“The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born when we die.” — Erich Fromm
The Three Phases of a Great Life
To die without having lived is a tragedy like no other. Realizing that, although you have been around for thousands of days, you haven't even lived through a single one, is a terrifying thought... sadly, it's also the fate of most people.
But it doesn't have to be.
Friedrich Nietzsche believed that those of us who want to avoid this fate must embark on a three-stage journey: the three metamorphoses of spirit. We must, as he famously wrote in a chapter of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, become first a Camel, then a Lion and, finally, a Child. Let me explain.
Phase One: Endure, humbly.
Those with great spirit must first be willing to become a Camel — a beast of burden.
A Camel represents the strong and ambitious individual who wants to take on heavy loads. It bows down and asks: “what is the heaviest thing, you heroes, that I may take upon me and rejoice in my strength?” It is willing to suffer and experience the weight without any self-pity or complaints. Instead, it endures it and runs eagerly into the desert.
We all carry the weight of the world with us: society’s values, norms, expectations, responsibilities… but very few people bear them with dignity. This first stage represents the individual who is humble enough to experience the world without outright rejecting it. It’s the young artist looking up to his master; the soldier standing firmly before his general. The Camel understands one must first learn the rules before trying to break them.
Phase Two: Rebel, ferociously.
Deep into the desert, the spirit transforms itself into a Lion — a beast of rebellion.
The Lion says No. It doesn’t want contentment, it wants freedom; it sheds off the heavy loads and prepares to fight its ultimate enemy, a terrifying dragon called Thou Shalt. The dragon arrogantly shows off how each of his scales has a commandment written on it —things one must or mustn’t do— and tries to intimidate the Lion into submission… unsuccessfully. In a final act of defiance, the Lion looks at Thou Shalt in the eyes and defeats it with its most powerful roar: “I will!”.
This is the stage of the individual who wants to rule his own existence and fight the ruling system itself: the pre-given values, the commandments, the social norms, the blind faiths, the Gods, the parental expectations — everything. Tired of carrying the weight of the world, he wants to separate himself from it and affirm his own existence as a unique self. The Lion is our desire to say “I’m here! I’m alive! I choose!” as well as all the excitement and power that comes from actually doing it.
Phase Three: Create, unconditionally.
Finally, only the greatest of spirits are able to come to terms with the final challenge: becoming a Child — a beast of creation.
Rebellion makes you feel alive at first, but it also brings with it a deep existential crisis. Now that the Lion has liberated itself from all the heaviness of the world, there’s nothing but dust and debris in its place. This is exactly why it must now become a Child: because where the Lion says No, the Child says Yes… his own Yes. The spirit of the Child, having separated itself from a predetermined existence, now “wills its own will […] and wins its own world.”
The Child embodies a brand-new start, a new beginning, a wiser second chance. Like an architectural genius, he builds back up the space that the Lion had freed: only this time, with values that are truly his. This is a stage of absolute creation —without any resentment, hatred or bitterness— and genuine fascination towards one’s own world. The Child is the spirit’s attempt at being its own God.
This is the irony that both Fromm and Nietzsche were trying to portray through their texts and that I have tried to summarize today: If you wish to die being fully born, you must first fight to become a child.
Thank you all for being here.
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