Stories of Moxie: Lin-Manuel Miranda & Hamilton Moxie
It’s May 2009. We’re at the White House Poetry Jam, where a young, bright-eyed performer steps onto the stage and into the spotlight to sing a number from his award-winning play, In the Heights. At least that was the plan. He has a different idea.
He tells the crowd, which includes the president and first lady, of a concept album he’s working on, a hip hop album, about the first Secretary of the Treasury. And they all laugh. The thing is, he’s not joking. You can see it on his face, how much he believes in the idea and how seriously he takes it. Soon enough he’s performing what will become the first number from Hamilton, the musical that will eventually become one of the most successful in history.
This small anecdote alone is enough to qualify for a story of moxie–putting everything you’ve got into performing a song that people just moments ago laughed at, and then changing their minds verse by verse through the power of your words until you end with a standing ovation?
But there are too many lessons packed within the greater story of Hamilton to move on just yet. And I’d like to highlight three, three moments of moxie.
Number One: The Book
While on vacation, Miranda just happened to pick up a copy of Ron Chernow’s biography on Hamilton. “It could have been Truman,” Miranda said.
(Can we pause for just a second to shake our heads in wonder at those moments that seem unimportant but actually change the course of our lives? Who knows what small step forward you’ll take today that will influence the next ten years?)
Ok, back to the book.
By the end of chapter two, Miranda was convinced. Hamilton’s early life was so full of drama and danger and heartache and genius that he knew he had to do something with the material. And so he did. Nine months after reading the book he was at that poetry jam, offering a glimpse of what was to come.
He read a book, got an idea, and acted. He did something about it. How many ideas, good ideas, pop into our heads that we let die? Over and over we think of things we’d like to do, to be, to get, to give, and again and again we do nothing about them. We hold potential in our hands and let it slip through our fingers and we return to the comfy routines that run our lives.
Miranda could have done the same. He could have nodded at the clever idea of a hip hop album about a founding father and then went for a swim. Lucky for us, he didn’t.
Number Two: The Song
365 days to write 1,120 words.
Miranda spent a full year crafting the song My Shot, Hamilton’s anthem. He wanted to write something worthy of the man, and that took time and patience.
One song, one year.
How many of us dive into projects just as worthy of time and patience, only to expect instant results? Building a business, writing a book, learning to cook or to draw or to paint…goals take time.
And if we can’t accept that fact, we’ll give up long before we should. We’ll mistakenly believe that results should be instant and–when they’re not–we’ll take it as proof that that whatever we want to do can’t be done.
But we’re wrong. As much as we’d like to believe in the overnight success myth, it’s just that. A myth. Look behind the scenes of every great achievement and you’ll find a long path of ups and downs, of unexpected twists and turns, of wins and losses, and time and patience.
This is how it works. Know it. Believe it. And give your goals the time they need to follow the path.
Number Three: The Pivot
Hamilton wasn’t supposed to be Hamilton.
Little Fun Fact: Miranda actually wanted to call the production The Hamilton Mixtape, but producer Jeffrey Seller eventually got his way, shortening it to the simpler and more powerful, Hamilton.
So the plan was a mixtape, a concept album about the boy genius. But as the project and its potential grew, Miranda’s perspective grew right along with it. He was open to new ideas.
I don’t know about you, but when someone offers suggestions about one of my ideas, a cascade of defenses springs into action. Instead of actually listening and learning, I internally defend my position. It’s a boneheaded move and one that has definitely limited my growth in certain areas. But at least I own it, right? It’s a start.
Had Miranda resisted change, had he resisted outside advice, we wouldn’t have the blockbuster we have today, a musical that is predicted to gross a billion dollars in New York alone.
So don’t be like me; be like Miranda. Be open to new and better ideas, even when they’re not yours.
There we have three moments of moxie, among hundreds of others. But I think the greatest thing about this musical is that it has the country singing along with songs about the first Secretary of the Treasury.
Think about that.
My wife is humming along with Jefferson and Hamilton having it out in cabinet battles. Kids I know are singing songs about Washington and Burr and Lafayette.
Now, I’m biased. On my shelf sits a bust of Franklin along with a dozen books about the founding fathers, not to mention a print of the signing of the declaration on my office wall. Miranda had me at Ham.
But the rest of the world, who normally yawns at the mere hint of history is now wide awake. When you get husbands and wives and kids of all ages belting out tunes about the constitutional convention you quickly realize that, yes, anything is possible.
Jason Gracia, author of the upcoming book, Spark, is the founder of FranklinMoxie, where people make good on their greatest ambitions.
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