When to Act and When to Wait

The combination of obsessively listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and reading old blog entires for my Ten Years Ago… series has gotten me thinking a lot about waiting and acting.

I’ve always felt like a mass of contradictions, wanting to DO and BE and change the world!!! while also being absolutely terrified of walking into a room of strangers.  I think I have grown into some confidence, and also learned how to say no to the unnecessarily stressful things that I can avoid.  But still, there is a push/pull within me that urges me forward and holds me back simultaneously.  

Listening to Hamilton, I empathize with Burr.  He plays it safe his whole life, choosing the smarter and more cautious path.  His song, “Wait for It,” is basically him psyching himself up, reminding himself that while the world is chaos, exerting self-control will give him the space to make a name for himself…if he just waits for it.

BURR:  I am the one thing in life I can control / I am inimitable, I am an original / I’m not falling behind or running late / I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait
ENSEMBLE:  Wait for it / Wait for it / Wait for it / Wait for it

And there’s wisdom in waiting.  When I moved back to the States after living in Senegal, I wanted to immediately find another mission organization and move back overseas.  But…it didn’t feel right.  So I stopped looking and got a job as a children’s librarian.  I had people at the time telling me I was making the wrong decision, that I needed to act.

Maybe I should have.  But five years further down the road, I see that the life I have now wouldn’t have been possible if I’d acted immediately.  I needed to wait, to focus on an adult job – learning to plan, organize, and lead – then find my passion in counseling, go to school, meet new people, and then…when the timing was right, reconnect to Dina right when she was looking for someone to help her start House of Damaris.  I’m glad I waited.

But then there’s Hamilton.  He’s rash and impetuous.  He’s full of passion and idealism, and he will not stop for anyone.  He writes his way out of the Caribbean and moves to the United States, forces himself into the political scene, acts as George Washington’s right hand man, fights and strategizes, defends the U.S. Constitution, works as a lawyer, argues in Congress, and serves as Secretary of Treasury.  His song, “Non-stop” culminates in his friends and enemies questioning him until he boldly explains himself.

ANGELICA:  He will never be satisfied…
ELIZA:  Look around, look around / Isn’t this enough?  Would that be enough?
WASHINGTON:  History has its eyes on you…
BURR:  Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?  Soon that attitude’s gonna be your doom!  Why do you fight like you’re running out of time?
HAMILTON:  I am not throwin’ away my shot!
FULL COMPANY:  Just you wait!  Alexander Hamilton, just you wait!
HAMILTON:  I am not throwin’ away my shot!

Hamilton is who I want to be.  He hurts those around him, yes, but he made a huge difference in the world.  He used his gifts to change the world.  When he saw an opportunity, he took it.

Sometimes, I manage to overcome fear and do the same.  Reading old blog posts, I was embarrassed to see just how much my 17-year-old self was counting on finding a husband in college so that I could “start my life.”  I was waiting, waiting, waiting.  And eventually, after the heartbreak of realizing I was not actually going to find my husband in college, I told my plans “Screw you!  I’ll do what I want now, and not wait until I’m married!”  So I travel, and I get degrees, and I make friends, and I accept jobs, and I say Yes to things that make life interesting, but make finding a husband harder.

I am both Burr and Hamilton.  And while I think there is wisdom in both waiting and acting….I think the motivation matters.  My waiting is usually because of fear.  I can’t do life alone, so I’ll wait to take risks until I’m married.  But other times, waiting is the result of discerning that the time simply isn’t right.

I don’t actually have an answer here.  I still have the push and pull inside me, but talking it out…makes me feel like it doesn’t have to control me.  I can wait, and I can act.  I can bide my time, and I can change the world.  I can be fearful, and I can be courageous.  Honestly, maybe it’s better to have both, because Hamilton wound up dead and Burr wound up a historical footnote.  I don’t want either of those, so I’ll wait for it in between going non-stop.

(See what I did there?  No you didn’t, because no one in my life is obsessed with Hamilton, and that’s sad for me.)

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