Do you guys remember Mike Tyson’s white tigers?
Those rare creatures were just a few of the small (and not so small) luxuries on which Tyson blew his tremendous boxing fortune. He also bought six mansions, more than 100 fancy vehicles, and a $2 million bathtub supposedly made of gold...but it’s the tigers I can never forget.
There’s a picture of Mike Tyson that will stay with me forever. He’s posing in a jungle landscape, wearing nothing but a loincloth and baby oil, holding one of his two majestic white tigers by a chain. To my eye, he looks at once manic, defensive, and really, really tired.
I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
Have you ever been really, really tired? For most of my life, I was. All the time. For years, I struggled with the terrible problem of never having enough energy. My reserves were next to zero. I was always the first person to get sick during flu season, to quit on a hike, to leave the party and go home to bed. Once, I fell asleep in a lake. I was just standing there, up to my chest in cold water, and I dozed off from sheer exhaustion. Not easy to do, but I managed it.
I worried that I had a metabolism problem, or a thyroid issue, or a brain tumor. Or perhaps I needed a better mattress? Or more flaxseeds?
It wasn’t the flaxseeds.
In fact, my problem was not that I had low energy at all; you could probably power a small city off my natural reserves of enthusiasm. My problem was that I had been squandering it. I spent years pouring my precious attention down a suckhole of exhausting behaviors, which included (but were certainly not limited to) engaging in unhealthy sexual relationships, clinging to toxic friendships, pretending to be somebody I was not, trying to please people who could never be pleased, trying to save people who could never be saved, trying to persuade people who were never gonna love me to love me, faking happiness during times of misery, and saying yes when what I actually meant was no.
That’s all very tiring stuff. Honestly, it’s no wonder I was so epically wiped out. But for me to have depleted myself in this fashion and then walk around saying “I have no goddamn energy, man!” is very much like that time Mike Tyson complained to Larry King, “I have no goddamn money, Larry!”
No, Mike Tyson—you earned plenty of money, but you spent it on white tigers. Likewise, Liz Gilbert, you were given plenty of energy, but you chose to expend it on incredibly foolish things.
We all have our own white tigers. And by that I mean we all have some very dangerous pet pathology that is capable of devouring our lives, and utterly depleting our energy, if we are not careful. Your tigers might be addiction, or codependency, or workaholism, or rage, or perfectionism, or blame, or gambling, or an eating disorder—I don’t know. But I do know, from my own experience, that when I am living sanely, my energy flows freely. So if my energy isn’t flowing freely, I know I need to once again ask myself: What are my white tigers right now? What craziness have I chained myself to this time?
Once I’ve identified my tigers, I have an important choice to make. I can double down on my current madness and keep pretending that dragging a pair of rare white tigers around is a perfectly normal thing to do, or...I can drop the chain and simply let those tigers go.
Now, let’s get serious here: The only way to rid yourself of your own cumbersome beasts is to tell the truth about your life. Tell the truth about your addiction, or codependency, or workaholism, or rage, or perfectionism, or blame, or gambling, or eating disorder—whatever it is that’s sucking you dry, come clean to yourself about it and the dire effect it’s having on your life.
Once you do that, your energy will begin to return, in the form of power. Not the fake kind of power that comes from perpetuating some unsustainable myth about yourself (or from, say, purchasing a $2 million bathtub). I mean the power that comes from standing in your truth and embracing the desire to be fully, finally restored—and energy-rich—for the rest of your days.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of, most recently, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead).