You've probably heard of Hamilton, the musical your mom, your best friend, your partner, and your coworkers are obsessed with. Hamilton has won 11 Tony Awards and the Obamas are fans, but the musical's wide appeal isn't what we're talking about today.
Rather, we're talking about Hamilton because the musical has some pretty outstanding lessons for entrepreneurs. (And for life, generally, but let's keep it focused on business.)
Alexander Hamilton, the title character, is the definition of a creative, multipassionate, entrepreneurially minded overachiever. To summarize a few of his many accomplishments:
- Fought in the Revolutionary War; was George Washington's most trusted aid
- The first Treasury Secretary of the US (under President Washington) - his role in shaping the US financial system cannot be overstated
- Author of the vast majority of The Federalist Papers, a series of essays printed in newspapers which defended the Constitution
The musical isn't entirely historically accurate, but when it comes to Hamilton's professional accomplishments, it doesn't exaggerate. Because it doesn't need to.
There are business lessons in the structuring of the musical itself, but today, we're going to keep it focused on the lessons from one specific song: "Non-Stop", which closes Act One.
1. You gotta put in the work.
Hamilton walks the walk: the historical man and the character both have been memorialized as workaholics for whom the word "workaholic" is not quite sufficient."
In "Non-Stop," other characters describe Hamilton as someone who is always working, always writing -- non-stop:
"Every day you write like it's going out of style."
"Why do you write like you're running out of time?"
"The man is non-stop."
This highlights the unsexy truth about entrepreneurship -- and life, generally: you have to do the work.
@@Folks want a Hamilton-like legacy without establishing the Hamilton work ethic.@@
Folks who look for business shortcuts are reminiscent of those who ask their newly fit friends "How'd you lose the weight?" or "How'd you get those muscles?" The only healthy, sustainable answer to either of these questions is "Diet and exercise." Which takes intention. And commitment. And frequency of use - frequency of going to the gym, frequency of eating in a way that will facilitate weight loss.
It's normal to want to get there, faster. The character Hamilton is obsessed with getting there and being worried that he won't. But rather than get stuck in analysis paralysis, he keeps barreling forward. Puts one foot in front of the other and does. not. pause.
This takes a commitment to action and a mindset shift: embracing decisiveness, embracing that you could be wrong (and probably will be, because #human)
Hamilton has vision that spurs him to Olympian levels of what basically amounts to content creation.
(Y'all: @@The Federalist Papers were basically content marketing for the new Constitution.@@)
Hamilton has conviction. ("Why do you always say what you believe?" his rival Burr asks him.) He's committed to fulfilling it. He works and works ("Talks for six hours!") and writes and writes ("like [he's] running out of time").
It's worth noting that the historical Alexander Hamilton was a Capricorn who knew his strengths and operated in them. (Incidentally, Hamilton's rival, Aaron Burr, was also a Cap.) Any sign can get shit done, but Capricorns (the generals of the zodiac) tend to be relentless. I'm noting this not to dissuade anyone who isn't a Cap (far from it!) but rather, to understand that your energy and personal makeup will probably influence how you work. @@Figure out how you work, and implement strategies to help you get shit done.@@
Sidebar: Lin-Manuel Miranda probably didn't know that Hamilton was a Capricorn. But I find it deeply amusing that the intensely prolific Lin-Manuel Miranda is also a Capricorn. And you have only to look at 35-year-old Miranda's track record to see that he shares a not insignificant amount of Hamilton's drive (Miranda has written and starred in two Tony-winning musicals and has umpteen million creative projects coming up, including a Disney film that he wrote for while still starring in Hamilton).
There is a risk to the character Hamilton's obsessive work ethic, however.
He has zero work/life balance.
2. @@Figure Out Your Work/Life Balance@@
The character Hamilton's work/life balance sucks. We can admire the work ethic while acknowledging the horrific toll it takes on his personal (and ultimately professional) life. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is unflinching in depicting the devastating consequences of, as the song goes, never being "satisfied."
Hamilton neglects his family and, notably, his marriage, a situation which ultimately leads to ruin.
If anything, Hamilton is a cautionary tale, exhorting us that we can work hard without sacrificing our personal relationships and integrity.
In Act One, Hamilton marries Eliza Schuyler, the daughter of a prominent New Yorker. Though he promises her total devotion when they marry, by the end of Act One, Eliza is feeling the distance between them, how his work comes before she does. "If your wife could share a fraction of your time," Eliza sings in "Non-Stop" -- the notes of bitterness and resentment are detectable, as is the overwhelming sadness with which she sings.
The sacrifice of our personal lives for the professional is something many entrepreneurs can relate to - though we may not say so publicly. Marie Forleo has publicly spoken about how she and her boyfriend ended up in couples therapy due in large part to her lack of work life boundaries. Personally, my workaholic habits almost destroyed my relationship with my partner when I was starting my first business.
I firmly believe that it is possible to be devoted to your work -- to be consistent, to follow through, to grow a business -- and to have a successful personal life, whatever that may look like for you. But work/life balance does not, and will not, happen "naturally." As with all successful things in life, it requires attention, intention, and active nurturing.
A successful work/life balance requires us to be capable of holding the long-term vision and the reality of where we are simultaneously.
A successful work/life balance happens when we are grounded in and appreciative of our present, but still capable of looking forward.
The character Hamilton cannot hold his vision with his reality, and so he finds himself distant from the reality. Eliza asks him, "Look around: isn't this enough?" He doesn't answer -- leaving the distinct impression that, for him, it's not.
Don't let it be that way for you. Remember to be intentional about your relationships, your hobbies, the things that fill you up that aren't work.
3. @@You are your network@@
Didn't see that one coming?
Let's go back to the opening lines to the musical's first song:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Answer: Hamilton was in the right place at the right time with the right people.
No doubt, the historical Hamilton was a genius. But he was also an immigrant, labeled a "Creole bastard" by his constant critic, John Adams (historical fact). He was poor as fuck. When he arrived in New York, he knew no one. He struggled to get any semblance of a traditional university education, the traditional earmarks that set the young man of standing apart in their time.
Let's take a minute to relate this to the modern world of online entrepreneurship: we ignore the context of our lives at our own peril.
The theories that "opportunity will find you - just put yourself out there!" or that "your audience will find you as you create content for them"? Bullshit.
If you want your name out there (like Hamilton did), if you want to start building something that will have a legacy, you have to act intentionally. And you have to build a network.
@@Your network is the ultimate hype girl to your success@@, and how you maximize (or don't) maximize it determines the shape of your career.
Hamilton worked his ass off under the command of George Washington, arguably the most important person, politically, in that era. And their relationship worked because they shared a vision and were both equally single-minded in their dedication to the new nation that was emerging.
This isn't about fixing your coattails to someone higher up the ladder, and it's not about only cultivating friends with "potential." But it is about putting yourself in a position to meet people who will help you, and who you can, in turn, help.
It's about doing the work, consistently, and finding other people with similar vision, who are also doing the work, who are also working towards a similar world.
It's about building community - with your Washington, or your John Lawrence, or your LaFayette (Hamilton's friends and colleagues). Hamilton is made greater by his community, which isn't just the top-of-the-heap Washington. Hamilton the character has a group of friends who unwaveringly support each other and, together, become far greater together than they would have individually.
Quick note: @@if you are committed to building a strong network, there is not room for jealousy or comparison.@@
Where would Hamilton - historical or character - be if he had been smothered by his jealousy for Washington? Even though he and Washington were in drastically different places, with different skill sets, Hamilton could easily have become caught up in "I'll never be as good as Washington" syndrome so why bother?
But he didn't. Instead, he focused on forming a mutually beneficial relationship with Washington - so that in the song "Non-Stop" (and probably less glamorously n real life), Washington asked him to be the nation's first Treasury Secretary.