What Hamilton Taught Me About Living a Good Story

When you’re in your 20’s, a lot of thought goes into what type of story you’re living. There are some heavy questions that most of humanity faces, but they start to float around more obnoxiously in your mind during this stage of life: What is my purpose? What am I meant to accomplish in my life? What do I actually want? Once you think you know the answers to those, more follow: if this is my purpose, how the hell am I supposed to accomplish it? I don’t have time. I have to pay my bills, do my laundry, and keep up with the world on social media so I can feel included and stuff. And really, all I want to do is take a nap.

The questions are typically accompanied by some frantic attempts to distract ourselves. We all do it differently. It’s sometimes terrifying to think through the real stuff, so we desperately latch onto things that might let us hide for a bit. But I don’t think this is always a bad thing. Sometimes the very things we run to – Netflix, Hulu, movies, fantasy, and fiction – subtly point us back to what we’re really looking for: an epic and meaningful story to emulate.

Growing up, I always loved stories. There was something magical about staying up late reading on a school night, getting completely immersed in different land, a different time, and a different place. It was an escape, but it was also so much more than that: it was inspiration, enlightenment, and therapy. I loved those characters, and I connected with them. I felt empathy, longing, joy, fear, and hope when I read. All of those stories became a part of me, and I used them to slowly figure out my own. And isn’t this what we all do? Even if you were a bit more social than I was as a child, you have your own stories that you hold onto dearly, because they’ve shaped who you are – and you’ll never forget them.

When I first heard about Hamilton from a friend of mine last summer, I was a little confused at all the hype. Of course, I felt that it was important for me to be caught up on pop culture and what not, so I immediately visited my usual sources: Google, Wikipedia, and my cool LA friend Kimmie Lucas. I figured out that this was a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, with strong hip-hop /rap influence and an extremely diverse cast. I definitely thought it sounded creative and fun, but I had no idea how powerful it would turn out to be. In the past year, it’s become the most adored musical of the decade, loved by all kinds of people with many different tastes. It’s been on Broadway for less than a year, and has already won a Grammy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, along with many other accolades. In its first six weeks on Broadway alone, the show made almost $9 million and attracted dozens of celebrities. All in all, its success is completely and utterly insane.

If you've listened to the cast album at all (which is likely if you and I have hung out in the past couple of weeks), you'll understand why it’s so adored. I might be listening to it as I write this, actually, and it’s not working out too well because I keep getting distracted and focusing too hard on the lyrics.

There are way too many mind-blowing things about Hamilton to comment on – so much so that if I started, I would probably keep going for weeks and post an annoyingly long entry that would put you to sleep. So I’ll focus on the things that amazed me the most. The first is this: Lin-Manuel Miranda spent seven full years writing the music and lyrics for the show. Seven years. That’s longer than I’ve ever worked on anything in my entire life. The music is so complex that 144 words are packed into each minute on average, almost twice as many as the average musical. In the fastest song, Guns and Ships, Daveed Diggs raps at a pace of over 6 words PER SECOND. On top of that, the show is almost entirely historically accurate, meaning that it required many hours of research. Some lines are taken directly from letters that Hamilton and his friends wrote to one another, and even minor details (such as the location where Philip Hamilton challenged George Eacker to a duel, or the court case that rivals Hamilton and Aaron Burr worked on together) are reflected accurately in the lyrics of each song.

The story is actually pretty cool to me because it resembles a startup experience: Miranda experimented with working versions of The Hamilton Mixtape (as it was known in the beginning) for years, collaborating with various friends to do test runs and obtain feedback. The amount of work that he poured into this project is unbelievable. All along, he couldn’t have possibly known that it would be met with so much success and adoration. But he believed in the story, so he kept working on it anyway. In fact, he spent an entire year writing the first song, and then another year on the second one.

One. Whole. Year. On one song. I can’t even.

I’m convinced that this deep level of passion and determination on Miranda’s part is what makes Hamilton so incredible. And isn’t it true of all the stories we love?

Every single one requires sacrifice and risk on the part of the storyteller. And in the end, this is what makes us fall in love with them so deeply. I’m sure Miranda experienced moments of fear and wondered whether all the work would be worth it – but if he hadn’t pushed through, the world would have missed out on something revolutionary (there’s a fun history pun for you).

Living a good story is going to take some passion, determination and discipline on our parts. We’ll need to take some risks. But if Alexander Hamilton could create our financial system, start a newspaper that’s still running today, invent the Coast Guard, and write 51 essays defending the Constitution (after losing both parents, leaving behind everything he ever knew, and fighting a war), I think we can suck it up.

After all, we each only have so much time.