What I Learned From a Photoshoot and Wearing Red Polish

Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD

Licensed psychologist and wellness consultant

The Power of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.” – Michelle Rosenthal

When you experience something difficult or traumatic, it’s often hard to pinpoint the moments that will mark a pivotal shift in your journey.

Earlier this year, I had a photoshoot intended to capture the essence of who I am today.

It was arranged swiftly, leaving me little time to deliberate over my appearance—something that, surprisingly, worked in my favor. I chose items from my wardrobe haphazardly, decided to wear the bright red nail polish I already had on, and embraced the simplicity of it all. I enjoyed the shoot, unconcerned about others’ perceptions or whether my choice to wear jeans, hoop earrings, or a broad smile might seem unprofessional.

Reflecting on this experience and viewing the resulting photos, I recognized this moment as pivotal in my recovery journey. Back in 2008 at Harvard, I had become a shell of my former self, conforming to an externally acceptable persona so completely that those imposed beliefs felt like they were my own. I didn’t realize how much they constrained me, holding me firmly in place.

Beliefs like:

  • “If I show up as myself, people will think I’m an imposter.”
  • “I have to look serious to be taken seriously.”
  • “If I smile, people will think I’m naive.”
  • “If I’m too feminine, people will judge the merit of my path.”
  • … And so forth.
Photo from 2009 at Harvard, Hair pulled back and dressed the part

These ideas shaped my actions and interactions, creating what felt like a comfort zone but was merely a familiar, well-trodden path.

When I finally stepped outside this self-imposed circle, I discovered that what I considered my comfort zone was not comforting at all. My real comfort zone was much broader than I had ever imagined. Without challenging it, I would never have realized the vast potential for movement and exploration available to me.

Grateful for my team and this email in particular. The power of photos and change. (Left Photo is 2020, Right Photo is 2024)

Now, turning the lens towards you: How do you want to show up in the world?

Are you diminishing yourself or holding back to protect yourself? Might you be limiting your own potential by clinging to what you perceive as your comfort zone?

Remember this: Growth occurs outside your comfort zone. It’s possible you’ve already outgrown it. Don’t confine yourself to familiar boundaries; instead, expand them. Allow yourself to blossom and create new ripples in the world.

What tiny step can you take just outside your comfort zone? Commit to taking that step this week. When you do, reach out to hello@carolynrubenstein.com so I can cheer you on!

All my love,

Dr. Carolyn

Caught in anxious patterns like people pleasing or perfectionism?