If you've ever tried to build a business, you'll know what I'm talking about.
That slow, painful growth, where things move forwards step by step but in slow motion, when you're putting in a tonne of work but not yet seeing the fruits of your labour.
In SaaS businesses this is felt tenfold, and has come to be known as the Slow Ramp of Death.
It's upwards trajectory, but it's so slow that many die on these straits.
On the weekly mastermind call I'm a part of, we were chatting about the realities of starting a business, and my buddy Ben mentioned something that stood out to me.
The Slow Ramp of Death kills many, but there's something before that, something just as important.
The Pre-Slow Ramp of Death Ramp of Death.
It's that time before you're even on the Slow Ramp of Death, when you're wrestling with other challenges that all have to come before you even get a solid foot on the incline.
It's that time when you're working out what you really want from life, what's really motivating you, when you're getting a grasp of what makes you tick.
It's that time when you're learning to make space for something new. When you're setting up foundations before you even begin the real building work.
And these times are essential. Glamorous no, but essential nonetheless.
Not everyone will experience them to the same degree. For some the foundations will fall into place without too much conscious effort, but simply as a by-product of the path they've been on. But others have to purposefully cultivate the ground before being ready to plant the seed and grow the tree.
I've experienced these times before, and I'm experiencing them again.
In 2009, I stopped working on my own business goals to focus on other areas of my life. This was not something I wanted to do, but in hindsight set me up well for the future.
In 2016, I stopped working on my immediate goal of building a business (with my buddy Mike) to work on our ability to ship anything at all. I didn't want to do this, setting aside six months felt like a lifetime. But it was the best six months of our business building progression, and as it turns out, six months isn't that long after all.
And then again in 2018, I stopped working on building a business to take care of myself, to focus on other important parts of life that I'd neglected for years.
For years I worked nearly every waking hour. It didn't feel like work. I enjoyed it. But whether you enjoy it or not, spending all of your time on one thing leads you to being lopsided, and it did for me.
So I made an adjustment, I stepped back. Now, in Spring of 2019, 16 months on, I'm still in that Pre-Slow Ramp of Death Ramp of Death. I'm still not out of that pre-slope slope. But I'm making progress. I'm moving forwards.
It's a frustrating place to be, tbh. Having goals and aspirations, but not the drive to pursue them, not the desire to make them happen right now. Having other more important priorities that need tending to first.
It's hard when you build an identity in being a certain type of someone, and then stop taking any surface actions towards that path. It's quite humbling to leave behind something you've been building for years, not knowing if you'll ever pick it back up.
My focus has been elsewhere, honestly. It's been looking after the human Fred. On setting foundations for life, not just for business.
The journey hasn't been one I sought out to go on. But it's one I felt I needed to.
The steps I took last year were into the unknown. Stepping away from something into, well who knows what.
But sometimes we have to make room. Sometimes we've got to make space for the new, before we can expect it to come forth, before we even know what it is.
And that's been my life the past 16 months or so. And I'm still there. Making room for whatever process I need to go through, for however long that might take.
It's funny looking back. I see how each time I took what looked like a backwards step I came back far stronger. I traded in some time for something I didn't want to do, but felt I needed to. I worked on my weak spots specifically, instead of simply doing what looked like the most business-y thing to do, the best surface level actions.
So having spent over a year in this latest step back, it came as a welcome surprise when, this weekend, I caught the first glance of a breakthrough, a glimpse of the season ahead. The first ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds.
For the first time in 16 months, I actually wanted to work on a side project. I didn't even work on one, but for the first time in almost 500 days, that old drive peeked its head above the horizon.
I'd forgotten what that felt like if I'm honest. Since the turn of the last year, I've wanted to want to work on side projects. I've wanted to force myself back on the treadmill, back into "productivity". But I've not wanted to be there, back on that path. Not until this Saturday just past.
I've just not felt I've had the capacity for it. Everyone has limited brain space, and I've just needed to allocate more resources to other parts of life.
I'm not sure what it all means. I'm not sure what tomorrow holds, whether the drive and desires of previous Fred will return. And I'm doing my best to be ok with that.
But what I do know is this: we're more than just business building machines, and the challenges don't start post-launch.
There's a battle that starts long before that.
As any architect worth their salt knows, great skyscrapers are built on solid foundations.
We don't have to justify why we're digging in the ground and not putting up shiny things.
We've all got our own journey to go on. Sometimes we have to take a step back before we can take several strides forwards.