3 min read

Strike Astonishment

What Alexander Hamilton can teach us about story telling.
Strike Astonishment
Photo by Sudan Ouyang / Unsplash

I learned about the power of storytelling during my first office job.

It was twenty-nine stories up. Combined with my very rational fear of vast shards of concrete and steel rebar collapsing on me was the fear that I didn't fit in.

Ever since 9/11, I've been apprehensive about going up tall buildings. Not so much because there could be a plane, but because watching those endless loops proved to me that buildings can collapse.

A plane today.  An earthquake tomorrow.

I wasn't money hungry nor sought the status symbols of wearing a suit or working on Collins St; the Wall St of Melbourne. At one end, there was the prestigious shopping district, known at the Paris end, at the other, the Australian Stock Exchange.

For me, Collins St was represented by the 1955 painting by John Brack *Collins St, 5 p.m.* I didn't want to live my life clocking in and out of a skyscraper. And I particularly didn't want to wear brown muted suits.

Yet, there I was. A family friend had called in a favour with the Managing Director, so I was obliged to make a go of it.

I didn't belong. My suit was too large, and my tie hung below my belt. I could feel the cheap material scratch my legs and felt everyone's eyes watch me as I was shown my desk. They knew I wasn't one of them.

From a few desks over, I heard a loud and confident voice answer his phone. He simply said, "John Hutchins". There was no 'hello' or any other form of salutation. Instead, his voice reverberated from his chest.

I went home that night and practised answering the phone with such confidence. I could feel the difference between my throat answering and my chest.

I felt changed.

The next day, I did it. I answered the call the same way John had. But, from the other end, I sensed an immediate change in the conversation. My confidence had infected the listener.

I had rewritten the story.


There is a moment in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical 'Hamilton' where Alexander decides to write his way out of a difficult situation. His back is against the wall, and yet, he understands that it is he who is writing his destiny.

He sings: "I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance." The power of storytelling is quite literally life-changing if only we harness that power.

Alexander Hamilton was orphaned early in life. When he was seventeen (1772), a hurricane devastated everything on the small Caribbean island of St. Croix. In the aftermath, he decided to write what he saw in the aftermath.

“”— Alexander Hamilton

The decision to write was a pivotal one in Hamilton's life. The letter was reprinted in the New York newspapers, and Hamilton quickly gained a reputation. It is still referred to as the Hamilton Hurricane.

This began Hamilton's trajectory from poor orphan to being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.


The striking thing about Hamilton's account is that he used such vivid language to describe the devastation. It is a masterclass in showing, not telling. His words make the reader feel the noise and the blinding light. To the modern reader, we are used to seeing special effects make real the unbelievable, and yet this writing seems fresh.

This would have stood out to his contemporary audience as if it were a 3D screening of a blockbuster movie.

That's the power of storytelling. So much so that the 1772 storm is known as the Hamilton Hurricane.

Stories are so powerful because they elicit emotions in the reader that move them. You can actually feel the raw feelings of a hurricane or a love story.

All the various elements of what makes a story a story need to vanish to the background so that the reader will imagine themselves in the moment.

Carl Jung talked of storytelling in fascinating ways. He referred to the experience of reading as an act of "participation mystique". When the story is vivid and elicits emotional responses, the reader participates in creating the story.

According to Jung, it is as if the reader *is* writing the story themselves.

This active component of a story is just as applicable to us as we write our lives. We are the authors, and we get to decide what stays on the cutting room floor.

We get to tell our stories.