THE BLOG
04/08/2014 01:35 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Service As Success

One of the central themes of Arianna Huffington's Third Metric is the importance of redefining traditional notions of success. Huffington's Third Metric consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving. In a world where success has traditionally been defined in terms of power and money, how do we collectively heed her advice to redefine success for our generation and those that follow? How can we actually embrace the four pillars and institutionalize them into the fabric of our nation? Why is this even valuable or important?

There is one simple and straightforward answer that should resonate strongly with our generation: service. National service is not only a mechanism by which we give back to our communities, enhance our own well-being, experience moments of wonder and gain wisdom, but it also works to strengthen our nation at its very core. Success through service is a message that we should be striving to have embedded in the hearts and minds of young Americans. Such a model of success would not only inspire more individuals to give back to local and global communities in various ways, but it would work to build social trust, reinvigorate our sense of civic duty and and even contribute to the "soft power" of our country with respect to its role on the international stage.

Shifting global realities have made it clear that countries like the United States cannot simply rely on their economic and military might to shape outcomes in the way they desire. Money and guns alone cannot equal real success because the nature of the battlefield has changed. In The Paradox of American Power, Joseph Nye talks about the increased importance of soft power. He discusses how traditional hard power predicated on military force and economic resources no longer give the U.S. as much traction in the international system as it once did. Nye essentially argues that there is a greater need to emphasize the tools of soft power "the ability to get what you what through attraction rather than coercion and payment." For these sorts of shifts, diplomacy, credibility, trust & reputation are crucial.

The Third Metric vision mirrors the shift Nye describes in terms of the utility of different types of power. Just as Nye recognizes the flawed nature of measuring power simply in terms of economic and military might in a more interconnected world, the vision of the Third Metric stems from a parallel realization. Not only are money and power not holistic metrics for success, but changing realities about our world today demand new visions of success.

From a very early age, we receive messages via multiple channels telling us that success and achievement are associated with academic success, advanced degrees, the accumulation of wealth & the pursuit of power. And while these metrics do provide tools that enable us to succeed and work towards our personal goals & dreams, these "hard power" metrics of success are not enough. As individuals and as a nation, we have not historically viewed metrics associated with service, integrity, character, balance or well-being as part of our traditional models for success. Just as our conceptions of what constitutes power in the international system have changed, we need to adjust in our thinking about national service, and transform the way we think about success. Civilian national service is just as important to the future well-being, prosperity and national security of our nation.

While the importance of service is a message that does make its way into our consciousness through particular individuals, institutions and experiences we have, it has not truly been culturally embedded or institutionalized into our national consciousness in a centralized way. Perhaps the closest we've come to this ideal as a nation are get-out-the-vote efforts that occur during campaign seasons or the way our nation comes together in times of crisis and tragedy -- like in the aftermath of 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy. However, these are punctuated rallying points of civic engagement and service.

This is not to say that our generation is lazy or disengaged from service -- quite the contrary. In fact, 30 percent of Millennials identify meaningful work as the single most important factor in a successful career, while 71 percent identify meaningful work as one of the top three most important factors. Similarly, Millennials are inclined to serve. 57 percent say they have volunteered in the past 12 months -- more than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, or members of the Silent Generation. In July 2012, 71 percent of First Globals told Zogby pollsters that it was very important or somewhat important "to have the opportunity to do something that changes the world."

Unfortunately, there has been no centralized and institutionalized way to harness the passion our generation has for wanting to give back to our communities and make the world a better place. While the polling indicates the spirit of service is omnipotent, just less than 1 percent of our population serves in the military.

Thus, the time is particularly ripe for a big idea to radically transform how we think about success and service in our country. The Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute is working with partner organizations to make such a transformation a reality. The project grew out of a speech by General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal, Former Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival and he now chairs our inspiring Leadership Council. At the Franklin Project, we're trying to create an opportunity for every single American to complete a service year. We are doing this in partnership with service organizations, higher education, the private sector, Silicon Valley and the government. We believe that a year of national service should be a common expectation and common opportunity for young Americans. National service would be voluntary, but expected, in the military or as a civilian for a full year or more at modest pay, and a rite of passage for every young American. We not only believe that our notions of success must truly encompass service, but that civilian national service is critical to our nation's success.