Will and Will to Power


Possibility is the form in which

I am permitted to know

what I am not yet,

and the preparation for Being itself.

- Karl Jaspers

ow we’re in the heart of existential country. The concepts of will and will to power represent what is best about this robust philosophical orientation toward life. They reveal the quintessential difference between us and our fellow animals, and, as such, will and will to power also represent what is best about being a human being.

Once the little starter motor of willpower has initiated a behavior, it’s our will that keeps it going, that keeps us going. Will motors us toward a fine life, tooling us along the enticing route established by our will to power. These three existential gifts – willpower, will and will to power – are what make it possible to accumulate coherent choices over time. Coherent choices over time create a self-constructed life, which is, in existential terms, your essence.

Willpower, a set of three cognitive skills, has it’s own article. Will and will to power are more accurately described as states of mind and are covered in this article. Let’s start with the concept of will.


The existential definition of will is: to want to do. When we really want to do something, it is easy to stay engaged in the process of doing it. We just keep on keepin’ on. A major project at work is completed on time, our spring cleaning is accomplished in the spring, our paper gets written and edited and rewritten, our golf game improves significantly enough to increase our enjoyment of the sport, or the surprise party for our best friend is set in place for two weeks from Saturday. Without a well-engineered and well-oiled engine, however, our starter motor has nothing to turn over, meaning our lives have nowhere interesting to go.

How do so many of us end up with a poorly designed and/or poorly maintained engine of will?

Crummy design and crummy maintenance are both caused by the same thing – an underdeveloped ability to want. Circling back to the definition of will, if to will is to want to do, you can see then how not being skilled at wanting (the first part) would negatively impact the ability to do (the second part).

And now we arrive, as we so often do on this website, at the woeful place of needing to understand that we have been significantly misled about where our upbringing has dropped us off in life. Interview any 100 people and the vast majority of them will blame their weak will rather than their weak upbringing when they find their lives becalmed. And I’ll bet that if you look inside your own mind right now, you’ll also find a conviction that you lack sufficient drive, initiative, commitment, ambition, strength of character and so on. All synonyms the culture has for will.

How do we get dropped off in the entirely wrong place with respect to the extremely vital existential concept of will?

Cultures define will as the ability to do. That is incorrect. That is the definition of power, and power is the result of having an engaged will. Cultures also define will as characterologically driven. This is also incorrect. Will is driven by wanting. Everyone has the ability to want well because the hardware of every baby born is bundled with the software of wanting. There are no exceptions.

But here is the germ of the tragedy – even though each and every one of us is born tremendously capable of wanting, by the time we exit high school, that essential existential ability is buried under mountains of shoulds and should nots and shames and peer pressures and parental disappointments and rejections and plenty of other hideous cultural misdirections. This derailing process is not due to a conspiracy on the part of our interpersonal world, but is due to a pervasive naïveté that our world has in terms of what is required in providing sound existential parenting.

Note: Because will is the most basic component of being a human, and because wanting is the backbone of will, I have presented extensive material on wanting in two places on the website. I've introduced the concept in this article on will and will to power in terms of how our upbringings leave us unprepared to engage in skillful wanting. In the last section of the website I revisit this cornerstone concept with an entire article on wanting from a more theoretical standpoint that describes how to integrate all the concepts of self-construction into a deeper knowing about wanting. My wish for you would be that when you finish both articles you will be reunited with your profoundly human ability to want well.

In a tiny, tiny nutshell, existential parenting is the foundational work we do dedicated to teaching our children how to be potently human – how to fairly gracefully navigate through a world booby trapped by the tough realities that only human beings face. We could call this critical aspect of parenting human being lessons. What each child builds upon that foundation as he or she reaches adulthood is up to each of them. But without a sound existential infrastructure, too much of their adult time will be spent repairing metaphysical holes in their foundations that could have been avoided had they had adequate training in how to be a stable and grounded human being. Basically this entire website is designed to provide you with the wherewithal to learn how to create this skill of existential parenting within your mind, which will allow you to self-construct.

What’s required vis-à-vis parenting around the existential concept of will is explicit training in the state of mind called “wanting.”

As I’ve mentioned over and over in terms of self-construction, when important existential gifts show up in us, they show up early and ugly. This is true for wanting as well. Too often caretakers, repulsed by the raw hunger of this primitive wanting, shut it down completely. Sometimes they feel threatened by the audacity of the child’s wants and renew their parenting efforts along conformity lines. Equally unfortunate is the parental reaction of either completely ignoring or patronizing a child’s early wanting behavior. And all too frequently parents tend to get hung up on the content of this early wanting rather than focusing on the process of doing “wanting” well. For example, when the daughter of a feminist wants a Barbie doll or the son of a chemist wants to major in drama, the adults often panic and try to eliminate the content (doll or drama) rather than guide the process (establishing the child’s effectiveness in terms of wanting). All existentially naïve parents will work to either kindly (gentle redirect) or cruelly (shame) nip the childish wanting in the bud. When that happens repeatedly, children get an upbringing that does not train them, but rather sabotages them relative to learning how to want with some prowess.

What is supposed to happen is this: our adults grit their teeth in the face of our noisy, absurd wants and patiently teach us that wanting is a difficult but crucial aspect of being well and truly alive. When adults understand the need to take that training seriously, they will also work to master it in their own lives, thereby enabling them to model it for us in addition to teaching it directly to us. What results are families that support each other as they stay committed to keeping their wanting skills honed and flexible.

What kids get instead of bold childhood training in wanting is this: prohibitions against this quintessential human act and instruction in conformity. As a result, young adults are very commonly dropped off along a road toward a life that is neither to their liking nor designed to make good use of their individual gifts. And they end up not being very good at wanting, often to the point of being either phobic about it or vulnerable to over indulging in it. That situation, of course, leaves them detached from their own lives and situated somewhere between impulsivity and apathy – extremely vulnerable to petulance, excessive comfort seeking, procrastination the devastating effects of low self-esteem and depression. Many, many people come to us clinicians in this bleak state of mind.


The Will to Power

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzche: Life as Literature

- Alexander Nehamas

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist

- Walter Kaufmann



Send your questions to me at: jan@self-construct.com.


Time to correct this want disorder and replace it with a thrilling and earnest commitment to dream big – to want to want what we want.

To want to do

We can say that there are two levels of wanting – the wanting that drives our day-to-day choices involving the contingent aspects of being a human being, and the wanting that drives the terrifying yet exhilarating choices involving the point of being alive. Let’s call them little wants and big wants and investigate them separately even though they overlap quite a bit in our messy human lives.

Big wants: Like a fine brandy, a big want is the result of a long process of distillation. This über human process is described in some detail here, but I want to provide a brief description of it in this article.

The metaphorical grapes of this distillation enterprise are feelings, for they provide each of us with the juice of humanness specific to our unique perspective on the questions of life. Put another way, feelings are the basic data points of our particular, minute-by-minute existence. Feelings are how we react hundreds of times a day to what is going on in our world. These reactions come from deep within our uniqueness and tell us quite accurately who we are becoming. To know ourselves, then, we need to know our feelings. (You may need to think about that for a minute.) To have a plentiful crop of feelings that distill down to a robust want, we must have a rich emotional vernacular. But because emotions are ephemeral and vague and sloppy and chaotic, (and because the male half of our population is most often taught to ignore feelings completely), we tend to have a less-than-optimal supply of well-identified feelings available within. For a glimpse into this under-examined yet indispensable aspect of being human, see this rich list of feelings.

When harvested and handled carefully, a bunch of those feelings will coalesce and when they do, they start to form wants. This is an automatic process that happens within our brain where our personalities reside. A simple example might be something like this: if you see your young daughter savoring the fragrance of freshly turned soil, feeling soothed by having her hands in the dirt and expressing curiosity about how food grows, these feelings might signal a fledgling want in her to have a garden all her own. Early big wants are generally ill-defined, sometimes silly and often grandiose. This daughter of yours might aspire to creating a plentiful truck farm in your tiny and completely shaded back yard. But early big wants all contain grains of truth about our distinct path to uniqueness. As such, big wants are beyond precious and need to be taken very seriously. This is hard to do if we are taught that ill-defined, silly and grandiose things are uninteresting and best left behind with our other childhood foibles. But if we can hold on to early big wants, they will grow in specificity, gravitas and worthiness. Indeed, learning to cherish and tolerate big wants is the first intentional step we humans take as we embark on our upward journey of self-discovery. If supported in the process of wanting, this little daughter in our example might well go on in life to develop a flourishing NGO that creates gardening co-ops in inner cities. Or she might become a dermatologist with a gorgeous back yard. The point is, if she was raised on the belief that wanting is a sacred human act, she will find her way through to designing a life that she wants to live.

Even in those of us lucky enough to have had a stellar upbringing, however, big wanting remains an emotionally charged, thrilling and dangerous human endeavor.

Emotionally charged: We cannot have a strong will without earnestness, that human capacity to willingly encounter our world in as undefended a way as possible. But this state is precarious because when we earnestly want something, we are exposed to all the painful aspects of wanting: how difficult it is to sustain wanting in the face of roadblocks; how hard it is to admit what we want when we have often been punished for wanting or when those wants still seem silly; how jarring it is to want too many things to achieve in one lifetime; and how terrifying it is to have an intangible want that seems too nebulous to ever be acted upon, and so on. Without a doubt, to want to do creates a lot of exposure to deep existential pain. But it is the only decent way for humans to live.

Thrilling: Our smoothest and most powerful existential engines are those that are developed when we put in the time to master an activity. Those engines of flow are thrilling to drive for they involve performances that absorb us the most deeply, that mean the most to us, and for which we have both the training and the talent. When our will is powerful, we are potent and our life is meaningful to us. There is a no more thrilling state than that.

Dangerous: The danger inherent in wanting comes from the place where all danger comes from in human lives – Fate. No matter how much we want something, how hard we work to achieve it or how abundant our chances, some wants will elude us. Sometimes someone else beats us to our dreams, sometimes our ambitions outstrip our talent, and sometimes life offers us a grievous choice that pits one dream against another. Plus, all of us are vulnerable at every moment in time to sustaining a want-ending injury. Some of these will be as tangible as a torn dancer’s knee, and some will be a vicious blow to our confidence, commitment or courage. And Fate is always poised to steal a dream from us after we have worked to achieve it.

Big wants, then, provide the spice of life that we all crave, but they do so with attendant emotional charge.

(Aside: For those curious about that want-to-passion route covered elsewhere, let me briefly describe it here. Our wants, once formed, coalesce into fantasies about what might make a great life for us. Some fantasies are simply mind candy that we can enjoy as little daydream breaks in a tough existence. Some fantasies are both realistic and sexy enough to get implemented as modest experiments in our life, experiments designed to explore whether a fantasy is as realistic and sexy as it seems inside our minds. Those that pass this test become desires – the most potent of which is tried next in a serious course of action. Desires line up like airplanes on the tarmac, each waiting its turn “to slip the surly bonds of earth.” Our desires take flight one by one up into the wild, blue yonder, and those that reach the greatest heights are the passions that become our will to power. Will to power, the most marvelous concept I know of, is covered below.)

Little wants: Returning to our beverage motif, little wants are the coffee of our lives. They are the little emotional jolts that energize our days with constant nudges into comfort, ease, safety and satisfaction. As such, little wants can resource us in ways that allow us to spend great amounts of our time and energy consistently on our big wants. There are four types of little wants:

1) Administrative: These are the aspects of life that keep our lives running well. They involve the care and maintenance of ourselves (health, recreation, spirituality and so on) and our possessions (pets, house, garden, finances, etc.) They tend to be the most common source of task magic. They sound like this: I want to go running, I want to weed the tomatoes, I want to take Rex for a walk, and so on.

2) Relationship: We will all want our world to be filled with people who like us and love us, with playmates, with mentors, with sparring partners, perhaps with children, etc. Therefore, many of our wants will be concerned with the building and maintenance of our social capital. We are all people who need people.

3) Pleasure: Some part of our repertoire of wants will deal with the hedonistic, escapist behaviors both available and necessary to humans. Most of us have favorite activities that bring us comfort, relaxation and calm. When used in balance with other, perhaps we can say more productive wants, the pleasure wants refresh and soothe us. There is more information about these oases of comfort here.

4) Problematic: What do you do when you shouldn't want what you want? Some wants are just not beneficial to have for they represent distorted, forbidden or futile desires. Distorted desires can occur when our gifts have either been ignored or over utilized causing either a hunger or a habit to arise that hijacks us in unseemly or dysfunctional ways. Left unattended too long, a sense of humor, for example, can erupt in poor taste or inept timing. Over indulged, a vivid imagination can seduce us into too many episodes of Drama. Forbidden wants (e.g. the mate of another) and futile wants (e.g. a different diagnosis) require kind, firm and patient reframing. There is no disgrace in wanting something you shouldn't, but it is unwise to leave this type of want unexamined.

Action items:

It can be very helpful to jot down your current wants in the categories that seem to apply. You can start to see what aspects of your life are getting the most aspirational energy and which seem to be languishing.

It can also be very helpful to organize your To-do lists by want categories to help you remember to prioritize and balance your wants. Waaaaaay too often our big wants get buried under the little wants of life because our pious childhood training focused on chores and not on dreams. There is an entire article addressing that want dilemma here.

Happiness, from an existential standpoint, is the result of having a big dream clearly front and center, and your little dreams all tidied up in your mind’s eye. That means that the fourth category of little wants is minimized and the first three categories are fully endowed then balanced in a way that fits both you as an individual and where you are in your life developmentally.

A Little Fine Tuning

Let me say a word here about two terms we tend to confuse with the word “want” – chore and should.

A chore is something you want to have done but don’t want to do. It’s a chore, if you will. I don't want to spend my Saturday sorting, discarding, organizing, sweeping and dislodging spiders, but I do badly want to have a clean garage.

When you should do something, you have no value for the doing process, and perhaps very little for having done it. This distinction is pretty clear in some instances, i.e. paying taxes or replacing the furnace. But many items we try to put on our schedules as wants are actually shoulds. You may try to tell yourself that you want to have your boss and her husband over for dinner before the holidays, but you really, really don’t. Further, social pressure can confuse us about whether or not we can forgive ourselves for not wanting certain things. We deepen our trust in ourselves when we practice being okay with not wanting every dictated want.

When you want to do something, on the other hand, that something has value for you both in the doing sense and in the having done sense. If I want to clean the house I enjoy both the process of cleaning and the having of a clean house because both of them are meaningful and pleasant to me.

When you speak to yourself accurately relative to these three terms, your brain knows where to put the information that it is hearing – under chore or want or should. Never underestimate the power of a tidy mind!

Additionally, it’s okay to wish that we did want something, but still not want it. If we patiently acknowledge, for example, that we only wish we wanted to learn a second language, we free up some energy to move along in life, meaning that we may arrive someday at truly wanting to learn Italian.

A tangential point about wants: The more plentiful and disparate your talents that are driving your wants, the greater the challenge will be to will one thing. (Polymaths can feel cursed.) Strategies for bending these disparate aspects of your personality together to join forces are described below.

You can begin to see, I hope, how tricky it is to will well. This difficulty certainly is easy to spot in another person. You know when you hear a friend lament, “I don’t know what I want to do!” that she is having a crisis of will. Like a fifteen-year-old learning to drive a truck with a stick shift, you will see her life lurch a bit forward then stall. We need to turn that evaluative eye toward our own ability to want well.

Want lessons

If you believe that your upbringing was fairly shame-free around daydreaming and wanting, you can skip over these exercises. But, if you have any sense of squeamishness about any of the fantasies you secretly have (or have had) for your life, please read on.

What needs to happen first is a reparenting of your inner daydreamer. As alluded to above, all babies are daydreamers. They look at the world around them with ever increasing comprehension, all the while seeking to establish themselves as having a unique essence. Their tiny initial wants – being able to sit up, eat when they want and control that mommy-person – are fairly safe to have because they are all quite likely to be achieved, plus the tykes are gently supported as they face that emotional charge inherent in wanting. As they grow, our little people develop more intricate and desirable daydreams. All too soon, these daydreams start stabilizing into wants, start being articulated and start being met with parental and cultural resistance. (I think this is part of the reason that Halloween is such a popular holiday well into adulthood. It may be the only time parents truly allow kids to fully daydream.) But here is where things tend very often to go off the rails existentially speaking, and where you need to go back in time to remedy the situation. At the very moment you needed your parents to assist you in interpreting and managing your daydreams and emerging wants, you were met with negativity, doubt, ridicule, fear, intolerance or all of the above.

Please take a moment to think back over your childhood with respect to your daydreaming self. If you cannot reassure yourself that you were, in fact, routinely encouraged to value your daydreams and wants as a youngster, you will have to put some effort into going back in time mentally and having conversations with your younger self. And if you grew up surrounded by adults who were not robustly living their dreams, you will be similarly hamstrung by a less-than-optimal upbringing because the modeling aspect of sound parenting was missing.

**The following paragraph speaks to the very heart of self-construction. Please do not skim through it blithely.**

While it is true that we cannot change the past, we absolutely can change the effect the past has on our current self by correcting any misguided narratives we received as youngsters. The events of our past have been curated by others for us (where we live, go to school, with whom we play, etc.) with no genuine attempt to clarify our lack of power around and participation in making those life choices. When that truth is unveiled and a new narrative put in place, it is almost as if an entirely different event occurred. With respect to freeing our will, the conversations you need to have now require you to focus on how tender and sweet your early daydreams and childish wants were; how unnecessary and inappropriate it was for your people to trounce those little desires; how important it is to reconnect with your natural ability to dream; and how tragic it was that you had no adults around modeling the fabulous upside to pursuing your wants. Additionally, it is crucial to reconnect to the content of as many of your early dreams and wants as you can because the data are still there in those dreams waiting to be analyzed.

I highly recommend spending a hunk of time generating a list of all the daydreams and wants you can remember having – from the very tiny to the very grandiose. It can also be delightfully intriguing to interview folks who knew you back in the day to hear what they remember about your early dreamy self. Next try to remember if you ever shared those wants with someone else back then and what happened if you did. Then sincerely and overtly talk with that younger version of yourself about each and every item on that list using a wise parental tone of voice.

Let me give you an example.

Say one item on your list was your wanting to go off to boarding school in Texas when you were in 5th grade. You remember bringing up this fantasy with your parents and being met with horror. You can talk with that early version of yourself like this: What an interesting idea you had. I’ll bet it reflected many of your strengths that were showing up at that time. You must have been fiercely self-loyal, brave and clever to have thought of this possible solution to whatever was bothering you. Maybe you were yearning for a more adventuresome life than you had or even yearning to get some distance from your family. Can you remember what was going on with you at that time? I wonder how things might be different for you now if that want had been met or even calmly discussed.

Once you find an historical want, continue the thought experiment by discussing in depth this particular want with your memory of your younger self. I guarantee very interesting things will result. What you hope to uncover are facts that can point you toward an improved narrative about what the daydreaming was all about. If you can start from a self-loyal belief that at least part of you was on to something, you can rewrite the reaction of your adults into a healthier and more supportive one.

To continue with our example, perhaps, had the parents of this child been on top of things, they would have helped her put a little more adventure in her life without the need for her to leave home. Maybe they would have recognized and validated her sense that the family had become too staid. It’s also possible that careful parenting would have uncovered a wildly romanticized view of boarding school life that was fueling her daydream, a perspective that could have been recognized as both earnest and creative. At the very least, they would have reflected back to her a clear image of herself as being a bold and plucky thinker. Whatever the specific results of engaged parenting, the child would have been left with the sense that daydreaming and wanting are good.

In sum, if you can identify one of those wiser parental psychological sequelae that could have happened for you with respect to a particular want, you can overwrite the unhelpful or even toxic feedback you did receive with more open-hearted and supportive feedback describing what you were legitimately trying to achieve.

Two more points relative to want lessons.

First, it is quite likely that, if you try to turn this natural human skill loose in adulthood when you had very little practice with it in the low-stakes wanting of childhood, you may find yourself dumped into the clichés of an existential crisis – with all sorts of mothballed wants trying to get your immediate attention. All existential crises (and the classic midlife crisis is no exception) occur when a wise part of us comes to the realization that our current life GPS is unreliable and is taking us further and further away from our strengths and passions. Often we will react with panic and try to jettison everything we have chosen to date and grab anything that can seem to make us happy. Not usually a wise idea. You may need to redesign your life, but not necessarily from the ground up. In my experience, it takes about 18 months to sort through a new set of wants in order for you to understand which are truly stable and which are reactionary. While this metaphysical predicament feels extraordinarily disorienting and terrifying, if you can stay focused on creating a new map based on your strengths (probably with the help of a therapist) you will emerge from the experience with a much better version of your life.

Second, if the most enviable engines of will exist when we have the talent, training and passion, it stands to reason that our most colicky engines will be those that involve new, difficult and scary things that we almost want. If we were shortchanged as youngsters in good training around wanting, we will likely have also been shortchanged in training around how to face daunting hurdles that very often precede moving toward the things we want. For example, if we discover that we clearly want to go back to school to get a Masters Degree, we may get tripped up by the fact that we will first have to gather half a dozen prerequisite courses that we did not take the first time through college. In other words, there is often the need to overtly bolster our self-parenting skills around issues such as resilience, perseverance, effective practice, self-esteem, building healthy defenses and mastery. These skills, when combined with powerful wanting, clear the way for us to maintain our will despite the roadblocks thrown up by our cultures and by fate.

A well-articulated want

Sometimes we really, really want to initiate a behavior, yet we fail to do so despite a well-fueled willpower and a seemingly tangible want. When our willpower isn’t depleted but still isn’t working, it is likely that one want is in the way of another. While we can want many things simultaneously, we can only do one thing at a time, multitasking notwithstanding. Given that, at any point in time, there will be many things that we want to do, we have to understand the need to untangle our wants. In other words, there can be no engagement of will without a single, well-articulated want – one that supersedes all others at that moment in time.

The fact that our wants get tangled isn’t surprising as, again, few of us spend much time studying the act of wanting. Can you imagine telling a friend you can’t meet her for coffee because you have to spend your morning straightening out your wants? But what an extraordinarily rich existential endeavor that would be. Where would you start?

How do we will one thing?

To untangle the will, you have to understand what you want and why you want it. Only then can you evaluate what you want most. And only then can you discover that some of the things you think you want are actually inherited shoulds.

Odd as it may sound, it can be tricky to understand how our current wants stack up against each other. As a simple example, I want to be a peaceful, courteous driver but do I want that more than I want to be a fast and efficient driver? I want to live a long and healthy life but I also truly, deeply, madly love doughnuts. I want to spend this lovely free afternoon walking to the library but also putting in the freesia bulbs, sitting on the patio reading, inviting a friend over for tea and binge-watching a new rom-com. Too often we will find ourselves oscillating between two impressive wants; unable to face thinking about what seem to be silly wants; or locked in the paralysis of analysis trying to untangle a plethora of great want options.

Since we can’t have everything, how do we determine our top want?

Even if on the surface wants appear to be equally valuable, if we dig a bit, it can become a little more clear which want is more valuable to us.

Existentially, all our wants exist to serve us, to take us step-by-step toward, as Jaspers put it, the possibility we are hoping to become. Therefore, our wants are value driven. But here’s the metaphysical sticking point – very few of us are taught to uncover the values underlying our wants, which leaves us vulnerable either to being frozen in indecision or to having a superordinate want sabotaged by a subordinate one.

What need to be understood and ranked are the values that drive the wants. This is not philosophical nitpicking. A disconnect within our minds between our values and our wants is what precipitates all the existential crises in our lives – remember? If we are to live authentically, we must understand our hierarchy of values and we must distinguish those values that truly represent us from those we have merely inherited.

Identifying values requires answering the basic question “Why?”

Back to the example about driving styles: courteous or assertive. I want to be a courteous driver because I admire people who generously and conscientiously drive defensively because it is thoughtful and it can prevent wasteful or even tragic accidents. That answer tells me that I value people who think through their actions and make their minute-by-minute decisions based not on impulse but on long term consequences. I also admire people who can maintain a well-thought-through goal (avoiding a serious accident) in the face of terrible temptation to take safety shortcuts (pushing a yellow light). I want to be more like those people. Then why do I want to be a fast and efficient driver? Well, I also admire people who are skilled drivers, paying attention to a smooth and efficient execution of the job. I enjoy the challenge of pushing my driving skill to meet the high driving standards held by my dad. I also really, really like going fast. When I get down to the values level, however, it becomes easier to see that I value being a courteous driver slightly more than I do being a fast one. To the extent I can keep that hierarchy in mind, I am much more able to both access and maintain my desire to drive courteously.

Even the struggle between something like wanting doughnuts versus wanting broccoli is driven by values. If we reject the historical shame we have experienced around doughnuts, we can uncover the very real and appropriate value of comfort hidden within our wanting of that particular treat. The simple doughnut can represent many wonderful things and can evoke tremendously calming memories. This is a lovely way to de-stress occasionally despite our perhaps stronger health value that underlies our wanting to eat broccoli. But if we don’t know why we are eating a doughnut, we will be less likely to reap the benefits of that want. Without those benefits, we are – ironically – left vulnerable to that impulsive and seemingly insatiable wanting mentioned above.

An intelligent move in our efforts to self-construct is to practice ranking wants by uncovering the values beneath them using very basic and simple decisions. An easy way to do this is to take the time in the morning to not only write out a to-do list that includes chores, should and wants but also to jot down next to each item what it is that we value about it. It won’t take you long to get good at linking a want with a value about the small to medium choices in your day. Then, when the bigger issues hit and you find yourself becalmed by indecision, the value-uncovering process will be there well exercised and ready for you to use. Also, if there is something that you really want to do but are struggling to initiate, you will be able to better gather additional supportive values that can combine in a way that motivates you. If you want to increase the likelihood of your going to the gym, for instance, you can explore the values of underlying fitness. It may not be enough, in other words, to want to work out just to be thin. Successful gym goers probably value fitness on several levels – better strength, flexibility, systemic health, endurance, camaraderie, the ongoing ability to participate in sports, etc. – in addition to appearance.

Modesty need not apply

I want to stop here briefly to highlight a value that I fear few readers will recognize let alone appreciate – the value of feeding the hunger I referred to above.

If we don’t understand the appetites within us, we may inadvertently feel embarrassed by them. We then run the risk of refuting the information held within them because they have come too often bundled with ridicule or shame. Please stick with me while I try to explain how this works.

Little gifts such as comfort with numbers or excellent hand-eye coordination create a little itch inside people like looking forward to balancing their checkbook or playing catch with their granddaughter. Collections of gifts like design sense or the ability to listen empathically can be a bit more ravenous, diving us to seek out training and opportunities to pursue them professionally.

But here are two truths about gifts – they are innate and they are a huge source of human energy.

Innate: I couldn’t even venture to guess how many ways humans are gifted. There are probably hundreds of these things. Because we are born with our gifts, we fall into naïveté around them – being unaware that they are even there and hence unclear that not everyone finds it easy to do what we find easy to do. A huge part of successful parenting involves reflecting back to a child those things that he or she seems to grasp instinctively. If we were raised well, we enter adulthood with a basket full of clearly identified gems of potency.

Human energy: While it’s obvious to say that when we do things we are good at we feel satisfaction, what may not be so obvious is that this satisfaction has a biochemical component. A whole sequence of neurological events happens when we accomplish something smoothly because the brain is designed to reinforce gifted behavior. One part of that cascade of events is the transformation of potential energy within our bodies to accessible fuel. If you take a moment you can spot episodes of this within yourself. Think about how good you feel when you pull off a little life victory. Now think about what happens inside you when you feel good. Don’t you find yourself with a little more get-up-and-go?

But, to get back to my worry, here’s what I’m afraid may happen for you: You look inside at what you want to do and why you want to do it and the answer to the question is this: “Because it feels good!” If we fear a hedonistic value at work here and distrust this sinful feeling, our tendency will be to demote this want. We mustn’t do this. We must learn to investigate whether or not the good feelings are coming from the joy to be had when our talents are in harness and pulling our life along. So all this is to say please believe me that one of the best answers to the value question is this: because I’m good at it!

With a little honest, kind self-reflection, we ought to be able to determine why we want all the things we want. Then we decide what we want most based on the reasons we want what we want. As always, I can find choice words of Nietzsche with which to close this section: “When you will with a single will and you call this cessation of all need ‘necessity’: there is the origin of your virtue.”

The will to power

We now have the requisite skills collected that can deliver a strong-willed life. It’s time to introduce the concept that I believe to be the crown jewel of existential writing and thinking: will to power.

Nietzsche conceptualized will to power as the fundamental human drive. He believed passionately that humans are, by their very consciousness, great beasts. To be a great individual human, however, a person must “display a long logic in all of his [sic] activity…[for] he has the ability to extend his will across great stretches of his life…” Will to power is that ability to maintain this long vision of life, to maintain focus on what Nietzsche called “our unifying project.” As he put it: “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power…”

So let’s operationalize will to power – this most vital of human concepts.

We know that power means the ability to do, that willpower means to choose to choose and that will means to want to do. When we reassemble will to power using these definitions, the concept looks like this: We must choose to choose what we most want to be able to do next.

A perhaps more accessible version would be: We are most powerful when our lives are moving toward a particular future designed for us by us.

How do we get to this powerful stance?

Will to power exists within us when our willpower is yoked to our will. In other words, when our willpower is connected to what we want to do most. When this is so, it means that our will is plugged into our ability to kick start a dream. The strategy for achieving that is our old, familiar orthogonal model. If we conceptualize willpower and will as orthogonally related, we can see how high levels of both constructs will naturally lead us to will to power.

Each quadrant of this orthogonal pairing will represent a different style of engagement in the process of uniqueing.

1) Low will and low willpower – this quadrant describes folks who can neither choose nor do. People in this condition tend to have lives that appear frozen. They are often depressed (a reaction to immobility focused inward) or hostile (a reaction to immobility focused outward). The depressed state is pretty understandable, existentially, as it is the expected result of disengagement from life. The existential term for the hostility reaction to immobility, ressentiment, was introduced by Kierkegaard to highlight the also understandable but disempowering tactic of using jealousy of another’s success as an organizing principle. Lack of success compared to others becomes justification for not trying and, instead, for simply living in our angry state. While all of us are susceptible to this strategy from time to time, ruminating on all that Fate has done to us cripples us by training us that external factors are responsible for our level of personal power.

2) High willpower and low will – folks in this quadrant can be recognized by their task-driven lifestyle. Even though they may be productive, the “long view” of their possibilities gets obscured by the next chore on the list. Another way to put it is this: their well-developed willpower is not connected to any engine designed to advance them toward their unifying project. The noncumulative nature of their existence drains them of the vitality to want to try the bigger endeavors. You can see that this creates an impotent vicious circle. A task-saturated life tends not to be a memorable one because the owner of that life has spent very little time thinking about what he or she wants most, let alone wondering how best to engage their talents to create a unique life. Many people stuck here have been led to believe that they have no signature strengths and they should therefore simply accept their role as handmaid.

3) High will and low willpower – if this quadrant describes you, people will often define you as a dreamer. You are very comfortable wandering through the forest of wanting, examining every tree to see if you like it. And you probably do. While it is true that daydreaming is a wonderful activity and can be very fruitful in terms of exploring possibilities and generating options, it is an abstract form of power. What is missing is the ability to elevate one of the dreams into a course of action. That ability is, of course, willpower. Without the ability to stop, think and activate the closer voice, our relationship with ourselves is not authoritative enough to produce results. Just like quadrant two, folks who submit to living in quadrant three lead ineffectual lives because they are unable to make their dreams tangible.

4) High willpower and high will – this quadrant represents the existential Promised Land. This is will to power. When we enter this realm of human existence, we can finally discharge our individual strengths, talents and personalities in service of our great, personal experiments. Because we are comfortable with our hunger to design for ourselves our day-to-day lives, we will willingly harness our willpower to the next dream we want most.

If we commit to improving both our level of willpower and our capacity to will one thing, we can harness will to power as a call to action.

Philosophy professor Alexander Nehamas described this Nietzschean concept this way: “the tendency to rearrange everything with which one is confronted and to stamp one’s own impress upon what is to come.” An even pithier version: “all efforts to know are also efforts of particular people to live particular kinds of lives for particular reasons…” And finally: “The will to truth turns out to be an effort to establish a world in which one’s best impulses and strongest needs can find expression, and in which perhaps, at least for a time, they can be satisfied.”

In Nietzsche’s words: “And what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your image, your reason, your will, your love shall thus be realized…verily, for your own bliss…”

It would be prudent here, however, to remember how dangerous it is to want well. Our wants are always at risk of being assailed not only by the many cultures within which we function but also by our buddy, Fate. While Nietzsche acknowledged this threat, (“A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions!!!”), he brought no gentle strategies forward for supporting folks in their pursuit of this noble endeavor. His attitude was that “man” should expect to stand alone in the process of self-overcoming that would eventually lead him to become one of the “strongest and most undaunted men” who are capable of will to power.

This rallying cry of Nietzsche is stirring and will appeal to the masculine bias in all of us, but if we welcome the feminine bias to join with the words of Nietzsche, we can balance this autonomous conceptualization of will to power with the more relational conceptualization of growth in connection. If we use the metaphor of climbing a mountain to represent the great human process of will to power, we can then wisely use the metaphor of a base camp to complete the existential picture. Unlike the Nietzschean view that it is a virtue to self-construct with no assistance from others, this website believes that we all need to work together to co-create well-stocked base camps from which we all need to venture out toward our unifying project. It should – but cannot – go without saying that women and men are both tasked with creating will to power and are thus both entitled to a well-provisioned base camp. All to often, women still do the provisioning and men still do the venturing.

In the world I want to live in, everyone believes that individual will to power is species enhancing and therefore all will to power should be species supported no matter the gender of the human endeavoring. That also means that equal respect and effort are attached to the process of establishing base camps as are attached to the venturing. The act of provisioning is described in the article on feminism, so let me just mention here that every base camp needs to be custom-made using the ultimate stipulation one can arrange using input from both the female and male biases toward adventure.

In summary

So, the good news is that the route to this most glorious of existential concepts – will to power – is one we can all find for it is navigated by harnessing willpower to will. When we will one thing, we move surely toward our essence. The not-so-good news is that both willpower and will are robust in us only to the extent that we have eliminated many, many misconceptions about life implanted in us as children and that we have instilled in their place the many, many complete and powerful skills that create the metaphysical foundation needed to be fully and potently human. This website provides you with a fairly complete process for achieving the former and a fairly complete compilation of life skills to acquire the latter. It requires a journey of about 57 weeks, but at the end of that journey you will find – you!

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