The Tiger and The Deer
The animal kingdom is something I find absolutely fascinating. It is awash with wonderful metaphors for life and for human performance. Animals and their traits are true, unadulterated and they allow themselves to be far more of an open book than we humans will ever be.
Today, let’s consider the scenario of a tiger hunting a deer on the outskirts of a forest in South-East Asia. The tiger identifies its prey from afar. Remaining hidden it stalks the deer slowly from the shadows. The tension in the air is palpable. The tiger’s heart rate is elevated far beyond normal levels. These cats live for moments like this, for hunting. Once close enough, the tiger springs into action, jumping from the undergrowth and revealing its presence to the deer. The chase begins, the tiger bounding towards the startled deer, homing in on its target with every stride. By this stage the deer has taken flight. It sprints as fast as it possibly can in the opposite direction. Never looking back. To look back now means certain death. To keep going is the only way the deer can survive.
We will leave the outcome of the hunt undetermined for the purpose of this story. It is worth noting that big cats in the wild tend to have a hunt success rate of between 20 and 40%. What you tend to see on nature shows are just the highlights. Similar to human endeavors, there is a LOT more failure than the success you see.
A question now, which of the two animals in this story do you identify more with; the tiger or the deer? The preferred option for most people is naturally the tiger. We want to be the fierce hunter in control of the situation, rather than the scared prey running away. It is understandable that more people would choose this option but on closer inspection, it is not so black and white.
Let’s consider the deer first. Despite experiencing a terror most of us will hopefully never actually come to know, the deer is about to achieve performance levels (namely speed) it didn’t know it was capable of and would likely not be able to reach were it simply travelling to the lake for its morning drink. The deer is about to experience the pinnacle of motivation and hit its maximum possible performance. The deer is running for its life. It is motivated first and foremost by a desire to survive. The greatest natural motivator there is. The deer would not be able to run as fast if there was no tiger bearing down on it. Animals and people are capable of amazing feats when their lives literally depend on it.
Naturally, it is not practical to have an actual tiger to chase you if your goal is to bring your 10km time under 40 minutes or to have one standing over your desk ready to rip your head off should you procrastinate further instead of finishing a report that is due. However the motivation that the tiger provides for the deer is the same kind of motivation we should seek in our minds in order to unlock our full potential. When you want something as much as this deer wants to continue living, picture a snarling Bengal tiger, ready to rip you apart should you slack off. You need to be driven, like the deer is driven to keep going. It is about turning a want into a need. You can want to achieve something without every actually moving towards obtaining it. When you need something as much as this deer needs to escape the tiger, you are truly motivated and in a great position to accomplish this.
Now let’s look at the tiger. Above all else, the tiger is a hunter. Not all animals are hunters. Some have evolved so that they don’t need to be. Trying to eat a deer who does not wish to be eaten is much more difficult than eating a tree which cannot move and really has no opinion on the matter. Animals can evolve to feed off the land. Not the tiger. Not predators like this one. There’s a desire, a love of their craft. Tigers loves the process of the hunt as much as they love the reward, otherwise they would have found another way to exist by now. The thrill really is in the chase — in the hunt. Their distant relatives, domesticated housecats don’t need to hunt mice and birds — yet most do just that every night. It’s fun for them.
Simply put, tigers love their work. Every day they get up and go hunting. Every single day. Relentlessly. They need to yes, but he wants to. It’s what they do. It gives them purpose. We as humans, don’t need to ‘hunt’. We don’t need to chase goals, chase things that run away and are hard to catch. We can choose to find another way to live our lives. We can live in comfort with no desire to go out and hunt every day if we don’t need do. We can adapt and ‘eat trees’. Never challenging ourselves, never risking the perceived indignity of a failed hunt. Or we can be tigers. Hungry, driven, insatiable tigers.
While it’s tempting to see the fierce domineering tiger as the only animal to aspire to in this metaphor, there is also a lot to be said for the frightened yet high-performing deer. So when it comes to choosing between the tiger and the deer, why not be both?