Myths, metaphors and archetypes can be powerful tools in personal development. They spark your imagination and creativity. They add the textures of heart (sacredness, passion, dignity, inspiration, and self-love) to a process that can get stuck in your head (what your self-defeating beliefs are; what you need to do to change them).

One of the most fascinating myths about personal growth is The Three Metamorphoses, described by the brilliant philosopher and cultural critic, Friedrich Nietzche.

In his novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzche uses classic metaphors and archetypes to describe the stages and cycles of development that we repeat many times during our lifetimes.

The first stage of personal development (learning), is represented by the camel (the beast of burden), which gets down on its knees and says: load me up. According to Nietzche, it wants to be well laden, so it can fully experience its own strength.

The camel represents our early life, when we swallow everything that’s taught to us, then we dutifully carry it out. However, when the camel is fully loaded with education and social tradition, there’s no room left for self-discovered truth.

So the camel allows itself to be ruled, taking on all the obligations that the world piles upon it. The camel becomes a factory-type worker, blindly fulfilling its prescribed role. Its primary motivators are guilt and fear.

But eventually the camel begins to question authority. Where does duty come from? Who decides what’s most important in life? The act of questioning begins to mentally separate the camel from its peer group.

Sensing the importance of this internal exploration, the camel physically withdraws from society, traveling into the wilderness—a place of seclusion where the next metamorphosis occurs.

As it questions its beliefs, the camel transforms into the lion (the warrior). The lion desires freedom, but it must kill to get it. The lion is a symbol of bravery that stands in defiance of every external authority: country, religion, education, race, family, culture, etc.This authority is symbolized by the dragon, a scale-covered beast.

On each and every scale of the dragon are the words 'Thou shalt', representing imposed restrictions and limitations, both internal and external. The values and rules of all previous generations glitter on those golden scales.

These rules are the beliefs the camel accepted from others about itself and the world. They’re also the beliefs the camel created to keep itself safe from fears and doubts, but they’re chafing now.

The dragon feels supreme because it believes it possesses the one truth of all existence, and it despises opposing opinions. The dragon demands conformity.

The lion, however, desires to create new a reality based on personal truth. So the lion must slay the dragon in order to progress to the next stage of development.

After the dragon is destroyed, the lion’s sense of selfless duty is purged. Left with no firm foundation of absolute truth, the lion’s only memory is of illusion and arbitrariness. Now, the lion is alone and responsible for itself.
Ironically, Nietzsche says, this is the greatest burden, far heavier than any camel dares carry.

But the lion can’t create new values, it’s merely a warrior who wins the freedom to create something new. For creation to begin, another metamorphosis must take place.

When long-held beliefs have been called into question by the camel, then destroyed by the lion, the third evolutionary stage transforms the lion into a child (a new beginning).

The child regains its innocence, spontaneity, and the courage to live life on its own terms. The child represents pure, unburdened creativity. It’s a new beginning; a fresh start. Everything that’s no longer needed is forgotten.

It’s fascinating that Nietzche also depicts the child as a wheel that rolls from its own center. You could say it’s a first movement that gains momentum, then moves along a path toward a specific destination.

In other words, you’ve discovered your own truth and you’re beginning to live by it. You no longer depend on external authority for your sense of identity or validation.

You’re becoming wise in self-knowledge and are free to live a fulfilled, joyous life. You have respect for society’s rules (like stopping for red lights) but no longer live by arbitrary external rules (like men are more powerful than women) when they don’t match your own truth.

At various times in your life, the cycle will repeat itself. Whenever you notice a value or belief that’s become obsolete, your camel will question it. If it no longer serves you, your lion will destroy it. Then comes a new beginning, and your wise child will create new values and beliefs. This cyclical process never ends.

Today’s Coaching Question: What’s your personal myth—the metaphor that points to the mystery that’s drawing you into ever higher states of consciousness and self-awareness? In other words, how do you describe your process for identifying and shedding outdated values and beliefs?

Author's Bio: 

Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can sign up for Discovering Your Values, a 5-day e-course at no cost at Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. She offers a comprehensive program that teaches clients simple ways to build their personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving their dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 13 years. Her website is