Young, Scrappy, and Hungry: Leadership Lessons from Hamilton the Musical

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Several times this year during YNPN Boston events, the topic of conversation has turned to Hamilton, the hit musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not a big surprise -  the nation has been discussing it in earnest for the last year or so (especially since their amazing wins at the Grammys and Tonys). But, in true YNPN Boston fashion, we put our own twist on the topic, and started talking about how the themes of the musical relate to the lives and careers of young nonprofit professionals.

Below is a series of Hamilton-inspired lessons derived by Alyson Weiss, Helena Berbano, and Laine Kyllonen, three YNPN Boston board members. We hope these tips will help you to advance your career and stay sane while doing it. And no, you don’t have to love Hamilton to read the post - but it certainly won’t hurt!

Do not throw away your shot

We’re all ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’ nonprofit professionals , but that doesn’t mean we should be afraid of taking risks. Hamilton certainly was a risktaker  - and boy, did he work! He always stuck to his convictions, despite opposition from politically well positioned people, such as Washington and Jefferson.

So, don’t be afraid to take risks! Apply for jobs you are not 100% qualified for, take on projects that challenge you, and don’t hesitate to demand to be ‘in the room where it happens.’

There are many avenues that you can take to to challenge yourself and grow your career. Here are a few articles to get your creative juices flowing:

Wait for it

While allowing yourself to take risks is important, it’s just as important to be patient and assess your situation thoroughly. Moving too quickly could mean that you miss out on opportunities, and sometimes there are certain risks that may not be worth it.

Take the time you need to get a big picture of your situation . You don’t always have to feel as if you are ‘throwing away your shot.’ Sometimes, it’s better to ‘wait for it’ until the moment is right. 

You're gonna need a right hand (wo)man

Even Alexander Hamilton needed buddies and mentors to get his work done. He may have written ‘the other fifty-one’ Federalist Papers, but John Jay and James Madison still contributed 34. 

A well-matched collaborator or mentor who knows you like they know their ‘own mind’ can increase your effectiveness by contributing skills and perspective to a project or job move that you might not think of on your own. Bonus points if they’re in a position to be a ‘spy on the inside’ and can take the information and ‘smuggle it’ to give you an advantage on your work or job application.

Learn more about finding a mentor or strengthening your network to find your ‘right hand (wo)man’.

History has its eyes on you

Back when Alexander Hamilton was ‘writing like [he was] running out of time,’ the fastest way to share news was to jot it down (with a quill and ink!) and wait for it to get delivered. That seems archaic in our modern era when you can see the thoughts, photos, and memories of others in just moments. Technology can be great, ensuring your best memories last forever, but can also be your downfall if you’re not careful.

It’s important to remember that ‘history has its eyes on you’ when it comes to social media. Don’t pull a ‘Reynolds Pamphlet’ and give people ammunition against you by tweeting or posting updates that could get you in trouble with your current or future employers (yes, some WILL Google you and find your social media profiles). That way, you will never need to worry about who is ‘tell[ing] your story,’ as you will be busy ‘[getting] a lot farther by working a lot harder.’

Take a break

Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of taking a step back, and realizing ‘how lucky we are to be alive right now’. There’s no glory in going ‘non-stop’ and writing ‘like you’re running out of time’ 

Burnout is a serious problem - it leads to bad mental health outcomes, low quality work, and the loss of talent in the social sector. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back. Is there a place in your work life where you can ‘say no to this’? Is there an assignment you’ve been trying to perfect, even though as it is it ‘would be enough’? Is it maybe even time to teach yourself ‘how to say goodbye’ to a task, job, or side gig to be ‘satisfied’?

If you’re ready to ‘take a break’, ‘sit under your own vine’ and choose a self-care routine to get started on.

We hope these small bits of ‘free advice’ helped you to pick up some tricks on ‘how hard it is to lead,’ even if you aren’t (yet) a fan of the musical Hamilton!

Check out more tips for how to advance your nonprofit career on our blog and meet more people like you at our upcoming events!  Also, if you see Alyson, Helena, or Laine at a YNPN Boston event, feel free to start gushing about Hamilton - we really are obsessed, as you can see in the picture of Helena and Laine below!

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Helena Berbano is the Co-Director of Fundraising at YNPN Boston. She is also the Founder and Director of Asian American Millennials Unite, a national, nonpartisan initiative that aims to engage Asian American youth aged 18-35 in the electoral process through a digital platform rooted in storytelling and social media campaigns. By day, she is the Special Projects and Field Manager at Nonprofit VOTE.

Laine Kyllonen is the Co-Director of Programming and Events at YNPN Boston. By day, she is the Assistant Manager, Donor Relations at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Alyson Weiss is the Co-Director of Communications and Marketing at YNPN Boston. By day, she is the Alumni Relations Officer, Volunteer Management at Tufts University, her alma mater. She is also a freelance writer, workshop facilitator, and LinkedIn coach.


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