This was my condition

This was my condition when I received the freedom to choose my career. Was I capable of actually using that freedom? Did I have the courage for a true career? My self-regard depended on your opinion; seldom was it otherwise. An outward success could give me courage for a moment, but nothing more, and afterwards my dependency would be all the worse. I never thought I would get through the first year of junior school, but I did, I even got a prize; but the entrance exam for the Gymnasium looked impossible, yet I passed; but then I had to face the first year of the senior school – and so it went, on and on. I gained no confidence, on the contrary, the longer it all lasted the more convinced I was of my ultimate failure – and in your hostile attitude I had my proof. In my mind’s eye I often saw my teachers gathered together and discussing me – discussing how I, the most incompetent and ignorant of all students, had managed to get through the first year, and the second, and the third, and so on; discussing how I had crept from one success to another, and how the Heavens cried out for justice, and what jubilation there would be when it was finally administered. And it wasn’t just at school, in my mind’s eye I have seen this everywhere. Which wasn’t easy for a child to live with – so how could I trouble myself over my lessons? And who under these circumstances could create a spark of interest in me? At that decisive age I could neither attend to my lessons nor anything else; I was like a bank clerk who had committed a fraud, but who still had to continue working, but without any interest in the bank except to avoid discovery. So small, so far was everything from what truly mattered – yet at last I reached the final exam, which I partly swindled my way through, and then I was free. I was free to concentrate on myself, which I had even managed to do under the constraints of the Gymnasium. Thus I had no real choice of career: I knew that everything would still be irrelevant to me, I just had to find something which was compatible with my self-absorption, and also my vanity.

— Kafka, Letter to my Father (tr. H. Colyer)


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