When I heard that Alan Donegan’s PopUp Business School was coming to Charleston, I was ecstatic to put things mildly.  Well-reviewed within the Financial Independence (FIRE) community, Alan’s two-week course is designed to inspire entrepreneurs to a quick debt-free start making money doing what they love.  The popular program has been iterated and refined over a number of years into a process that I was sure would change my life; I had no idea just how accurate my assumption would be.

I arrived with an iron-clad idea: to teach CPR classes to groups of ten people and earn a profit of $750.00 for each four-hour class — the perfect concept for a lucrative side hustle.  As a well-connected nurse living within fifteen miles of four nursing programs, a medical school, and seven local hospitals, the pool of potential customers with a legitimate need is practically endless.  Combined with an enviable three-day work week in the emergency room, this rapidly developing idea would accelerate my slow jog toward the financial independence finish line into a sprint.

On day 1, following a few thought-provoking exercises designed to motivate students to begin immediately, one of the first action items I was instructed to complete was to make a list of ten things that excite me.  My top three items were:

  1. Spending time with my wife and kids
  2. Learning to do new things
  3. Freedom to do what I want to do, when I want do it

Shortly thereafter, the suggestion was made that “If the WHY is strong enough, you will always figure out the HOW.”

Over the next few class days, my money-making idea began to grow and take shape.  As I commenced to reach out to local professional contacts, the realization that demand far exceeded supply was becoming starkly apparent with each positive response.  It isn’t difficult to see how multiples of $750 combined with an extraordinary savings rate would quickly move things in a positive direction toward FIRE.

At some point during the middle of that first week of the PopUp Business School, I had some fleeting thoughts of the items on my Excitement List I made the first day of class.  Quality time with family.  Excitement of continuous learning.  Complete freedom.  Almost without pause, my genuine thoughts of excitement were replaced with those of dollar signs.  $750 per class.  $2,250 every week.  $117,000 of EXTRA MONEY each and every year, all for the small price of 12 hours per week.  Compounded over 10 years, that extra income would become a sum of nearly $1.8 million.  Enough money to buy my freedom.

I get to walk with my seven year-old boy and nine year-old girl to the bus stop every morning, usually while sipping from a cup of cheap coffee.  It’s truly the highlight of my day.  When I return home, I crawl back into bed with my wife and dogs for a bit.  I work in my yard and garden in the morning before it gets too hot.  I take naps during the middle of the day.  I’m learning to do some woodworking in my garage during my free time.  The kids get home, and I get to help them with their homework.  Usually, at least one of them has somewhere to be; gymnastics practices, chorus rehearsals, hockey practices.

It’s not very often that I’m presented with enough foresight to avoid making a bad decision.  When I thumbed through my PopUp notes, I seemed to stop on the Excitement List every single time.  There it was, staring me in the face.

  1. Spending time with my wife and kids
  2. Learning to do new things
  3. Being free to do what I want to do, when I want do it

CPR classes and my burning desire to add $117,000 to our annual income don’t have much in common with that list.  Time spent walking the kids to the bus would potentially be replaced with time spent preparing class rosters.  I’d have to trade the satisfaction of mowing and edging the lawn myself for a weekly payment to a lawn service.  My efforts to pursue woodworking would likely shorten family dinners and eliminate time together playing board games.  Naps would become a thing of the past.

The following morning, I made what seemed to be a much longer than normal drive to class with a knot in my stomach.  How would I go about expressing my concerns with Alan and his team?  While remotely hopeful that the experts would have some groundbreaking wisdom to impart that would assuage all of my insecurities, I was somehow sure that my growing discomfort would be met with some type of disapproval.  There is a one-word definition for this type of feeling: Fear.  However, I’m quickly finding that true progress is rarely made when I take the easy way out.

At the first break, I took a deep breath, swallowed the growing lump in my throat, and asked for a few minutes of one-on-one time with one of the instructors.  I shared my concerns about my perceived time-management crisis.  I expanded upon my fears that, if successful in developing my business, I would be forced to give up valuable time with friends, family, and my other passions.

My concerns were met with a shockingly simple question: “Do you like teaching CPR?”  The reply, after a brief stare-down during which I understood that the inquiry wasn’t meant to be rhetorical: “Well, um, yeah, I’ve done it before and…”  As I stuttered and stammered, attempting to craft a response that would be greeted with a subtle head nod and some positive reinforcement to extricate me from an uncomfortable situation of my own making, I began to recognize that I had allowed my desired end to justify the means.  Simply put, my “why” — making a lot of money — wasn’t a very good one.  As long as I put dollars first, the “how” would never materialize, and I knew it.

Over the next several days, the PopUp folks encouraged me to keep coming.  I continued to show up, day after day, at first because I had met a few friends in the group that I enjoyed talking with.  I had also heard some pretty good ideas that I wanted to hear more about.  By the end of the course, I recognized that I simply enjoy discussing the details of Financial Independence.  This post is the result.

I have a non-traditional work schedule working in a job that I love which enables me to spend huge amounts of time making long-lasting memories with my family.  Simply taking a three-day block of vacation time results in nearly two consecutive weeks away from the emergency room when I travel or simply need a mental break.  I am well-compensated for the work that I do as a nurse.  I don’t have consumer debt and am ruthlessly intentional about my spending. I currently save 55% of my income.  Alan and his entire team ultimately led me to the realization that my life is already pretty damn good.  I’ll eventually get to the point where I no longer have to work if I choose not to, but you’d better believe that I’m going to enjoy the process of getting there.

I found after going through this process that starting this type of business is not for me.  As a matter of fact, Alan wrote a fantastic post on his blog titled Are you willing to pay the price? that discusses the related details of this type of decision.  If you are even remotely considering starting a business, I would highly recommend Alan and his Popup Business School team.

One Response

  1. Love this story, Steven. One of the biggest lessons FIRE has taught me is that I need to slowly transition my focus from “making money” to “building a life”. It feels weird, because I could be earning so much more doing X and Y with my time. But X and Y add zero happiness to my life, just more dollars.

    I’ve hung out with Alan and some of the popup guys, but haven’t taken their course yet. I am planning to soon though! Thanks for sharing your experience!


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