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Are you a Hamilton or Burr when it comes to life and work?

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

Learning a lesson in balance from the story of Alexander and Aaron.

One of my discoveries / obsessions of 2020 was the musical Hamilton, telling the story the early days of US independence through the personal story of Alexander Hamilton.

Despite my fascination with US politics and history and my curious interest in the obvious talents of Hamilton’s creator Lin Manuel Miranda, I had avoided the show and its music for a while. It was labelled as a ‘rap musical’ which I didn’t think would be my jam (hint, turns out it's more than that but even the rap is awesome!). So I largely ignored it while being aware of the juggernaut it became.

Then for reasons lost to time – probably lockdown-boredom related! – I brought the cast recording album up on Spotify and hit play. I pretty much have not stopped listening since. It’s now embedded deep in my brain and both the narrative and music constantly circle through my consciousness (this seems to be a common experience!).

‘Hamilton’ is a rich tapestry of story and song that does in fact reward repeated listens. One of the threads of the show is the contrast between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr – his friend / colleague / nemesis / killer. As much as the show is Hamilton’s story, it’s also Burr’s. Their personalities and choices are distinct in many situations, and one that has strongly resonated for me is how they used their time and their approach to pursuing their goals. Throughout my career, and now as I build and work in my own business, I have often wondered if I’m doing the ‘right’ things and working in the 'right' way. Whether my natural style is OK or if I should be doing something else, something more. Maybe you do to?

Both Hamilton and Burr are ambitious men.

Hamilton works and writes “non-stop”, makes his passion visible, seeks out mentors, puts himself on the frontlines and is never willing to throw away his "shot". As Angelica Schuyler says, “he will never be satisfied”, and makes some rash decisions that have tragic consequences.

Burr on the other hand says he’s “willing to wait for it”. He keeps his cards close to his chest. He is generally suspicious of others and makes his moves quietly. In the end he becomes the Vice-President, but isn’t particularly well liked and loses much of his power and influence after the infamous duel.

With both men I’ve wondered what the impact of their natural tendencies and inclinations was on their health and relationships? Neither of them really got what they wanted, so was it worth it?

Which end of the spectrum are you naturally drawn to? Are you a Hamilton, working tirelessly and overtly chasing your dreams; or a Burr, cautious, patient and more understated in your ambition?

Have there been times when you were forced to work outside your comfort zone – made to slow down or pick up the pace? How did that feel?

When you reflect, I’m sure there will have been benefits and challenges in both your natural style and working outside of it. I encourage you to take a moment to consider what they are, perhaps journal about it or speak to a trusted friend.

Self-awareness is the first step to making choices that align us more closely with our values and priorities; to setting us on a path that helps us achieve our goals but in a way that doesn’t lead to burnout, isolation or ill-health. In all areas of our lives it can valuable to take a step back once in a while and ask yourself whether your practices, habits and commitments are helpful – and if not, what could change to make them more so.

If your choices and patterns are helpful for one thing (such as going after work-related goals) but detrimental to others (your relationships or health), are they worth it? Even small things like drinking coffee or exercising can be harmful if our relationship with them becomes unhealthy. The new year is often an ideal time for this type of reflection and intention setting, but really it can (and should!) be ongoing throughout the year. Constant awareness and small adjustments can add up to big changes over time.

Despite what they had in common Hamilton and Burr were often at odds, largely because of their differing views on what they needed to do to succeed. Perhaps they could have met half way, learned from each other, combined their strengths and both prospered, rather than it being "him or me"? Ultimately, Burr realised that “the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”. And ultimately in our own lives, balance is the key to making progress AND being well in the process. Sometimes we just need to take a step back to see the whole board and adjust what needs adjusting. To find that beautiful balance between hard work and rest, between drive and surrender.

Who's the Hamilton to your Burr (or vice versa!)? Why not share this blog post with them and start a conversation? The world is wide enough for both of you and I wonder where your middle ground is?

Now, let me take one more listen to that Broadway cast recording


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