running my mouth 

  • Drew Dotson

My [current] best

I went to a spin class two weeks ago. It was hard. I used to go regularly, but that was more than a decade ago. On top of that, I was battling post-COVID-19 fatigue and felt like there was a fire raging in my lungs at certain points during the workout. However, I got off the bike at the end of class and felt satisfied. I knew I’d done my best. Was it my greatest spin performance of all time? Nope. But I gave it all I had. And it was my lifetime best spin showing in the state of Iowa … for now.

While in the Corn State (apparently it’s the Hawkeye State, but I’m sticking with Corn), I taught four improv workshops to different student groups at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). This trip was the big hurrah to cap off my semester working as a virtual visiting scholar in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

At the start of each improv workshop, I went over a few housekeeping items. First and foremost, I asked that the students be kind to themselves. For most of them, this was completely unfamiliar, probably frightening, territory, but they showed up anyway. Next, I simply asked that they do their best. However, I included the important caveat that our best varies from moment to moment.

Often, when we’re disappointed in ourselves, it’s not because we didn’t do our best. It’s because we compared it to our best ever rather than our current best. Or, even more impractical but still completely natural, we measured ourselves against someone else’s best. In other words, we determined a "best" based on circumstances different from those we currently faced. Is that reasonable? No. Do we do it anyway? Yes.

When I used to perform, sometimes I would wake up the morning after a show and think of a line that would have been the most amazing response to something that was said to me 11 hours ago. The only problem was that improv didn’t work that way. Instead, I had to accept that, in that moment on stage, I did what I thought was best. Other times there were situations where I could easily start blaming a bad scene on other people, but I got in the habit of asking myself, "If a similar situation presents itself, how can I handle it better?" Again, I knew that I’d done my best with the knowledge I had at the time, but maybe I could make my best better next time.

I witnessed this growth throughout the improv workshops at UNI. When learning a new activity, a student might struggle the first time through, despite doing their best, and then the second time they’d do even better — their best with the benefit of more experience. There have been times in my life when I’ve wanted to skip ahead to the part where I have the experience, missing the staircase of "bests" I would have climbed along the way. But my best is my best is my best is my best, and it is constantly changing.

As I vigorously pedaled on the spin bike, I was kind to myself. My name kept popping up at the bottom of the scoreboard, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was too busy wondering if my legs might actually detach from my body. I was doing my best, so what more could I ask of myself?

Big thanks again to UNI for the opportunity to act as a visiting scholar!

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