by Sheldon Grizzle
I need to begin my post with a major disclaimer- I don’t have life figured out. I love my wife and my kids yet I sometimes fail to lead my home in the way I've been called. I am passionate about creating new products and services while creating community around them yet not everything I touch turns to gold. I love Jesus and still I find new ways to show how desperately I need him. I could go on but I’ll spare you.
If you are looking for guidance from entrepreneurs who have already figured some of these things out, I’m not your guy because that’s not my story. My story is more about the struggle and the joy in the seeking and growing. The entrepreneurs that will be drawn to my posts are probably a lot like me…things look pretty good on the outside (and maybe genuinely are to an extent!), but there is a continual internal struggle to understand the Lord’s design for life and work.
A Personal Awakening Begins
For me, it began three and a half years ago- a nagging sense of disconnection and incongruency in my daily life as an entrepreneur. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was or where it was coming from. It was especially weird because as an alum of Covenant College, the school’s motto had become one of my life mottos: “In All Things Christ Preeminent.” I thought I was doing that in the way that I was building my relationships and businesses. And I was...kind of.
I’m certain that people around me looked at the way things were being done in my various ventures and thought to themselves that I had “figured it out.” That’s the odd part about all this. I had the blessing to be surrounded with really talented, passionate people who were excellent at what they did. That was intentional…we had to hire that way in order to survive in the current economy. But amidst the growth of the businesses, there was a sense things were not integrated how they should be in my life.
How was my technology company, for example, making an impact in the world…or even in my city for that matter? I mean really! Our employees were top of the stack from a talent perspective and making well over $100,000 per year. Yet I was personally struggling to connect the resources of my company to the needs in the city because we were trying to bootstrap the business with no investors. In order to deal with this disconnect, I reasoned with myself that I needed to focus on my business so that I could make money before I could start making a real difference.
An Unexpected Revelation
The Lord often shows up when you least expect Him. In June 2015, I was honored to participate in Harvard Business School's inaugural Young American Leaders Program. There were ten of us chosen from Chattanooga along with eighty other leaders from eight cities around the country.
During this comprehensive, intense crash course in macro and micro economics affecting US competitiveness, we were exposed to an unbelievable amount of data about each of our cities. The Chattanoogans’ minds were blown (BLOWN!) to find out that the residents of Chattanooga have one of the lowest economic mobility rates in the country. If you’re not familiar with the term, economic mobility is defined as "the ability of an individual, family or some other group to improve (or lower) their economic status—usually measured in income.”
How could this be possible?! We have made so many strides over the last five decades as a city. From the “Dirtiest City in America” in 1969 to the “Best Town Ever” in 2011 and 2015. Even more embarrassing is the fact that Chattanooga is the most "Bible Minded City" in America…four of the last five years! How could we have this kind of inequity with so many Christians living here? It just didn’t make sense. My world was rocked and my mind began spinning.
Incongruent ——> More Congruent
According to Chattanooga's economic mobility numbers, the rising tide has not been lifting all the boats. I began to wonder, “Will it ever?" I’ve now come to believe that without a massive amount of intentionality on many fronts, it won’t. There might be some small gains in isolated instances, but without being intentional about economic diversity and inclusion, the gaps will get wider still in the “Best Town Ever."
The inequity around economic opportunity is now a rallying cry for many of us who care for the welfare of the city and all its people. I now know that the Lord has been leading me on a journey to bring me into a deeper fellowship with himself and the world he created. Where this all leads I don’t exactly know. I can say definitively, though, that I am being drawn more and more to solving gaps that exist in my city, Chattanooga, and less and less to launching scalable ventures that (theoretically) spin off a lot of cash. And please don’t take my story as moral grandstanding in any way. I believe we need great Christian entrepreneurs in every industry. I think I’m just realizing it’s not my calling at this point in my life.
Hopefully the incongruency I’ve felt over the years will continue to be transformed into a more integrated work of faith, community, and life so that Christ is truly preeminent in all things. And I look forward to learning from other entrepreneurs in this online community about how they live out their faith.
Editor's Note: Sheldon is a friend and guest contributor at FDE. He's written under the moniker of "Startup Guru" for the Wall Street Journal and his writing has been featured in the New York Times and more than a dozen national newspapers and magazines. Most importantly he is a devoted father, and yes, he is, of course, a faith driven entrepreneur. This is his first piece for FDE