A baby was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean. To the child everything was interesting. The child became a restless young adult. The young man, in his early teens, was the type of employee business people dream of; always figuring out ways to make things operate more smoothly; never reaching roadblocks, always coming up with solutions; hungry to be of use.
The young man was an eternal optimist, seeing the potential in people. He thought the way to get things done was to set the right example; working tirelessly until those around you are likewise infected with a desire to succeed.
The Gift Of Obstacles
He was a force of nature. The island could not hold him. He had the vague idea and belief that great things were possible. But, his mother had him out of wedlock. This, in his time, was a terrible disadvantage; one which would eventually bar him from high political office. It was a significant hurdle to overcome. It gave him a chip on his shoulder.
It was the best thing to ever happen to him.
He’d heard of America. He had the sense that great forces were adrift, and he could make his mark in that chaotic place where everything was pure potential.
He managed to obtain a letter of introduction to someone in the states. Then, alone as a teenager, he boarded a ship to America. Shortly thereafter, war broke out between the 13 colonies and their English masters.
Through pure, relentless effort and natural ability, in a very short time, he’d become George Washington’s most trusted adviser. He would become the nation’s first treasury secretary, and do more to establish our system of money than anyone.
He would write the Federalist Papers, which interpreted the Constitution into a working system of government, and he founded one of the first two major political parties.
The man was Alexander Hamilton.
How Did He Do It?
Let’s say you have a vague idea that you want to do something great—you get to decide what is great. But, you have that sense. You just can’t put your finger on exactly what it is you want to accomplish. But, you can feel it. You know it’s there. What to do?
The physical act of experiencing something great, or seeing something great, is as important to doing great things as anything else. For Hamilton, it was the experience of cutting the chord with his birthplace. He went to America and his life was drastically changed. He saw that great decisions create great outcomes. He made the leap. He fell short again and again, but he landed in strange new places along the way.
I wonder if the physical act of traveling on a ship, blown across the ocean by wind powered sails, and landing in New England, wasn’t as important as anything he learned towards achieving what he did.
We know, through science, and awareness, that we “know” things on a gut level long before we are conscious of them. Belief precedes the action.
A Strange New Land
Could that explain the outsized success of first and second-generation immigrants in American history? The parents had the life-shaking experience of resettling in a new land. They passed it on directly to the child. Then, that wonder is lost in the next iteration of the generations.
Instinctively, we want to be amazed so that we can believe in amazing things. The deep belief that those things are possible is as important as knowing how to do them. Nature–and we are a part of nature–will find a way. But, we must believe that it’s possible.
Before Einstein it was not believed that light could be bent. Gravity’s properties were assumed, and no one knew the other secrets of the universe.
No one knew to look for them because no one knew there was anything to discover. Einstein, through what at the time appeared to be an accident of absent-minded daydreaming, discovered principles of physics that changed the world. Everyone could suddenly see what he’d seen.
When Roger Bannister ran the 4-minute mile, the next year others did the same. But those same people had been trying their entire lives to do it. Now, when they knew in their gut it was possible, they were able to do it themselves. The belief was the most important element of their success.
I need to go see incredible things that on a mental level I don’t really believe I can do. I need to see other people do them, so I know its possible.
The Three “E”s
When we feel creative we believe it will last forever. It won’t. We have to act on our ideas. We have to explore and experience and experiment. The three “E”s.
Knowing that there are experiences out there, right now, that if we had them they would change our lives in ways we cannot imagine is the most important component to discovery. The belief system comes first.
Einstein discovered that gravity isn’t a force pulling us to the Earth. He discovered that it was a force pushing us into earth. He discovered that every object in space, even my laptop, creates its own force field by displacing space which presses back towards the void.
Gravitational pull is, actually, universal push. Objects are pushed into one another. The greater object displaces more space and so creates more push from the universe on objects within the vicinity of the displacement.
It creates a vacuum that wants, naturally, to close. Einstein was not “looking” for this discovery. He was conducting a “thought experiment.” What we call daydreaming. And he discovered his theory of relatively while on the train grabbing lunch. But he was always exploring boundaries.
The Destroyer Of Pessimism
Anxiety is the result of inaction. But it’s more than that. It’s a signal that we’re avoiding something. Anxiety is fear of fear. But the fear, itself, points to something that really matters.
We can’t avoid the things we know we need to do without paying a price. Fear happens when I engage life. Anxiety happens when I avoid it. Fear is where the good stuff is. It’s where I am exposed and risking something.
Anger happens when we allow fear to take over. Its when fear has brought us away from what is right in front of us. Avoiding fear gets us “carried away” with anger. Picture a cornered dog.
Hamilton had no idea what that ship passage would bring. Somehow, though, he believed. He and Einstein had similar experiences. They both left home to find new worlds. We can do this every day and we don’t have to get a passport.
We can reconnect with the spirit of experimentation. It holds everything in it.