“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in a middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
We’ll tell you how- by never “throwing away his shot.” Yes, this is from Hamilton the Musical. The musical shows us that Hamilton’s life was extraordinary, and we can learn from it.
Hamilton was born out of wedlock in Neves and later orphaned when his mother died. Hamilton was taken in by a wealthy merchant, Thomas Stevens. After writing a letter to his father that detailed a hurricane, the community was so impressed by his writing that they collected money to send Hamilton to the North American colonies for his education. When allowed to escape the life he was born into, he seized the opportunity and continued to take every opportunity that followed. We should all live our lives with the same philosophy, who knows what can happen if you take a chance?
His education began as anything but formal, receiving tutoring and supplementing his education by voraciously reading. Hamilton demonstrated that there’s no shame in being self-taught and doing things in your own time. He went on to attend Kings College- now Columbia University. He dropped out of college to fight in the Revolutionary War (alongside George Washington, of course) and later returned to his studies to work as a lawyer before becoming the United States’ Secretary of Treasury. Hamilton knew his own potential and didn’t let the fact that he didn’t have a legacy or family money stop him. He had the brains, tenacity, and ambition and knew that those things alone would take him very far.
Hamilton’s success is a testament to hard work trumping genius. He was undoubtedly bright, but he was also known to spend hours reading and writing, learning, and perfecting material. Hamilton said, “men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have lies in this; when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me.” Neither IQ nor EQ can substitute for hard work driven by passion day in and day out.
It doesn’t matter where you came from, if you have the talent and the ambition to achieve your goals, opportunities will appear for you.
Hamilton refused to “throw away his shot.” Sometimes he fell flat (like when he thought the US President should serve for life like a King), but more often, his ideas flourished (like the US Constitution and the Compromise of 1970). Hamilton is known for his stubborn pride, a trait fueled by his passion for the stances and beliefs he held, even in the face of great opposition. But it’s this same trait that propelled him forward.
Most of us wouldn’t know more than the average US History student about Hamilton without Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical. Yes, we wouldn’t have the Musical without Hamilton, the figure. We’d argue we wouldn’t have this masterful art without Hamilton, the man– who he was and what he embodied. His inspirational thirst for knowledge, ambition, and ability to seize opportunity inspired Miranda to write the play.
In 2009 Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House to showcase his poetry during the White House Poetry Jam. Everyone figured Miranda would perform a number from his Tony-winning Musical In The Heights. Instead, he rapped the first song from Hamilton, called “Alexander Hamilton,” introducing Hamilton as a hip-hop Treasury Secretary. Talk about a huge risk, but Miranda pulled it off, the video went viral, and then the Obamas kept asking him when the musical would be made. This opportunity bred another shot—the Lincoln Center, where he performed 10 of the show’s songs, which eventually led Miranda and his team to Broadway. The very act of taking your shot can lead to someone taking their own hundreds of years later.
What opportunity would you seize if you were given a chance?