Thriving Without Striving

Thriving Without Striving

 “You’re like a knife when you enter the room,” said my acting professor after my first grad school audition. “The way you dress, the way you present your audition material—it’s a perfectly wrapped package. There’s a completeness and slickness to your work that makes you untouchable. Where is the human part of you?”

“What’s he talking about? Does he even know about acting?” I seethed. “How dare he tell me I’m not a human!” To say I was merely frustrated with my professor after his coaching that day would be an understatement. I had worked hard on my audition and had been trained to present at a highly proficient level in undergrad. I valued being a very well-trained, technically skilled actor. I didn’t really know what to do with his coaching. “Be human?” I thought, “I am human…I live and breathe as a human…but I’m not coming off as a human to others…weird.”

A few months later this topic was brought up again in reference to the speed at which I produced a video audition—the day after it was assigned…or it might’ve been the evening of the day it was assigned…who can remember?… “Overkill efficiency is just as bad as procrastination…,” said my professor. “What is the disgusting reason you decided to get this done so quickly?”

Disgusting reason?” He made me sound like a murderer because I got my homework done in advance. Isn’t that the right thing to do? Doesn’t that make me a good student? Apparently, I had erred and was now being publicly called out for my violent self-efficiency. I struggled with this idea—hyper self-efficiency—throughout all three years of graduate school. The more I struggled with it artistically, the more Jesus began to speak to me about it spiritually.

“Do you see the connection here, Tyler?” he whispered. “You are trying to do everything on your own, as fast as you can, and in the process, you blow by everything I want to teach you. You take on control of your own life and try to be ‘good,’ live your faith ‘correctly.’ Don’t you know that you are not in charge of your own sanctification? Don’t you know that your life is in my hands because I’m God, and there is no other? Don’t you know that my sacrifice is all that is needed? Why are you trying to earn heaven by perfecting yourself on earth?”

Those are questions for which I didn’t have answers. Why was I working so quickly and so efficiently? From elementary to high school, I had learned that achievement was king. You need a 4.0 to get into college, you need to go to the best school, you need to get the lead over everyone else, you need to make huge amounts of money once you graduate, achieve, Achieve, ACHIEVE! It’s the American way.

As God worked on my heart, reminding me that he is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2), and that he will complete the good work which he started in me (Philippians 1:6), I realized that instead of striving, I needed to let God do the driving. (There’s your catchy preacher quote for the day.) It’s great to do incredible things, but if the process starts and ends with me, there is a problem. My efforts apart from his are not now, nor ever will be, good enough or even necessary. Although our culture or vocation may tell us that towering personal achievement in all things is what makes us successful as human beings, I firmly believe that a life surrendered to the Holy Spirit and the work that he wants to do through us, is truly what “success” looks like. All things must be tempered by the spirit. May our work glorify the one, true, ever living God. May we know the difference between personal goals and goals inspired or opened to us by the Holy Spirit. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.


Mark Tyler Miller, MFA

assistant professor, program director, theater