Perfectionists speak #4: Nelson Giwana

Nelson Giwana

  1. What area/areas of your life do you experience perfectionism in?

I experience perfectionism in a lot of areas. This is not to say I do a lot of things perfectly, quite the opposite - I feel that if I can't do something perfectly I may as well just not bother doing it at all, or pretend I don't care.

I suppose the main area where this has presented itself would be work. I was top of my game at work in the earlier part of my career. Later when I had a set back rather than just keep trying and at least be NEAR the top of my game I've made some pretty stupid decisions - fuck it, I give up. No prizes for second place! I think I'll just go on a bender and disappear for 3 days. Kind of leads to a vicious cycle.

2) How does perfectionism present itself in these areas?

Great frustration and anxiety if there is something out of my control.

3) Thinking of these areas of your life how would you say perfectionism has impacted them?

It's a double edged sword (much like anxiety). On one side it can drive you forward to be the best you can be, on the other it can lead to an all or nothing mentality and more recently if I'm not getting the ALL I'm going for the NOTHING.

4) Has it impacted other areas of your life?

I think in my case it’s a bit more fucked up in that. As I mentioned if I don't feel I can achieve to a high standard it breeds a lot of anxiety, frustration and I end up indulging in self destructive pursuits which leads to a whole host of new problems as well as making my existing ones worse. Even in my hobbies I won’t bother starting them unless I am in the perfect mindset, or if I don’t think I can do them to a high standard. I end up doing tasks that are easy to do and give an immediate feeling of satisfaction, such as cleaning the house for example. I use this to tell myself i am getting things done, whilst also using it as an excuse to procrastinate over tasks that are more challenging. Even if these more challenging things produce a greater sense of fulfilment in the long run.

5) Where do you think your perfectionism comes from?

Not really sure, maybe you are born with it, maybe it's something with your upbringing. Maybe I was used to things coming easy to me at school (at least academically). I'm not sure that makes sense though as there were plenty of things I was shit at at school too. I do remember from an early age asking about the homework tasks multiple times in an attempt to make sure I was going to get it done perfectly.

7) What have you tried (if anything) in the past or at present to manage your perfectionism?

Perfectionism leads to procrastination.

I have to-do lists where if I don't complete my list of tasks then I don't eat, etc. This makes me just get them done, even if they are not perfect - better to do something than nothing at all.

I find that once I start a project and get through the first 10-15 minutes of work I get into the flow with it and it becomes easier. Often I end up spending a lot more time on things once past that sticking point.

More recently I have started to use deadlines with myself to get projects completed and studying done. I combine this with thinking about Momento Mori (Latin for remember you have to die) as a stimulus to produce something meaningful and not put off things for another day.

8) If there are positives and negatives to perfectionism what would you say they are?

As mentioned above perfectionism can definitely be a blessing and a curse. You can produce something brilliant and be happy or you can be anxious, depressed and be a mentalist.


Don't forget you can read more from people like Nelson in my Perfectionism book in the online store. I am still keen to speak to other people out there about their experience of perfectionism, whether it is good or bad. What have you done to manage it and still lead a successful and fulfilling life? Let me know via the contact page. Tom :)