This is Your Quest

The Four Stages of Self-Development – Friedrich Nietzsche

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.

This is Your Quest
author joanne reed
Friedrich Nietzsche
four stages of self-development
Friedrich Nietzsche’s and his Three Metamorphoses

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 taking any kind of risk, for 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.

This is Your Quest
Author Joanne Reed
Sheep Camel Lion
Friedrich Nietzsche
From Sheep to Camel to Lion to Child

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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  1. That was one amazing journey of transformation you took me through. The transformation of understanding myself and knowing where I stand presently. Loved it.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for your comment 😀🙏. So glad to hear that this blog really resonates with you ! Stay tuned-in more to come. If you wish to continue that Epic Journey check out my book “This Is Your Quest.

  2. Thank you! I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    Such an awesome way of replying someone. Thanks. Again

    Also, I just posted:


    Would love to know your views. Love to see your contributions on it. I’m always excited for your comment. 🙂

    You are welcome

    Peace ✌and Love ❤

  3. Thanks    for accepting and following my blog.

    I’m available to read your post at my convenient time.

    You have such an interesting topic I will love to read in
    your blog.

    I still remain  the simple blogger…..

    Peace ✌and Love ❤

  4. Oh am touch by this post. this blew me away. Thank you for taking the time to share these write up through these words.

    These words are painted in truth, experience and perspective. I especially love how you started it and how you ended the write up. Beautifully written and as I read through again on each line I was amazed . Each word you used are true and reflective of my personal encounter with people .

    This produced a smile on my tired face after a long day. You’re appreciated.

    You are welcome

    Peace ✌and Love ❤

    1. Thanks Patrick for taking the time to read my blog and for your kind words😀🙏 and feedback! So happy to hear that this article resonates with you and to hear that I managed somehow to put a smile on your face 😀 via this blog. Nice way to unwind after a long day👍! Stay tuned-in more to come!

      1. Thank you! I appreciate your thoughtful response.
        Such an awesome way of replying someone. Thanks. Again
        Also, I just posted:
        POEM: The CAULDRON
        Would love to know your views. Love to see your contributions on it. I’m always excited for your comment. 🙂
        You are welcome
        Peace ✌and Love ❤

  5. I’ve often found Nietzsche to ask more questions than he has ever answered. It all ends up feeling so…empty. I really enjoyed your progression though.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for your comment 😀🙏. Sometimes asking the right questions helps figuring out the answers on our own 🤔?! Discuss…

  6. I can never get over how Nietzsche comes off as a whiner in his writing. You have done a magnificent job highlighting what should be taken from his wors. I find reading brakedowns like this much more enjoyable than his actual work.

    Again: beautiful job.

    1. Thank you very much for stopping by 😀👍, and for your kind words and feedback. I have made it my mission in life to demystify and simplify useful philosophical concepts and wish to share the more friendly version with whoever cares to read it.

      1. Are you interested in some watching? I have found a couple of things you might have interest in if you are as into moral philosophy as you seem to be

      2. I’m not sure if it is available where you are, but look into “The Good Place” It’s a two season (maybe?) show that deals directly with a lot of questions on moral philosophy.
        Also, check out Philosophy Tube on YouTube. He has an interesting take on the world of philosophy. Basically, he is a Brit who has read far too much and makes a living out of knowing more than you.

  7. This is so beautiful Joanne. Thanks for reaching out to me on my blog and I have begun following you and look forward to reading your amazing blog, it seems I have a lot to catch up on. It is so nice when you meet people who are on a similar journey and wavelength on WordPress.
    I have some further comments on Nietzsche’s evolution of personal development. I think it’s never a static state of being a sheep, camel, lion or child. People can fluctuate between stages, going back and forth depending on the influence of outside pressures or responsibilities. I don’t know this for sure, I am just examining my own life and how I tend to oscillate between being footloose and fancy free (when unencumbered and having free time) and when I have loads of work I need to do.
    I believe this is the case. Although it is very hard to return to being a sheep once you have ‘awoken’ to the bigger picture of the world and all it has to offer (Much like taking the red pill in the film the Matrix).
    Whereas the final stage, the child-like stage, could be the embodiment of happiness and it could be occasionally clouded by the challenges and responsibilities of the world, and so it’s possible to move back and forth between being a Camel, a lion and a child depending on the degree that life can burden you. Or (this is very Zen) the degree to which you ‘allow’ life to burden you.
    I hope that made sense, let me know I can perhaps explain it better.

    1. Athena. Thank You so much for this thorough analysis of my article 👍. I agree with your perspective – the 4 stages of personal development is not a linear progression, oscillating between sheep, camel, lion and child stage is something I anticipate people will do depending on what’s going on in their lives. I appreciate the interest and interaction! There is a lot more advice like this in my book “This Is Your Quest”. Check it out!

      1. I am going to check out your book Joanne, yes. This website as well is a treasure of information too and I look forward to adding my thoughts to your posts. Take care

      2. Athena. Thank you! 😀🙏So glad to hear you are going to check out my book 📖 Would love to get your feedback on that in due course. Have a lovely day!

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