The Nietzsche Hypothesis: How Failure Fuels Fulfillment

In 1887,  famed philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote as follows:

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.

At first blush, one might think Nietzsche a wicked man who visited ill-will on his loved ones. But it was not so much malevolence as “tough love.”  Nietzsche’s core philosophy was that without pain there could be no pleasure; without loss, no victory, etc. Thinking on the most accomplished of his generation, he reflected:

Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible.

He concluded as follows:

You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief … or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

In Nietzsche’s eyes, scars were not emblems of pain, but symbols of lessons learned. To self-optimize, he advocated that one square up to challenges and welcome whatever comes with open arms: failure becomes a stepping stone to self-actualization, and victory–well–victory is victory. To truly embrace such a mantra would be to become fearless.

In this age of helicopter-parenting and heightened security, I think many could benefit from a dose or two of Nietzsche’s famous mantra, but perhaps not the entire bottle, as risks should be calculated to ensure maximum return on investment, whether in business or in wisdom. Just the two cents of this humble author.

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