.

Next, remember that it's OK to say no. You have to be willing to say no sometimes in order to meet your own personal needs. What I mean by that is that when you think about your business plan or your life plan, the first thing you have to do is take care of yourself. You can't take care of your personal and business responsibilities or the people that matter in your life if you're not in a good place mentally and physically.

Lastly, one of the most important points: Remember where you came from and do what you can to give back. I find myself lucky to have had life experiences that reinforce how positive it is being sober and that I'm able to continue building a life without losing control. One of the greatest things that has emerged from my experiences is that it led to starting the Results Foundation, a charity that supports local programs and organizations focusing on housing, health, education and mentoring. Through the foundation, we've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to go back into the communities where our offices are located. I've made my career from helping people and empowering them, and this foundation adds to that as well. I've never thought of myself as a philanthropist, but I will say it's incredibly satisfying to know that I'm contributing to something worthwhile and positive that will outlive me and my career.

John Collopy is the owner and broker of RE/MAX Results, which includes 38 offices across Minnesota and Wisconsin. His book, "The Reward of Knowing," includes advice on overcoming addiction and examines how that experience applies to business.