The concept of self-overcoming is central to the will to power, because all great power requires power over oneself. As Zarathustra suggests, all things must obey something, and those that cannot obey themselves must obey someone else. For instance, barbarian hordes may seem powerful, but because they lack self-control and discipline, a more tightly controlled and disciplined army can overwhelm them.
Because great power can only be achieved through self-overcoming and self- mastery, the struggle of all life—its will to power—is a will to self-overcoming. We all seek the means to free ourselves as much as possible. This exercise takes place on different levels. For a slave, it might consist in seeking physical freedom, or if this is impossible, at least as much freedom and power as a slave can have. For an ascetic, as we suggested, this might be an effort to find freedom from bodily needs and desires. For a philosopher, this might be an effort to find freedom from the prejudices and assumptions of the past so as to afford a clearer view of the truth. Nietzsche's conception of the overman is based on an ideal of total freedom: nothing constrains or controls the overman but himself, so he is the creator of his entire universe.
All these efforts for increased power and freedom demand change: we must change in order to overcome ourselves. Because the will to power is the fundamental drive of all life, and because power evokes change, change is therefore the fundamental characteristic of all life. In the "Dancing Song," we see both wisdom and life portrayed as constantly changing. The only thing that remains constant, as Zarathustra suggests in the "Tomb Song," is the will that motivates this change. Thus, any attempt to see a moral code, or anything else, as permanent, represents to Nietzsche a weakening of vital forces—giving up the drive for self-overcoming. If we are to thrive, we must thrive on change.
In "On the Land of Education" we begin to witness what will be a series of attacks on the world of Nietzsche's contemporaries, focusing primarily on his contemporaries' nihilism. The scientific skepticism that precipitated the death of God has created no new values or goals, according to Nietzsche. As a result, modern life is empty, directionless, and devoid of will. Scholars seek only an "immaculate perception" of the truth, looking to dig up knowledge without any particular goal in mind. Poets, too, craft only pretty words that invariably are founded in older moral codes that they have not yet outgrown. In the Christian world, self-overcoming was practiced with the goal of pleasing God and going to heaven. Nietzsche thinks that these goals are now absent, and that there seems to be little to replace them. Nietzsche chillingly foresees that if we put our wills into nationalistic ideals, we will unleash wars of horrific magnitude. The "great events" in this world are not so obvious and imposing as the nation-state. He has Zarathustra propose the overman as the new goal instead. Both scholars and poets could conceivably aim for such a goal, but those at present are mostly aimless.