“Remember that you played the best you could with what you knew at the time."
- Owen Knight Survivor 43 finalist

A blog by James Hayden

 James Hayden (left) and Owen Knight

The above quote was advice given to me back in March 2023 at a Survivor watch party. At the time, I was 9 months removed from playing in a fan madeSurvivorgame. Personally, I was more than fulfilled by and at peace with the experience. However, the Survivor player in me was still struggling mightily with regrets and what ifs. Owen’s advice is what I needed, in more ways than one. I thought about it when I found myself once again going down the “what if?” rabbit hole. By looking at my game with that mindset, plus a few more conversations with my cast members, I gained closure from how my game played out in June 2023.

In July 2023, I attended an annual conference for people who stutter. While driving to lunch with my friends, Danny and Carl, we got on the topic of "How do you deal with not being hard on yourself for how you handled your stutter in the past?" While talking about this topic, Owen’s advice popped into my mind. In that moment, I realized that his advice could be applied more to just my game experience.  And no, I’m not comparing stuttering to some silly game. Rather, the importance of realizing we did the best we could with the knowledge we had and who we were at the time.

For the first 22 years of my life, I didn’t handle my stuttering moments in the best way. And that’s putting it nicely. I would beat myself up over not saying something fluently. My mindset was, “If I can say this without stuttering in the therapy room, then why can’t I say this without stuttering outside of it?” In addition to equating success to fluency, I passed on opportunities or played dumb. I can’t even begin to count the times I choose not to participate in a class discussion, jump in on a conversation, or approach that cute girl because being silent was better than stuttering. While in college, pretending I didn’t know the name of my apartment complex, Hillendale, was better than stuttering on the “H” in Hillendale.

When I was in my mid-20s, I would look back at those missed opportunities with anger. What could’ve been if I had the mindset of, “Fluency be damned.” I resented my younger self for not having the somewhat positive mindset that my mid to late 20s self-had at the time. Now at 30, I look back at how 20-year-old me handled his stuttering moments and extended him grace and forgiveness. Owen’s words best describe the foundation of that grace and forgiveness. I was doing the best I could with the tools I had at the time and where I was on my journey, both as a person and with stuttering. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. I wasn’t comfortable with admitting “I stutter” to myself much less to others. I equated success with fluency and any other result was a failure. And looking back, how I handled those numerous stuttering moments is valid because that’s who I was and where I was on my journey.  

The way I handle my stuttering moments at 30 differs than how I handled them at 20. My main way of handling them is to allow them to happen, to exist in that moment, and then continue the conversation. I don’t harp on what I wish I did or didn’t do in terms of technique or fluency. There are moments when I choose to not handle them gracefully, but that’s still valid. I’m doing my best in that moment, and my best looks different in every moment. That’s something I did not nor would not acknowledge as a 20-year-old. Back then my best was fluency, and everything was a failure.

I hope I still hold on to this mindset and advice when I’m 40. That how I deal with today’s situations was the best I could do in that moment. That my future self looks back upon my current self with grace and understanding. And that’s how I look back on my younger self and speech therapy experiences.

Looking back with knowledge and hindsight, I have mixed feelings toward my time in speech therapy. Anger is not one of them though. I realize that everyone involved was doing the best they could with what they knew at the time. The approach, although outdated now, was and is still valid because that was the best in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Through Owen’s advice and the personal growth I’ve experienced over the past year and a half, I’ve realized the importance of knowing you did your best is the foundation from which we give ourselves grace. Our best in 2013 might not look like our best in 2023. And our best in 2023 might not look like our best in 2033. However, it was the best because of who we were, what we knew, and where we were on our journeys at the time. We did what we could with what we knew at the time. And sometimes we have different definitions of what “our best” looks like. Yet, through it all our best was, is, and always will be enough.

December 12, 2023