Win the Inner Battle with Mawi

You have more in you than you can imagine.

Are you a Closet Perfectionist?

by Mawi on June 30, 2010

When most of us think of perfectionists, we think of people who have all their clothes folded perfectly; who chastise themselves if they don’t have a 4.0; who must look perfect in every situation.

But did you know that it’s common for someone who’s messy, laid-back, and by all outward appearances, the antithesis of a perfectionist, to still be a world-class perfectionist? The scary thing is that these perfectionist tendencies occur subconsciously and can:

* Suppress the victim’s true personality.
* Result in the victim judging themselves and others harshly.
* Alienate the victim from those they love most.

Sound horrible? Fear not, after reading this article, you’ll know how to recognize closet perfectionism and you’ll even learn a few tips for dealing with it.

Here’s how it works. First, let’s all recognize that for the most part, we live in a this-for-that world. If you get an 85% on your math test, you get a B. If your team gets first place in softball, you get a trophy. If you punch a cop in the face, you go to jail.

This action-reward system anchors most societal institutions: school, religious centers, and of course, families. Most of us would agree that it’s necessary to have some type of system like this, just for society to function orderly.

Now imagine a young person consciously or subconsciously interpreting the above tit-for-tat system to mean: “When I do things correctly and get higher results, then I am more loved and more worthy. When I do things wrong and get lesser results, then I am worth less and loved less.”

Consider the parent who loves their child, but unknowingly only communicates that love when the child has performed well. That child will probably believe: “I need to perform well, or my parent will not love me.” Extrapolated: “In life in general, I need to perform well to be worth anything.”

In the coming years, this young person will likely gain most of their self-worth from how they perform. When they don’t perform as well as they believe they should have, they punish themselves in their heads with punishments far greater than any doled out by parents or society. Even when that young person performs well, that young person believes they have to keep performing at that level or people won’t love them anymore, so they go berserk, and push themselves even harder. It continues for many people through adulthood, for the rest of their lives.

Now here are a few side affects: since they need to perform at a high level, and everything must be great in their lives, performance-driven perfectionists tend to be very controlling of those closest to them, both in their personal and professional lives. Why? Because if those closest to them don’t perform well, it will reflect on their own performance, and as we established earlier, their own performance MUST be at a high level.

A second side affect is that performance-driven perfectionists tend to alienate others in the following ways: 1) they use the same lens of intense scrutiny they have for themselves and apply it to others, so those they are with can never be perfect enough, and hence, are not worthy of being loved. 2) their own drive for performance takes up so much space in their own lives that there’s very little left over for genuine, deep, interactions with others. 3) their controlling behavior drives others away.

As a result, performance-driven perfectionists 1) rarely consider themselves successful no matter what they accomplish 2) judge themselves so harshly when they fail that they often shut down or spiral into apathetic destructive behavior 3) desperately want to be loved, but prevents this through their own actions 4) and sadly, rarely understand the vicious cycle that binds them.

How do we combat this vicious cycle of performance- driven perfectionism? Awareness is the first step. That is why I have written about it. Other solutions include conscious commitments to not judging others/oneself as harshly, and a commitment to exploring the deep roots of the perfectionism and coming to terms with it. You should also make a conscious effort to RELAX. You are much more than your level of performance.

Obviously, this is a lot to think about so I won’t write anymore. But if this does strike a nerve with you, share this article with those closest to you and ask them if they feel like you might be a performance-driven perfectionist. If everyone says yes, you will have gained awareness and as I said earlier, awareness is the first step to freedom.


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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lemlem Zellelew September 15, 2010 at 11:27 am

I just checked out your website for the first time today. I was talking to some of my African friends and they told me that you spoke at their highschool in Louisville, KY. This article is such a huge help to me being that I am currently in my last year of Grad School hoping to get into Harvard Business School after getting my MSW. I really appreciate your work and would like to get advice about HBS. I also read your article on math and that helped me as well. I am planning on going to the open house on October 14 & 15th at HBS. I want to know if an MBA from HBS would show me how to create a reliable equal opportunity education system for the children of Ethiopia. I know that my purpose in life is to do something of this sort.

Thank you,

2 completeanduttermoron April 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm

your argument is broad but you indubitably drive home the point. you’re fantastic in converting the fantasy stereotype of perfectionism to a down-home level which someone could relate to or attribute to an individual they know.

in fact, even though your generalizations of the “closet perfectionist” are quite broad, i feel they encompass an impressive account of my own characteristics. this article put a realistic view of perfectionism into perspective, so i appreciate this work that. however, i felt that you should treat your audience less moronic by using more technical terminology; “this-for-that world” almost treats me like i’m in kindergarten, and i am simply too naive to comprehend further logic.

nonetheless, thanks for shedding light on this subject.

3 Becky January 28, 2013 at 9:25 am

Hey Mawi, First you are majorly inspiring! Second I wanted to tell you that the facts in this post are amazing and shocking. When I read this I was like, who knew? Thank You Mawi!
(P.S I am in the flvs leadership skills deelopment course.)

4 Mawi January 30, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Wow, Becky – that is so kind of you! Really appreciate your positive feedback. You should consider being a Leadership Ambassador with

5 Deniece March 28, 2013 at 10:51 am

I love your post! It really open my eyes to see that I am sometimes I’m a perfectionist especially in my sports. Now I can try to change the way I watch others. Plus your a great inspiration to students. I am also in leadership development skills with flvs. Your story really inspired me to reach higher and farther then ever!

Thanks so much

6 Mawi March 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

Thanks, Deniece. Really appreciate your kind words and I applaud you on your self-awareness – Keep up the great work.

7 Deniece April 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm


I want to thank you once again for your post. This weekend I played in a tournament with my team and instead of getting angry when mistakes where made, I tried to encourage and think about what would happen if I were in her shoes! I don’t know what I would do without Leadership skills. Becky is right you are a great inspiration!

8 CaitlinPurcell November 12, 2013 at 6:46 am

Hey Mawi,You are so inspiring. Your lessons are not only genius but have changed my view on life forever. You have taught me to speak up and to help people when they need help.You are very inspiring and an amazing person who got really far in life by following your own lessons. Thank you for giving this opportunity to tell you how much of an inspiration you are :)

9 CaitlinPurcell November 12, 2013 at 6:48 am

*Thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell you how much of an inspiration you are.*

10 Mawi November 12, 2013 at 8:39 am

Really appreciate your kind comments, Caitlin. My team feels blessed to have the opportunity to help you come into your own as a leader. Continue to speak up and help those around you – and keep hitting your Turbo Button!

11 CaitlinPurcell November 21, 2013 at 6:35 am

Thank you and you bet I will always help people no matter what and the turbo button will always be hit when I’m around.

12 danielle taylor November 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hey i like this website. i didn’t believe in leadership when i first started but i am in like module three of leadership and i am so amazed by hpow much it has changed me and my life. Mawi is AMAZING GUY!!!!!!!! I LOVE YOU MAWI. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK.

13 Mawi November 23, 2013 at 5:48 am

thanks, Danielle – module 3 is probably my favorite in the course, really appreciate your kind words, and I’m excited that we could play an important role in you discovering and unlocking your leadership powers – keep hitting your Turbo Button! And thanks again!

14 Samer Tadele January 1, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Hey Mawi, your story is very inspiring. You came from Ethiopia (which I’m from there to. I was born there and came here when I was 5) and you did everything in your power to be a great leader and accomplish all your goals. Your leadership class is most helpful in school and in general. I hope I can accomplish all my goals and become a great leader in my life too. Thank you for everything!!

15 Mawi January 4, 2014 at 8:52 am

Samer – thanks for your message. I know how much it would have meant for me to login when I was in high school, and to see a fellow Ethiopian leading the training, so I very much appreciate your words. Work hard and make us all proud!

16 mark January 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

mawi, ive read allot of your lessons and life lessons, and really applied them to my life as well as using the turbo button, your point is very spot on and there is no beating around the bush, im a student in one of your classes, getting taught by mr adakasin, and learning the traits in bettering myself as a leader and seeing others good and bad traits and learning to adapt to the situation, and helping them cntrubute to the team.

17 Adreanna Agosto March 10, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hi Mawi,

I would just like to tell you how inspiring you are to me. You have an amazing story, and you are so funny, down to earth, and over all just a great person. I currently am in segment two of Leadership Skills with my teacher Mrs. Arnold, and I absolutely love it! It has truly changed my life, and in more ways that one! Again, I just need to send you a HUGE thank you!! You, and this course, are changing lives everyday. Never stop doing what you do because you are the very best at it. Also, this article gave so much information, and I’m sure it has opened the eyes of many. I use what I have learned in my everyday life, and I will never be the same. (For the better) !! :) Thank you, Mawi.


18 Tiffany Endy May 30, 2014 at 8:54 am

Hey Mawi,
I just wanted to let you know that you are a wonderful inspiration. You have an amazing drive that is almost contagious. I am in the FLVS Learning Skills Development Course, and I have to say, Without you in the program, I would not have learned as much as I have. You Opened my eyes about the real world, and how things work. and for that, I thank you. :)

19 Hyrum Pina January 8, 2015 at 11:19 am

hey mawi you are a true hero to me I love how you have been inspiring people to be an amazing leader and you work has helped me a lot these days and im on moduel 5 now and its cool, it is truly inspiring that you came to the U.S not knowing what you were doing and now your one of my heroes thanks a lot mawi

20 Hyrum Pina January 8, 2015 at 11:20 am

hey mawi you are a true hero to me I love how you have been inspiring people to be an amazing leader and you work has helped me a lot these days and im on moduel 5 now and its cool, it is truly inspiring that you came to the U.S not knowing what you were doing and now your one of my heroes thanks a lot mawi.

21 Avinson Pascal April 2, 2015 at 10:23 am


22 Alex May 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm

This opened my mind up to a whole new side of me I was completely unaware of, thank you so much for putting this into words. I finally realized why I do the things that I do, and stress so much about things I believe I need to perform highly in, I truly appreciate your insight

23 Bryanna Gipson May 12, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Mawi your article has open my eyes to be open to a lot of things in life trusting others more then I did before ,now I see after reading the article it smooth situations out perfectly.It’s a blessing to have someone to share life lessons..Your thoughts create reality.When I use to think I’m going to do bad on a test & when I think I’m going to do good I fail.I learned to have confidence in myself & go to the teacher for extra help.

24 ashlyn September 14, 2015 at 5:21 pm

This was really, interesting, I’m not a closet perfectionist, but, I’m close to it.

25 ashlyn September 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I really like this course, I’m in module 5, and I’m really surprised from what I learned so far. Your wisdom has guided me to make better decisions, and I’m glad that I was able to learn from such an amazing person.

26 Ashlyn September 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I really enjoy this course, and what you’ve taught me really helped me grow as a person. It’s been a privilege to learn so much from you. I’m glad that I’m in this course.

27 Ashlyn September 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I really enjoy this course, and what you’ve taught me really helped me grow as a person. It’s been a privilege to learn so much from you. I’m glad that I’m in this course.

28 asia January 7, 2016 at 10:12 am


29 asia January 7, 2016 at 10:16 am

Your words are absolutely amazing! You inspire me to be better, I can now honestly say I have a true role model. Because of you I have really changed and turned my life around in a very positive way. So thank you very much, I feel like I have someone there to actually care and be supportive.

30 K.B February 27, 2017 at 11:00 am


Hi, I’m a high school student completing your leadership skills and development class through lvs. I just want to say thankyou for all you’ve done. You inspire others with your story and you’ve really inspired me. I used to be a barely passing student, who was very disrespectful and wasn’t grateful for what she had. I’m not perfect now, But I have all A’s, and I think in general I’m becoming a better person. I’m so proud that we still have people like you in today’s world, and I’m so thankful I took your class. Thank you for changing my life, my standpoint, and helping me become not only better person, but also a better Christian. I look up to you more than you know Sir, May God bless you in all you do.

Love, Kb

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