The other day I saw a short video talk that reminded me of a dear friend who lives on the other coast. I Facebook messaged it to her with a little note. She messaged me back within minutes, expressing gratitude and adding a few comments and questions. We had a sweet little back and forth.
Later that night, I was fortunate to see the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hamilton.” As I tried to comprehend what life was like during the time of the play (The American Revolution), I realized that back then, in order to share a piece of art with a friend, I would have had to write a very long letter explaining what I saw, and then waited an eternity while a stranger delivered it cross-country on horseback (not that California existed then), with no guarantees it would even get there. The rich exchange that took place today within 30 minutes, could have taken months.
12 months is how long it took Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer, composer and lyricist (not to mention, leading player) of “Hamilton” to write the opening number. One song, one year. Ron Chernow, the biographer of the book that inspired the musical, marveled that Miranda “accurately condensed the first 40 pages of my book into a four-minute song.” That’s impressive.
What project, relationship, or dream in your life would you be willing and able to donate a whole year to one small segment of? More and more in life, we expect, and demand, expediency. It’s clear that there are many advantages to today’s fast-paced existence, including the ability to let someone know you’re thinking of them at the precise moment you are thinking of them. But what is lost? Perhaps a fair amount of devotion, patience, precision, focus and attention to detail.
Broadway hip-hop musicals may not be your thing, but Hamilton is an undeniable masterpiece. What can we can learn from the process of its creator on how to bring more mastery and masterpieces into our personal and work experiences?
1) Hire classy mentors: Along the way Miranda, sought help from the best. He consulted on a regular basis with the “Alexander Hamilton” biographer and historian Ron Chernow. He sought the advice and guidance of musical theater genius composer Stephen Sondheim. And when recording the cast album, he relied on the hip-hop artistry of the band, The Roots.
2) Beta test: After workshopping the play at a smaller theater company, Miranda opened the show for a healthy run at an Off-Broadway theater, The Public, and then took the show to Broadway. This allowed him to get a true sense of the show’s impact and work out some kinks, in addition to getting greater financial support before taking it all the way and opening big.
3) Commit to an Inner Vision: Miranda picked up Chernow’s biography in an airport en route to a relaxing vacation where he reportedly felt the songs come off the page while reading. He grasped immediately how Hamilton’s experience of being very verbose and historically misunderstood lent itself to the hip-hop medium. That experience and vision fueled him for years.
4) Cultivate Patience: Speaking of years – the whole project from idea to Broadway opening, took at least 10 of them. You may feel that you don’t have the time or the resources to commit to something for that long. But sometimes, things just take a really long time to be completed well.
Of course, it also helps to have funds, close friends and family cheering you on, and good health — but not having those things didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his most famous and last symphony.
Ask yourself, what do I want to be my masterpiece? What part of my life do I want to be masterful? And then, take some inventory of which of these elements you’ll need to further develop.