I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot

May 23, 2023

by Stephen T. Messenger

Alexander Hamilton is the story of a man overcoming unthinkable odds to become a major player in the founding of America. Like all of us, he experienced key moments in his life where he had to choose either to seize the opportunity or let it pass.

In the musical Hamilton, Alexander introduces himself as one who is “not throwing away my shot.” We all have “shots” in our life that we either seize or miss. It’s up to us to know which shot to take and which to let pass.

The Past Informs but Does Not Dictate

In the musical, Hamilton is constantly referenced to as an unwanted child, orphan, and immigrant. We all have a backstory of hardships and successes. For many, history naturally informs future decisions. But it should not dictate it.

One of my biggest failures was not graduating Ranger School. I attended this challenging, 63-day course twice and was dropped after medical injuries twice. While I never thought about it in these terms, I always felt like I “threw away my shot.” Yet, this backstory never deterred me from seeking other opportunities.

It’s often easy to fall on your backstory such as Hamilton’s abandoned, immigrant upbringing. But as General George Washington tells young Alexander, “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

It’s easy to give up. It’s hard to keep moving forward. Regardless of our backstories or yesterday’s failure, we all must “take our (next) shot.”  

I’m Just Like My Country

The musical character Hamilton constantly compared himself to his fledgling new country—“young, scrappy, and hungry.”

We need leaders who are scrappy and hungry to advance organizations and take care of people.

Throughout the performance, Hamilton is constantly creating opportunities for himself. He convinced Washington to give him a military command at Yorktown. He led the effort to defend the Constitution through the Federalist Papers where he wrote a staggering 51 of 85 essays. He negotiated his way into a position to create the American economic system. Hamilton made opportunities happen.

Your people need you to be mentally “scrappy and hungry.” I see this in my kids who work relentlessly in sports by waking up early, working out, and practicing skills to be better on the field. They have goals and relentlessly pursue them.  

Talk Less, Smile More: Or Not

Hamilton’s antagonist Aaron Burr constantly advised Hamilton to stop being so opinionated. He stated, “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or for.”

The problem with this advice is that fence sitters like Burr never take their shot. Burr sat on the fence for several key issues and waited to see which side would be successful before choosing. This ultimately lost him the American presidency. Hamilton chided him in the play, “If you stand for nothing, what’ll you fall for?”

It’s critical that leaders espouse their values clearly. I communicate my values through a Leadership Constitution to lay out my philosophy of leading others. Whatever method you use to talk about how you lead, your people need to hear you define your values, principles, and positions.

Thinkin’ Past Tomorrow

Young Hamilton stated in the beginning of the musical that “For the first time I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow.”

We all have these “shots” in our life that we get to choose whether to take or not. They could have short- or long-term effects, or both.

One thing we all must understand is our definitions of “shots,” and they change based on seasons of life. Early on, Hamilton prioritized his career over all else. After his son died, he refocused on his family to repair some broken trust issues. He then came back into the political conversation.

I face this same dilemma with every military relocation. Should the next job prioritize my career aspirations, my family and where we move, or a combination of both. It’s never as black and white as we would like it to be. Yet, we have to think past tomorrow at what’s important and “take our shot” to meet our current goals.

I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot

Ultimately, we have so many opportunities in the span of our life where key decisions lead to different futures. It’s up to us to determine if we’re going to take this shot and what our efforts should be focused on.

The musical Hamilton is a great case study on someone who is hyper-focused on achieving goals, while assuming risk in other areas. It doesn’t always work out while sometimes it does. But it’s important to be, as Tom said last week, in the Arena swinging.

I encourage you to look at where you’re putting your efforts and taking your shot to get the best results.

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