On days where I have too much work to do and realize how bad I am at time management, I do one of two things:
1) I remind myself I am a human person who needs to set limits, and promise to remember that, or
2) I listen to Hamilton.
And arguably the second option is always easier because it doesn’t involve me having to say “no,” or “I’m sorry I can’t,” or giving myself an afternoon off when my instinct is to take on every assignment. Especially since Hamilton—on top of being a Grammy award-winning album and Tony-award winning play—is the ultimate workaholic soundtrack. It tells you what you can do when you set out to achieve something. It warns you of what happens when you don’t get enough rest. And it reminds that you are in charge of your own legacy.
So don’t screw it up.
But let me explain it a little bit better. Here’s why Hamilton’s become my go-to on afternoons and nights spent telling myself I can get it all done.
1. Hamilton is a control freak.
And “control freak” is probably the simplest way to describe Alexander Hamilton (or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version, anyway). Because the bottom line is this: dude was a genius. And here’s why—after his father left and his mother died, the residents of his hometown pooled their money to send him to university. Of course from there, he wrote his way into the American Revolution, he wrote on behalf of George Washington, he wrote his way into government, and he wrote his own political death sentence.
In “Hurricane,” Alex gives us a glimpse of that background. Worried that news of his extra-marital affair will leak courtesy of his political enemies, he recalls his past and decides to take matters into his own hands, committing professional suicide in the process. But to him, that’s better than not being in control of the narrative at all, regardless of who else gets hurts in the process. And odds are if your career also consists of you working alone and using it as your ultimate tool of control, you can probably relate as much as I can.
2. Hamilton’s work ethic is unfuckwithable.
There’s a line in “Non-Stop” in which Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s nemesis, asks how Alexander writes like he’s running out of time. And on nights where I’m pushing myself to the point of wanting to scream into the night, I’m convinced this is the only soundtrack in the world that understands the need to work freakishly hard, all for the sake of appeasing your ego.
Because that’s the thing about freelancing: we’re so into our own work that it can quickly become our only priority. Rationality is substituted for imagining a particular byline or a certain project, and pacing one’s self is quickly overshadowed by the glory of hearing somebody ask, “How did you do so much?” And is it healthy? No. Is it a smart way to live? Not really. But when you’re drowning in deadlines and fuelled by seeing the finished product, we all become a little Hamilton.
3. Hamilton holds himself to freakishly high standards.
Song: “My Shot”
It’s hard to keep a level, freelancing head when you’re convinced that any mistake will ruin you. Plus, if you’re working for yourself, you’re the one who has to answer for all the things since you’re your only advocate. And that can be great! When given a new assignment, opportunity, or client, you remind yourself that, like Ham, you’re not going to throw away your shot.
Even if it is a lot of pressure. Because when you’re slammed with deadlines or have taken on too much, the scariest thing you can tell yourself that not following your plan will see you wasting your chance. But that isn’t true. Like Alexander who wanted to fight in the Revolution but ended up writing letters on behalf of Washington for most of the war, his change in course led to the victory of the Americans over the British. (And he still eventually got to fight, too.)
4. Hamilton suffers burn-out (and it ruins his life).
Song: “Take A Break”
But here’s another point to ponder. As a freelancer, it’s easy to tell yourself that you can’t take a break/vacation/afternoon nap because the world will implode if you don’t. And that isn’t true (duh). But in moments of panic, when you’re tired and scared and convincing yourself that even five minutes away will ruin your life, it’s easy to see why Alexander Hamilton’s unwillingness to “Take A Break” leads to his demise.
Because of course, the song that follows this one is “No To This”—the ballad that sees Hamilton pursue the affair that comes back to haunt him, and starts with the line “You’ve never seen a bastard orphan more in need of a break.” Had he gone upstate with his wife and sister-in-law, the affair likely never would’ve happened. He would’ve been rested and able to think like a person, and not been swayed to make poor choices. Instead, telling himself he couldn’t take a vacation, he sparked his professional undoing. And the rest was history (literally).
5. Patience isn’t the worst idea in the world
Song: “Wait For It”
To every Hamilton there is a Burr. And while it’s safe to assume our Burr equivalents will in no way be the one to end our lives in a duel (read: no dueling, you guys), it’s the contrasts between Alexander and Aaron in the play that highlights Alex’s desperation to succeed and to make something of himself and his name. (While Burr, on the other hand, was born into money.)
And that’s all too real in the freelancing game. Especially if you’re sitting there watching other people rise up and you’re getting a little bitter about it. But, and this is the first time I will ever say this in life, Aaron Burr’s words are a reminder that patience isn’t necessarily the worst thing to practice. By keeping your head down, working hard, and putting your time in, you’re setting a foundation you can build a real career on. And sure, Hamilton did the same, just differently. But damn it, “I am inimitable, I am an original” can feel too real when you need to give yourself a pep talk.
Now stop working immediately, and don’t start back up until you’ve listened to Hamilton in full about six more times, thank you.
Header Image by Daniel Blom