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092: The Achievement Trap: Avoid It, Get Away From It with Brandilyn Tebo

Oct 3, 2017

In our heads, there are reasons that we tell ourselves we are the best at what we do but that can go the other way too. Trying to prove to others that you are good enough will leave you disconnected from yourself and your heart. Former model and now life coach Brandliyn Tebo helps her clients escape the Achievement Trap having been caught in it herself when she was young and taught wrongly that supreme thinness equals changing the world. Brandliyn shares her struggles as a student, model and achiever who learned that she doesn’t need to prove herself to make a difference in the world.

This is episode is on the concept of the achievement trap. I have guest star, Brandilyn Tebo, come on the line and share her experience how she was a model, how she was taught to achieve and how it led her to a very unhealthy physically and emotionally life, and how she migrated from that into the powerful life coach and writer she is today. We then invite Leila on the line to talk about her issue and coach her together, mover her from the point of how does she work with a guy to get him from point A to point B. All these conversation tips on how to get a guy to really do what you want, which is really what he wants.

092: The Achievement Trap: Avoid It, Get Away From It with Brandilyn Tebo

I have a friend of mine, Brandilyn Tebo. We’ll be talking about her and her work specifically around the concept of the achievement trap. She’s running a book that’s coming out. She teaches workshops for women called The Shift. I’m going to read her bio and then we’re going to have a little chat and then we have a friend coming on to do a little coaching with. Brandilyn is an acclaimed transformational coach, retreat host, writer and speaker. Once a type A perfectionist who struggled with anorexia. She knows firsthand how destructive attachment to external validation can be through a years of inner work and meditation, training, studies. She learned how amazing life can be once you let go of fear, limiting beliefs, and false identification with achievement. She’s traveled the world teaching empowering workshops in high schools, Fortunate 500 companies, and colleges. Now, she coaches clients on how to remove internal barriers to following their hearts to be the fullest expression of themselves. That is one of the best bios I’ve heard in a long time.

Thank you so much.

Welcome to the show. We’re here talking about your work. How did you migrate for someone who you described as Type A achievement with anorexia? What was the first step of your awakening around this?

The first step was being so far gone into what I call the achievement trap which is when we get completely dependent on needing outside approval and needing external validation in order to feel worthy. I was so far deep in that that I had to really change some things around and really do a lot of inner work in order to transform that. I was sleeping four hours at night and I had an eating disorder. I was working a job while I was modeling while I was in school while I was getting straight A’s while I was in leadership positions all across the board. I was so disconnected from myself, so disconnected from my heart and was really numb to life. I lived completely in my head, in that rational space and did not give myself permission to do much of anything that I loved for the sake of the joy of it. That’s when I got into transformational work. The crux of it was when I wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to school unless I started gaining weight.

Again, I was so stuck in the achievement trap that that sounded like absolute death to me. I really had to do some soul-searching. That’s when I started really meditating and walking on this path of inner work and transformation and my entire life flipped upside down and what was valuable to me completely changed. It was no longer getting that external validation, but it was me doing what I knew was true to myself. I realized that all of those negative thoughts that I had about myself were not the truth and that I was just using them as a barrier to not have to be vulnerable because that was scary to me. After doing this work, and getting reconnected to my joy and the ability to play and express myself, and be open and be vulnerable and be connected to my heart, I started wanting to give back to other people. When you go from such a stark contrast, it’s like impossible to not devote your life to wanting to give back to others because it just feels so, so good. I felt this responsibility to give it back. That’s when I started teaching workshops around the world in schools and after-school programs, in prisons and colleges and really got to experience being of service and giving this work back. I was addicted. I started coaching people one-on-one and then leading retreats and writing, doing everything I could to get this transformational work out in the world.

TL 092 | Achievement Trap

Achievement Trap: When you go from such a stark contrast, it’s impossible to not devote your life to wanting to give back to others because it just feels so good.

You just expressed so much and there’s so many different ways I could take this interview. I want to talk about the eating disorder a little bit. There’s a lot out there around who has eating disorders and still it feels like it’s a hidden topic. It’s not a topic that’s really out there fully in the world. Could you express your experience of it and what brought you into the eating disorder? I know you had that moment where you couldn’t go back to school until you gained weight, but really talk about your journey through that.

When I look back on it, I find that in a very weird way, my eating disorder was this convoluted labor of love because I was a model at the time. Everybody kept telling me that if I could just be famous enough as a model, then I would be able to create a platform to give back and then I’d be able to make a big difference for people. Step one, get famous, get well-known for your fitness and your height and your beauty and then once you have that, then you can make the difference that you want to make. I would tell people, “No. I want to be a psychologist. I want to be a motivational speaker.” They would say, “That’s great, but your best investment would be to pursue the modeling path because that’s where you’re most likely to have a platform for yourself where you can share your message.” I was stuck in this mindset of, “I just have to be the best model and then once I’ve succeeded at that, then I’ll be able to make a difference.” I was depriving myself of food because that was the only thing that I could control in that situation was my weight. I was stuck in this mentality that I had to achieve supreme thinness before I can make a difference. Then I got real with myself and I realized that if I really wanted my life to be of service, then I didn’t have to wait for agencies to tell me that I could do that or to be on more covers of magazines. I could just start devoting my life to that right now.

Your pathway to serve was self-sacrificing your body until you realized you didn’t need to self-sacrifice your body anymore.

You said that way better.

I’m just listening back to the brilliant things you’re saying. Eating disorders happen to all genders. It’s not just women. I’m asking this as a question out of my own ignorance. Is it a higher percentage for young women with eating disorders?

Yeah. Young women are the highest demographic who experienced eating disorders. Anybody can have one, but it’s most concentrated in young women certainly. I think for the same reasons that I experienced it because we’re told that that’s our pathway to success and fulfillment.

What were your first steps once you had the realization, you have to go back to school, you had to gain weight, you need a life change. What were your first pragmatic steps to move from this? It doesn’t have to be about the eating disorder itself but to move from the achiever, from type A, what were your first pragmatic steps to get a more healthy balanced lifestyle?

First, it was in realizing that these questions that were haunting me, the questions of “Am I good enough? Am I doing enough? What do people think of me?”realizing that those questions are unanswerable. There’s really no way that you could possibly answer the question, am I worthy? Am I good enough? You can find infinite evidence to prove that you’re good enough. You can find infinite evidence to prove that you’re not good enough. It’s like an optical illusion. You just see whatever your perspective is. You don’t see what’s actually there. When I realized that this chaos that I created in my mind of oscillating between, “I’m good enough because I achieved this, I’m not good enough because I gained two pounds, I’m good enough because my teacher likes me,” going back and forth in my head. That craziness was completely futile and I was getting nowhere. It’s like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill and having victory for a split second and then having it roll back down again.

In realizing the absurdity of it and the ridiculousness of my thoughts, and just how pointless and futile it was, that I was putting my time and energy into it, it was like, “What have I been doing? I’ve been wasting my life in this futile attempt to prove myself and there’s nothing to prove. I have nothing to prove. This is absurd.” When I experientially realized that I had nothing to prove, then there’s the question of, “Now what?” Obviously, the “Now what?” is I want to go be the most loving person that I can. I want to connect to other people. I want to make a difference. That has been the anecdote. Service has been my savior. Putting my attention on other people has been the thing that’s really transformed my life.

Money is love, food is love. Click To Tweet

I have service as a selfish act. Service is a way for me to get out of my own way, to stop thinking about the repeating loop, just like you said, “Am I worthy? Am I worthy?” It’s a repeating loop to find out pretty much into others. I totally agree with you.

One more thing I want to say about that because that doesn’t really speak to you how I actually gained the weight and whatnot. The thing that made the difference for me was I made gaining weight about other people. I re-contextualized it. I made it about, “If I put this weight on, then I’m going to be able to serve people more. I’m going to be able to think more clearly. I’m going to be healthier. I’m going to be able to be more present. I’m going to be available,” because when you’re stuck in deprivation, you’re a prisoner of your own mind and you can’t get out of there. You’re constantly in survival mode, literally because your body is starving. Your brain becomes OCD. When I re-contextualized and realized that gaining weight was an act of service, and it wasn’t about me, it made it way easier.

I’m going to ask you the tough question about that since this Tuff Love, how is not that external or external validation? How do you equate the two in the mind where you’re gaining weight so you can be connectable? How is it not external validation?

It’s the difference between needing external validation to validate who you are as a thing. Like this idea that I am something and I need other people to tell me that I’m a worthy thing versus gaining weight for me was, “If I gain weight, my mind is going to be more present so I’m going to have more access to ways of being that are going to serve other people. I’m going to be able to be more of service rather than having people think that I’m good enough as like an object, like a thing.” Does that make sense?

It does. Now, I see it. On some level, I’m reading into this. This is my take on it and my bias and my story. The way I hear it is you could take your attention off your own weight and your worthiness, feed yourself so you could actually have the bandwidth to be connectable out there in the world.

I think that we should eat in order to forget about food and forget about our bodies. We should nourish ourselves so that we’re able to be totally present and not have to be focused on the body’s sensations over here.

I’m going totally extrapolate that. Food is a metaphor, how does that translate to love and intimacy and connection? How does that show up for you?

In a way, it’s the enabler. That’s how I’ve re-contextualized food at least. I had such a negative, judgmental relationship with food. Now, I’ve re-contextualized it to say, “The more I can nourish my body with food, the more available I’m going to be able to be to love, so food is love.” I’ve re-contextualized money in that way too, “Money is love, food is love.” When I think about it that way, then I have no resistance to making the money that I need to make and nourishing my body and in the way that I need to nourish it because I know that it’s being used, being transmuted in the service of love.

Not a very complete question, but you caught it. That just caught me. It’s like we stopped ourselves from loving. We stopped ourselves from receiving. We don’t eat all the love and intimacy that’s available out of some weird rule, but that’s the best way to be connectable, to receive what the universe wants to provide.

I guess that anybody who has blocks around food probably has blocks around receiving and being able to nourish themselves with love as well.

Let’s shift a little bit. You teach workshops, you go to prisons, you deal with corporate, what do you do when you run your women’s retreat? What is that compared to a one-on-one coaching versus the Fortune 500 conversation?

When I go into prisons and companies and schools, I’m teaching one of the workshops on a topic that the school has selected. I’ve taught on everything that you can imagine from forgiveness workshops to empathy workshops to connection, to communication, to body image, to self-love, to whatever the request is. The retreats that I do called The Shift, Sisterhood, Healing, Inspiration, Freedom and Transformation are a different. That’s where a group of women getting together in a home for a weekend and we go really deep. We do a lot of inner work. I’m leading the coaching sessions. We’re diving in with each person. Everybody gets individual attention and focus on whatever they want to have a breakthrough in, and then in between our deep inner work coaching sessions, we’re doing Kundalini breath work, we’re doing yoga, we’re dancing, we’re singing, we’re eating food that a vegan chef has prepared for us. Learning about how to eat food as a meditation and we’re in nature. It’s a very communal, collaborative, co-creation of a weekend where women really get to overcome the barriers that they have to being able to connect to themselves and connect to each other and connect to their greater purpose. Those are probably my favorite thing that I do in my business, those retreats because by the time we leave, everybody is family.

Would you call it a reboot? Like a woman who feels empty and disconnected and out of alignment who would call it a reboot.

Absolutely. I’m going to use that. That’s a great way to put it.

Could you give us like one war story or one favorite tale of a woman you watched progress from point A to point B through that workshop?

TL 092 | Achievement Trap

Achievement Trap: I can’t imagine now ending my life because I see how I can contribute and how I can give back.

We’ve had actually several women who have come to the retreats and I did not know this until after the retreat was over. Which I’m glad because I’m sure it would have worried me a lot who’ve come to the retreats not wanting to continue their lives and not seeing anything for themselves. Just seeing their future as like this dark pit of blackness without any possibility. Then by the time they leave, they feel so reconnected to their heart. They’re like, “I didn’t even know that this was what was missing, that I needed this medicine and now I feel so nourished and so plugged in to myself again, and I see what’s possible for my life. I can’t imagine now ending my life because I see how I can contribute and how I can give back.”

We impact people, that’s a beautiful story. I liked the idea about the prisons. That’s an unusual topic for the show, could you share some story or something you learned because that’s an amazing clients I’m sure to go in and help incarcerated people with a lot of problems that lead them there. What’s a war story that you a witnessed in that experience?

I taught for six months in the largest maximum-security prison in South Africa to a group of 25 male inmates who had been incarcerated for years and years. It’s so incredibly life-changing. I had to overcome so many of my prejudice and bias and really I had to make real for myself that everyone, every single person on this planet is deserving of complete forgiveness, self-forgiveness, forgiveness of others. To be there with people who had committed these horrendous crimes and some people who claim that they were innocent, whom I believe and watch them go through the process of either forgiving the people who incarcerated them if they say that they’re innocent, or forgiving themselves for the crime that they’ve committed. Forgiving society for the way they were raised such that they felt that they were left with no other choice but to commit the crime that they committed. These people are doing deeper work than most of us are ever going to have to do. In terms of sitting with themselves and really doing the heavy lifting of transforming the bad into good. They were excited to come to those workshops to transform the way that they see things. They were doing Byron Katie in their cells. It was really extraordinary to see and quite challenging obviously for many reasons. That was the start of my career, so it set me up really powerfully to be able to serve.

I have to admit, the last thing I expected for you to say was 25 male inmates in Africa. Kudos to you. The shock factor on mine was very high and really just a shout out for your courageousness to do that. How many of us really want to serve but serve in more easy situations?

They probably taught me way more than I taught them.

I get it. I know that feeling too.

Live Coaching

Let’s bring our coachee on the line and let’s do some magic.


Thank you much for being on the show.

Thank you.

You have our full attention and how can we best be of service to you?

First of all, listening to the beginning of the show was amazing. I just want to tell you how much that meant to me to hear your story. A lot of that overlapped with things I’ve gone through. I’m very grateful for that. I feel like the place where I would like some coaching and insight is over this idea of connection. When you meet someone and you feel that there’s a connection, but it feels like there’s a blockage. The person is not at a place maybe where they’re ready to be seen and it impacts some honesty of how they show up and how they relate. Part of my MO sometimes is just fight or flight. I just feel like, “Forget it. This person’s not willing to be honest or they’re not willing to level up. I’m going to walk away or tell them I can’t be in this relationship.” The thing that came to me yesterday was, if this is the uncomfortable spot for me, this is where I need to sit and like still try to connect through this uncomfortableness and see what happens. I also want to do it in a way that is more skillful than I would normally do it. Since it’s not a place I have a lot of experience staying in.

Is this a friend, family or romantic?


Have you said to this person what your experience is?

Not yet. I was feeling that what I was feeling might be true, but I didn’t have anything to go on. I’ve made little comments along the way, which haven’t really opened anything up. I haven’t made a direct comment. Then something just recently happened where the next time I see him, I want to have a bigger conversation. That’s what I’m planning to do and that’s where I’m looking for guidance. I’ve just made little comments. Trying to let him know that I appreciate honesty, however it shows up.

Eventually, you are dissatisfied with the result that you have in this relationship in some way.

I wouldn’t say dissatisfied.

I don’t mean dissatisfied with the relationship as a whole. I mean, that you feel dissatisfied in that you don’t feel that this person has fully opened to you.

There’s a process of trusting and getting to know him and trusting myself in a relationship. Click To Tweet

I don’t even know that that’s like quite on the point. I would say more that I’m sensing. I mean it’s still very early. I think opening up is a process. I’m not fully open probably to him either in some ways because it’s a process of trusting and getting to know him and trusting myself in a relationship. I see the signs where he’s doing a lot of hiding. Some of it’s based from other information I’ve gotten from someone. I’m sensing there’s a lot of hiding going on. I’m trying to figure out how to have a heartfelt conversation that doesn’t overwhelm him because he’s not in the same place I am. That I could maybe meet him and let him know, “It’s safe to let me in a little bit more.”

When he’s not in this same place that you are, you mean as far as like evolution?

Yeah. I think evolution is what I mean. In terms of just work that you’ve done on yourself, the whole idea of honesty and doing social conditioning about lying and dating. The whole thing around that.

What do you want from him that you don’t currently have?

I guess more open, honest communication and connection.

Open, honest communication and connection is the result that you want with him that you don’t currently have. The only place that you can have power in being able to produce this result is by looking at the way that you’ve been being. That’s your only access point. When you have this conversation with him, what place could you come from? What way of being could you come from that’s new that you haven’t come from before that would make a difference, and allow him to feel that there’s an opening. Could you come from being more vulnerable, authentic, truthful, firm, direct? What do you think would make a difference?

I’m not sure. Let me see what I’m feeling. I feel like maybe more direct. I feel like I’ve been vulnerable. That was like a new thing for me that I consciously decided to show up more vulnerable. I feel like I’ve been already incorporating that new thing. Maybe more of direct this feeling like where it’s at.

TL 092 | Achievement Trap

Achievement Trap: When you withhold communication because you think somebody else isn’t evolved enough, you’re creating them to be that.

Where we want to look is what’s the way of being that you’ve been embodying that hasn’t worked to produce the result that you want? It sounds like maybe there’s a little bit of withholding on you. Where you’re withholding communication from him out of fear that he’s not going to get it or he’s not evolved enough. When you withhold communication because you think somebody else isn’t evolved enough, then really you’re creating them to be that. You’re relating to them as if they are weak or small. I’d look at the way that he occurs to you and work on altering that for an opening. Trying to make him be different is probably going to show up for him as you resisting how he is, which is probably only going to compound itself.

I’m not wanting him to be different.

Can I say a quick thing? Guys love to produce. We love to build stuff. We like to support stuff. We love building stuff. The best way to empower a man is to do it with him. Is to enroll him in the vision of what you’re saying. Just to build exactly onto what Brandilyn is saying from the male perspective is if you say to him something like, “I know probably in the past women have cut your balls off for being who you are or disapproved of who you are. My desire is to create a space where we can be as authentic as possible. I want to know who you are 100%. I want to show you who I am 100%. I know it’s not going to be instantaneous, but how do we co-create the world where we can be unhidden together?”

What will create the opening for that to you is you first acknowledging what you’ve been withholding. Then he’ll feel free to be able to acknowledge what he had been withholding. Rather than saying like, “I sense that you’re holding back in some way.” You can say, “I’ve realized that I’m holding back in communicating with you what I really want and what I really want is total authenticity and openness and here’s what I want to share with you that I haven’t been saying.”

I feel like I have been open. I just feel like he doesn’t meet that openness.

It’s a scary world out there and it’s scary for guys and it’s getting scarier. I think that’s a piece of the puzzle. In my generation, there were definitive roles of men and women and that’s really changing in this century. The 21st century has been a total mess for men knowing who they are. Meaning to say, you’re safe to be who you are. It will be revolutionary, I suspect for this guy.

I’ve heard that before. It’s just something that didn’t occur to me. When you said that, it immediately just landed. It’s safe for you to be who you are. If someone said that to me, I would melt. How could you take that badly?

He could take it badly if he is scared of something. There are no silver bullets here. It’s going to a process. When you can show up and be like, “Yes, I approve of who you are. Let’s talk about it.” That is a magic thing to offer someone.

I want to come to edit what I said before about you acknowledging that you haven’t been as open. If that doesn’t resonate for you then totally forget that, but what I think would serve you to look for is something that you can acknowledge and take responsibility for so that he feels safe to acknowledge and take responsibility for what he’s done.

When you just said that, what came to mind was giving myself that same space that Rob just explained. I feel like that hasn’t been given to me, I can’t give that to myself.

You feel like you have to hide a little bit of your awakening or consciousness and acknowledge that and say, “I’ve been realizing that I’ve been holding back this from you because I’m afraid that it’s going to put you off or scare you or be too much for you.”

Or scare myself. I think that’s what it is for me. I feel like it’s scary for me so I hide it from myself and the world. I’m indirectly then hiding it from other people.

He is just a mirror for your own belief about yourself.

You thinking that he’s not going to get it, is just you saying that, that part of you can’t be seen because it’s not okay. See what happens when you acknowledged that to him and acknowledge what that part of yourself is that you’ve been hiding and maybe ask his permission. Say, “Is it cool if I share this with you? This part of myself that I don’t always like to come out but I feel that you’re a safe space to really see it.”

That sounds a little bit more like it’s creating more of a container and more a safe space potentially. I like that.

What is your idea of a perfect day with this person?

I don’t know. I don’t go into stuff that way. I used to do that and now I’m very in the moment. I like doing things outside and we haven’t really done anything outside yet; maybe something outside.

Men like when a woman knows what his desires are. Click To Tweet

Just to echo what she Brandilyn is saying and maybe this is a good inquiry for you is men like when a woman knows what his desires are. You walking in with some concepts of a perfect date, I think would turn them on. Giving yourself permission to have those desires come out because maybe there’s a part of you that doesn’t feel you’d give yourself permission to deep down. I want to go to the beach and take a walk or I want to get a couple’s massage or whatever that is inside of you. Give yourself permission because in society, women’s desires are taught to be squashed and persecuted on some level. That question is to look inside of yourself and figure out, “These are the things I want.”Again, enroll him into having your desires be right and seen.

Also why I ask that is really not so that you have an action plan for what you want to go do, but so that you get to feel into what that would feel. If it’s to be outside and climbing trees for you, then you’re just saying, that gives you a window to being able to feel the subjective feeling of that. Then you know when that’s being matched and when it’s not, you can help guide it towards that feeling.

I think also what came up for me when you just said that is it’s being a little more direct, it’s being a little more vulnerable, but it’s also along that line of showing him more of who I am and what my desires are. As opposed to just being like, “I have a bunch of desires, but I’m not going to talk about them.”

That’s such a vulnerable and beautiful space to go into with him saying, “This is what I want and it’s even scary for me to say this, but what I want is for us to look in each other’s eyes and say whatever is coming up on our hearts or whatever it is for you.” Even letting him in on that, letting him in on your desires doesn’t mean that now your dates aren’t going to be spontaneous. It just means that you’ve allowed what you want to be seen by him and letting him in on that.

I want to say two quick things. One is, thank you for being courageous to go on this adventure. I can hear there’s a lot of past experiences with guys who you didn’t feel seen and for you to take the risk again is important. The second thing is you giving the gift of yourself to a man is the greatest gift you can give. It is the most beautiful gift, you offering of yourself regardless of the outcome. I applaud your, courageous intent. Your commitment is really clear and it’s awesome. Your commitment to really overcoming whatever is in the way from the fullest connection with this person and you showing up here and being willing to dive into it. I’m excited about what the future of this relationship is going to be.

Thank you.

One of things about the show is thoughts come out of my mouth really quickly. I’ll give you the feeling and I’m sure you could find your own words for it. “I know in the past that circumstances have arisen to have you not feel safe and women have disapproved of who you are. I want to create a space. I want to co-create a container so both of us can show up authentically and be who we are. Do you want to co-create that with me?” Guys like team sports. You’re inviting him on your team, have more love and intimacy and connection.

I like that, inviting him on the team.

Thank you so much for coming on and we really appreciate it.

Thank you both.

Good luck. Keep us informed. That was good for me. Can you share with everyone how people can find you, how they can sign up for Shift and more about you? Can you give us some details?

My website is You can sign up for my newsletter, see all my YouTube videos and articles on there as well. Then the same thing with Instagram and Facebook. It’s all just Brandilyn Tebo. Instagram is Brandilyn_Tebo and I do live coaching videos on Instagram a lot.

Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s awesome being connected to you and I’m sure our paths will cross and just thank you for being you.

Thank you so much. This was awesome. Thanks everyone.

That’s it. Go forth. Have a great week. Play. Watch out for that trap that we’ve put ourselves in, that achievement traps and have a life the way you want it. You deserve it. Thank you so much.

Resources mentioned:

About Brandilyn Tebo

Brandilyn Tebo is an Americans  Writer , Life coach, and Retreat host born in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania . She is an ex-model who has recovered from Anorexia nervosa . She is also currently a writer at the Elephant Journal , a magazine for health and wellness.

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