06/18/2014 11:56 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2014

'If I Could Just Be a Little More...' Letting Our Personality Off the Hook


Today I found myself on an inflatable inter tube, in the wake of the Caribbean waves, with a speedboat being driven by a truly beautiful Canadian guy. And despite the picture perfect nature of this moment... I was gripping for my life. Terrified of falling off and equally terrified of embarrassing said cute boat driver, I clenched my jaw, looked around and felt completely and utterly confused. "Why don't I like this?" I thought to myself. "Why can't I just let go and enjoy the flow of the ocean and the view (referring to the shoreline and maybe the cute eye candy in my line of vision). Why don't I feel comfortable out here with the wind in my hair and the sun in my face?" The thoughts spiraled.

Since I was young, my level of enjoyable adventure has included trying a new ethnic cuisine or bright nail polish color. I was never one for skydiving, roller coasters, scuba diving, dirt biking, or anything else that brought to mind those eye-boggling scenes on Fear Factor. Maneuvering New York's dating scene and the sales racks and Bloomingdales on Black Friday were the riskiest and most adrenaline-producing things I could endure, and for a while, I was okay with that. But today on the inter tube I really, REALLY, wished I was enjoying myself. I felt so uptight, so scared of falling off, so unable to trust that the boat and the ocean would support me. I sincerely didn't understand why I didn't have more of the daredevil, free-spirited energy I saw depicted in every sunscreen advertisement. "Why can't I let go?" repeated like an incessant ringing in my ears. And the more I judged myself, the less I enjoyed the water activity, and the more self-conscious I got around the very cute Canadian guy at the head of the boat. Losing on all ends, obviously.

Since I can remember I've had people telling me to accept myself as I am. And I've been able to apply this self-help idea to my weight, to the amount of push ups I can do in yoga class, to the size of my house, and to the popularity of my group of friends. While it appeared that I was getting better at not fighting against the reality of my body or extent of my shopping sprees, it never occurred to me that I was always subtly fighting against my personality as if it were like a soup: "a pinch more of that... a pinch less of that," then maybe it would taste just right. Just like my body, my personality was in front of a mirror and I was nit picking at every inch.

In my head: "Guys like girls who are more laid back," "No one wants to be friends with someone who is a little annoying sometimes," "No one hires the shy girl." These were all beliefs that I used as thermometers to measure who I was and to determine if I was good enough for a particular internship, social situation, or relationship. There were the traits about myself I didn't like: "Too nervous, too controlling, too timid, too outspoken, too enthusiastic, too calm, too uptight, too dorky, and too quirky." And then there were all the traits I wished I possessed: "If I could just be as funny as Emma Stone, as chilled out as Kristen Stewart, as self-confident as Cameron Diaz."

I had spent so much time working on loving my body and accepting the more external aspects of my life that I didn't even realize that there was a constant aggression against my personality lingering beneath the surface. As I was sitting on this intertube, frightened and self-conscious, it occurred to me: If my body is loveable at any size, why isn't my personality? Aren't I just as loveable when I'm having a moment of anxiety or being a pain in the butt, as when I'm laid back, "chill," and down to earth? This double standard of self-acceptance was baffling to me, and worthy of investigation.

Not enjoying the inter tube was not my problem. Thinking that I should enjoy it, was. Thinking I should be any different than how I am is equally destructive when aimed at my tummy as it is when aimed at my character. So I'm not that spontaneous girl with who goes on midnight drives and misses her curfew. So I'm not that risk taker that climbs trees and takes road trips and backpacks through Asia. So I'm not that "low maintenance, chill" girlfriend who doesn't care if you ditch me for the guys. My only problem is thinking I should possess a personality, which frankly, I don't.

Today, as I have fully recovered from my inter-tube trauma, my courage comes in a different form. I hope to no longer be aggressive against myself in the subtle way that is personality-criticism. I am reminded, once again, that commercials, and movies, and TV shows are not real life and that I am allowed to be an interesting and diverse mixture of fears, hesitations, doubts, and passions. Some days I will be more nosy or clingy than other days. Sometimes I will be easy to talk to and self-assured. One day I'm more angry, and less kind, another more anxious and less calm. But so be it.

I have to give up wanting to fulfill an ideal of the kind of girl I want to be, and start living with and loving the girl I am. And the right friend, and the right guy, and the right job won't just tolerate my "less-than-perfect traits," they'll value them. It's time for me to start doing the same.