On Saturday night, I was sitting around the house in my pajamas watching Battlestar Galactica – yes, that’s how fabulous my life is – and I decided to call one of my oldest friends. I love talking with her because she and I have overcome some similar dark nights of the soul, so our conversations often lead to some pretty fantastic insights.
We were talking about, you know, the whole process of personal growth and how it requires us to stop feeling so damn guilty about our supposed “shortcomings.” Chinese Five Element Theory says that we’re all made up of a unique combination of fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Our particular cocktail of elements determines many of our strengths, as well as the qualities that can present challenges and issues we’ll likely have to grapple with in our lives. Ayurveda’s concept of doshas is similar in certain ways. Even Western astrology promotes the idea that we come into life with certain inclinations and tendencies that are fundamental to our character and personality.
On one level, these traditions are all different ways of explaining the truth that we are who we are – and that’s not necessarily good or bad, it just is what it is (I know, that’s a major simplification – but stay with me on this). Our mission in life – if we choose to accept it – is to use those character traits as tools to help us grow. So – stop criticizing yourself! If you’re an introvert who tends to work better in a quiet space alone, being critical of yourself and trying to become someone who works well in fast-paced offices with a lot of people is counter-productive. There’s nothing wrong with the way you are.
We live in a society that values certain characteristics much more than others. Being outgoing, extroverted, tenacious almost to a fault and bold when it comes to asserting authority are traits that we tend to see as positive in this country. Think of the archetypical high-powered corporate CEO. But not everyone operates that way. If that’s not you, feeling bad about yourself and wishing you were someone you’re not will only be self-destructive. It’s important to accept your lovely self just the way you are – and to see that the strengths and challenges your personality traits have given you are among the building blocks of personal growth.
Or maybe you’re not someone who can sit for hours, poring over the same project. Maybe you need to take breaks to let your mind wander. That’s perfectly fine! It doesn’t mean you’re not willing to work hard – it just means you have a different style. So allow yourself to take a few minutes and get some fresh air – or watch some stupid cat videos (here, we’ll help you out). You’ll be more effective – and a whole lot happier – if you do what’s best for yourself.
So if you have a character trait you wish you could change, know that there’s a good chance that the trait itself is not inherently bad. If you’re fighting it rather than accepting it and working with it – that’s when the trait can lead to undesirable outcomes. So try to accept yourself as you are – you don’t need to fit into anyone else’s mold.