Friedrich Nietzsche (15 October 1844 to 25 August 1900) was a German Philosopher whose writings on truth, morality, cultural theory, history, the meaning of existence has exerted an enormous influence on Western Philosophy. Nietzsche believed that embracing difficulties is essential for a fulfilling life and urged people to consider the journey of self-discovery as one of the greatest and most fertile existential pursuit and described this in his four stages of self-development.
Knowing oneself is the first step to the meaning of existence; but Nietzsche reminds us that the path to finding ourselves is no light stroll, it is a dark and mysterious business; to dig into oneself, to climb down directly into the tunnel of one’s being is an agonizing and hazardous undertaking. The journey through that tunnel requires us to ask ourselves questions such as:
- what has truly uplifted our soul?
- What has dominated and delighted us?
- Are we operating within our true potential or just living a life of quiet desperation?
We aren’t born knowing who we are, we have to become it. Personal Development, according to Nietzsche is something inexorably linked to perseverance and transformation. It is only when we endure challenges that we improve. As Marcus Aurelius said: “The obstacle is the way. Hardship isn’t the barrier to growth. It is the source of it.”
Nietzsche’s Three Transformations
In his masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche presents a beautiful and profound metaphor for human evolution:
“Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.”
Nietzsche believed that there are 3 transformations in the four stages of Self-Development:
- Transformation 1: From Sheep to Camel;
- Transformation 2: From Camel to Lion;
- Transformation 3: From Lion to Child.
Each of the three metamorphoses is a massive paradigm shift that one has to experience to move on to the next step:
Transformation 1: From Sheep to Camel
We start out as sheep and find comfort being part of a herd, to congregate and get lost in the crowd, trying not to get noticed, being invisible and to follow a path that has already been set out. Sheep have an aversion for not taking any kind of risk, not taking any responsibility for themselves or others. For those who excel at being sheepish, wandering off on a different path doesn’t really cross their minds, to do so would put them in danger, it would be foolish and unnecessary.
Some are happy to stay as sheep, but for others, acting sheepish doesn’t do it, being invisible and anonymous does not suit them, it doesn’t feel authentic. For those others, wandering off on a different path is something that brings meaning to their lives and by striving to be more one undergoes the first transformation, leaving the safety and comfort of the herd to become something better, to become a camel.
Transformation 2: From Camel to Lion
The second of the four stages of self-development, being a camel means becoming more visible, less anonymous and finding a more constructive way to live. A camel’s mission in life is to be useful, obedient and hardworking. Camels fill their days with as many obligations and responsibilities as possible and walk through life with a heavy load on their backs. Camels overcome the sheepish way of life to become more productive members of society, but the solution to finding meaning becomes the camels’ new problem. In the pursuit of a meaningful life, the camel makes itself a slave to other people. Camels live for society and the acceptance of others, never for their own self-acceptance or for themselves. Camels believe that a life of labor is just how life is, carrying other people’s burdens and living according to other’s principles and expectations.
Some camels, however, have a feeling they have been misled and if something doesn’t change their body or their spirit will break. They may well be on the fast track to growing bitter, hopeless, submissive or resentful. These camels must overcome themselves again in order to become even more, to strive to become a lion, a fierce creature, a king, with nothing to bow down to.
Just like the sheep lived only to subsist;
Just like the camel lived only to conform;
The lion lives only to fight.
The lion slayed the dragon, but his victory was his defeat.
The lion’s victory leaves him with a profound nothingness. Sitting alone in the dragon’s empty cave.
Transformation 3: From Lion to Child
The camel’s struggle in the desert can never lead to a meaningful life, but once the lion realizes that there is also no happiness either in fighting against everything: so, in order to escape a feeling of nothingness, the lion has to become a child. In this final transformation in the four stages of self-development, the child is capable of making its own meaning of living, for living for itself, for being curious about everyone and everything, for being spontaneous.
If we become children, we can live without the lion’s hostility,
without the camel’s burdens and without the sheep’s uselessness.
We aren’t fixated on the past or the future.
We are living fully in the moment, solving the problems that come our way and bettering in the process the world for all of humanity.
A child-like spirit is vital to happiness, health, and well-being. As a child, life is no longer a struggle or an eternal battle. Being a child allows us to find contentment, life is a celebration, a precious gift that can be opened every second of the day. The nothingness that tormented the lion, the camel and the sheep is now a blank canvas for our creativity and it is the source of our freedom – real freedom this time. Because as a child, to rediscover how to play, it is possible to completely overcome ourselves, to know what we’re truly capable of and to become who we are.
And this my dear friend is your Quest!
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