Every American, whether native born or naturalized citizen, has an obligation to serve their country. I’ve always believed that to be true, which is why I spent fifteen years serving my country in the Marine Corps.
I even served three years as a recruiter, trying to convince other young men and women of the nobility of military service. But even then I believed, as I’ve always believed to be true, that military service is not the only — or even the primary way — that most people can or should serve this country.
If I were to advise most bright, motivated, service-oriented young people who aren’t the “military type” I’d recommend they take a different path: start a business. Creating a business that provides jobs and offers valuable goods or services for one’s neighbors is a high and noble calling.
Andrew Yang, the founder and CEO of Venture for America, makes a similar claim, and even argues the “greatest service to your country is to start a business.” While “greatest” is certainly an overstatement, I agree it is one of the most needed forms of service in America today. As Yang writes,
People who enlist for military service or devote their lives to the unfortunate are clearly worthy of praise and admiration. At the same time, military service isn’t a realistic option for many, and I’ve seen tons of idealistic young people go work for large non-profits and organizations only to become frustrated with their roles or burnt out. In my view, if we broaden the notion of service to include “helping organizations succeed,” “creating value,” and “generating new opportunities for yourself and others,” we’ll give many young people license to take on pursuits that are more sustainable for them and will drive society forward.
Job creation and paths to the middle class are today what our economy and society need most. If you examine our communities, what we need as much as anything else are new companies that help enliven neighborhoods and give people meaningful avenues for personal advancement. Nothing conveys a sense of self-worth like the right opportunity. This is the new call to service—“Can you create 5, or 50, or 500 jobs for people in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, or Baltimore?” Success will drive our ability to educate our children and many other things.