I first encountered Franz Kafka the summer before I took AP English in High School. We were required to read and report on a certain number of books, the number determined by a convoluted point scheme. As an engineering minded individual I determined the shortest books with the highest point value (ie: least number of pages to satisfy the requirement). Kafka’s The Metamorphosis made the list.
I’m still unsure how I feel about that story or what the hell it even means.
Over the ensuing 20 years I think about Kafka maybe twice a year. Really, I’m unsure why anyone would think of Kafka, but on the occasions that I do think about the author I always ponder the meaning of The Metamorphosis. I am still just as clueless.
Yesterday I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Ricardo Semler. I am a fan of Semler and his business philosophy. If I ever start another business, it will be similar to SEMCO. In the podcast, Semler describes another Kafka story that he would share with MIT MBA students, Kafka’s Before the Law.
The story is about a man who wants to enter a gate but there is a gate keeper in the way. The man waits his whole life and still doesn’t go through. At the very end of the man’s life, he asks the gate keeper why no one else has even approached the gate. The gate keeper replies that this gate was just for the man and the gate keeper then shuts the door. (A translation of the story can be found here…not the best translation but you get the idea).
The meaning I take from Before the Law is that to achieve most of our desires/goals in life we will encounter some type of gate keeper, generally in the form of fear (False Evidence Appearing Real). To get to what we desire, we have to look fear in the eye and recognize it for the nothingness it really is.
Many, many times, the gate keeper makes it difficult to approach the gate, but always, once I’m on the other side of the gate and looking back, it’s not nearly as scary as I imagined.