5 Lessons on Initiative From Alexander Hamilton

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The trajectory of Alexander Hamilton’s life could most accurately be explained by one ever-present characteristic: he lived with an intense bent towards initiative. Throughout Hamilton’s life, his determination to take action relentlessly propelled him forward. In the song, “My Shot,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, Miranda captures what could have been Hamilton’s life mantra.  

Whether serving as George Washington’s chief of staff during the Revolutionary War, leading the attack that would end with the surrender of the British at the Battle of Yorktown, or creating a new central government in the early Republic, Hamilton’s initiative was constantly on display for all to see.

Initiative is one of the most important tools a leader possesses. A leader must constantly push progress and momentum forward. Hamilton embodies this characteristic, and he offers us several lessons for living with a bent towards initiative in our lives. 

Overcome Resistance.

Author Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, writes that anytime we attempt to take initiative, launch a new project, or attempt anything good for ourselves or for the world around us, we face a common enemy. He names this enemy resistance, and calls it “the most toxic force on the planet.”

Resistance discourages, deceives, and defeats us when we give into its negativity and hopelessness.  How many of our goals and initiatives are defeated in our hearts and minds before we even begin? “Why try?” we ask ourselves. “It’s probably not going to work anyway.” Hamilton expected this resistance, faced it head on, and refused to allow it to keep him from charging into his calling. 

Acknowledged the power of initiative and the cost of inactivity. 

Hamilton, throughout his life, displays for us the power and impact of initiative. His antagonist in Miranda’s musical, Aaron Burr, seemed to live with a bent towards hesitation, or a lack of activity.

Miranda describes the difference: “Burr is every bit as smart as Hamilton, and every bit as gifted, and he comes from the same amount of loss as Hamilton. But because of the way they are wired, Burr hangs back where Hamilton charges forward.”

So often our success in life depends on this critical choice: will we charge forward and take initiative or will we hang back and do nothing?

Communicate.

After America’s victory in the Revolutionary War, their government operated under the Articles of Confederation. This document was designed to keep power at the state level, and frustrated those who longed to form a strong central government.  Hamilton and Washington both believed that a strong central government was essential for American to enter into its “manifest destiny.”  

Hamilton’s strategy to establish a new Constitution revolved around an ambitious writing project called the Federalist Papers.  Hamilton wrote fifty-one essays in the span of seven months to convince his fellow countrymen of the wisdom and necessity of a strong central government.  Hamilton understood the power of communication, and its central role in any initiative project.

Dig Deep.

One of the most important battles in the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Trenton. Early in the morning on Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington ordered his army to cross the Delaware River to attempt a desperately needed victory against the enemy.  

Hamilton almost missed the battle as he lay sick in bed that morning with a raging fever. But when he heard of the attack, he willed himself out of bed and into the action. He couldn’t stomach the idea of missing the battle. Initiative oftentimes is painful, costly, and requires great sacrifice. Will you dig deep and give what it takes in the moment of action? 

Believe that when you move, God moves with you.

W.H. Murray writes, “Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.”

Hamilton lived with a deep faith in God and a belief in His providence. He believed that when he took initiative, God was right there with him. When we live with this faith, we find the courage we desperately need to charge forward and take initiative. 

God & Hamilton

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I will never forget the moment I walked out of the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City, having just experienced Hamilton the musical. Hamilton has captured our culture’s imagination like no Broadway musical ever before. It currently has almost 700,000 fans on Facebook, plays to sold out shows every night in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and is beginning a forty-plus city national tour in January. Hamilton mania has taken over our country.

There are many reasons this musical resonates so deeply with audiences across the country.  The lyrics, music, and songwriting truly are genius.  The innovative decision to cast the Founding Fathers with actors of color creates all kinds of imaginative possibilities. Hamilton’s life itself offers a compelling storyline, with huge triumphs and disastrous failures.  

But another reason exists that explains why Hamilton impacts audiences at the level that it does. Hamilton offers people a transcendent experience, a story that draws audiences into the presence of the Holy. Actress Rosie O’Donnell, who has seen the show over fifteen times observes that Hamilton “is medicine that I need for my soul.  It feels vital to me; it feels like going to church.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, gave a speech recently where he talked about one of his favorite aspects of live theatre: its ability to create moments of transcendence. Hamilton teems with such moments.  Moments where a poignant scene takes place on stage, an act of betrayal, an offer of forgiveness, the grieving of a loss of a child, and the entire atmosphere changes in the theatre. Everyone watching can feel the weight, or the presence, of an important truth, or even of God himself.  

After my experience watching Hamilton, I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. As I read more about Alexander and his wife Eliza, my conviction grew that this story was a deeply spiritual one.  Alexander grew up with a robust faith, prayed and studied the Scriptures in college, and interpreted the world through a spiritual lens. His wife Eliza might have been even more devout. She followed God faithfully and served him throughout her life. 

After experiencing the musical and reading the biography, I felt compelled to write a book that connected this cultural phenomenon with the spiritual themes found at its center. Themes such as grace, despair, surrender, death, and redemption. Themes that are not only at the center of Hamilton’s life, but at the center of our lives as well. By diving deeper into these themes, and their presence in Hamilton’s life, this story and musical have the power to transform our lives. We only need to open ourselves up to it.