Photo Credit: Speaker Launcher
“Pick a lane”. That phrase comes to mind literally when dealing with another driver on the highway who weaves back and forth, for whatever reasons. We get agitated at him, don’t trust her movements, and want to get as clear from them as possible.
In our careers, picking a lane is hugely important. There probably won’t be the same negative emotions (as above) about someone who is all over the place, but we are wise to set a straight course. Sometimes, especially across a lifetime, we have to re-set our course. The key is to do the work of that reset – pick a lane again. Being a generalist, a “jack-of-all-trades”, can make us quite useful to our employers, but there is no distinction in that. I’m not talking about significance here. I’m talking about what makes us the “go-to person”, that person whose passion, determination, and honed skill gives her voice in an organization…where she can make a difference. It’s something to consider…
Here’s a quick story of an incredibly successful young man who “picked a lane”. I did not know the person Lin-Manuel Miranda until a funny video crossed my Facebook newsfeed just a few days ago. The video was Broadway Carpool Karaoke and Miranda was one of the performers in it. The video was produced to usher in the 2016 Tony Awards ceremony. Photo Credit: Broadway
Miranda is a playwright, composer, and actor. He already won a Tony for the musical In The Heights, and now has won several Tony awards for his current Broadway show Hamilton. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, The Tennessean
Hamilton was birthed while Miranda, then in his 20’s, was on vacation in Mexico and picked up Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. He was enthralled by the story of Hamilton’s life and was amazed the story wasn’t already written as a musical. [Hopefully you non-theater folks are still with me. This is such an incredible story.]
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote/composed the musical Hamilton, and from what I’ve seen of it, it is mesmerizing. So what goes into such a young man’s pursuit of such all-encompassing excellence in his craft?
Charlie Rose of CBS’ 60 Minutes interviewed Miranda about his life and Hamilton’s. [The full transcript is here.] Lin-Manuel Miranda – this playwright, composer, lyricist, and actor – talked about how he got to where he is today.
At five, Miranda tested into Hunter College Elementary, a school for highly gifted children, where he told us sometimes, he felt like he did not belong.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: You know, I went to a school where everyone was smarter than me. And I’m not blowin’ smoke, I was surrounded by genius, genius kids. What’s interesting about growing up in a culture like that is you go, “All right, I gotta figure out what my thing is. Because I’m not smarter than these kids. I’m not funnier than half of them, so I better figure out what it is I wanna do and work really hard at that because intellectually I’m treading water to, to be here.”
Charlie Rose: So why do you think I’m sitting here talking to you and not sitting here talking to one of your classmates?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: ‘Cause I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. So I, that’s the honest answer. It was like, I was like, “All right THIS.”
“This” was theater.*
Photo Credit: Live Your Legend
Miranda laid out very simply what framed his life of distinction: “I picked a lane.” We all do that across our careers, to some degree or another. Early in my professional life, I chose to carve out a niche in the care and counsel of cancer patients and their families. That was the focus and direction of my life for almost 20 years. Then, married with children, I would pick a very different lane – focusing on that little circle and those we shared life with in our community.
When we lived overseas for another almost 20 years, my lane was a merging of family, cross-cultural living, teaching English, and serving women (local and expat.) and their families. I loved those days of constant traffic in and out of our home. I miss those days. It’s quite possible, however, that those years marked a season where I was weaving in and out of traffic. You might need to ask my husband and children about that.
Now we’ve been back in the US for sometime. Picking a lane became a huge need for me as clearly my moorings of cherished overseas life were gone and I was a bit adrift. When the opportunity to came to test my skills as a communications strategist for a new and innovative work team, I jumped at it. That was a great time of learning and growing and a thrilling adventure which fueled a deep passion of mine. Alas, short-lived though. It only lasted a couple of years and that work went the way of an organizational down-sizing.
What followed has been a protracted season of being “a warm body” and “filling a hole/need” in whatever came along in life and community. Don’t hear me deny the importance of such serving, because there are times when helping in this way is exactly the right thing to do. Still, it’s not how we are meant to frame our lives over the long-haul.
A few months ago, I wrote a series of blogs on Jon Acuff’s book Do Over. He writes in such a liberating way about, essentially, picking a lane. His book is a “how-to” in getting back your life and getting on with it.
Picking a lane isn’t about just operating out of your strengths, abhorring any task or process that doesn’t show off your abilities. Picking a lane is about honing your craft, building your expertise, showing up in your giftings. It’s not about being a knower but being an insatiable life-long learner.
If the job you loved is gone or forever altered, pick another lane.
Don’t allow your current work/life situation reduce you to something other….to someone you are not and never were. Don’t let age, opportunity, personality squash your passion. We do not have to be side-lined (or defined) by getting older, being an introvert (just for instance), having a hard boss or a confusing work situation. Since this recent cancer diagnosis, I have more clarity, hope, and optimism about finishing strong… Hearing Lin-Manual Miranda’s story has heightened my resolve all the more.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Here’s the thing about Hamilton. I think Hamilton was ready to die from the time he was 14 years old. I think what he has is what I have, which is that thing of, “Tomorrow’s not promised. I gotta get as much done as I can.”
Charlie Rose: It’s not only good acting. It’s not only good music. People are saying it’s transformative.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It’s certainly changed my life. But I think it’s because when great people cross our path, and I’m talking about Hamilton here, it forces us to reckon with what we’re doing with our lives, you know? At my age, Hamilton was treasury secretary and creating our financial system from scratch.
Charlie Rose: And building a country?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Yeah. I wrote two plays.*
Picking a lane…that’s what I’m doing. More to come…down the pike.