Last week I had lunch with the Colleague from Another Place Who Keeps Me Sane (Colleague for short). We got to talking about how hard it has been to get motivated and keep working longer and longer hours during the Endless Gray Winter--and ours isn't bad compared to some places this year.
"Maybe we're just tired," I said, talking about the possibility of yet another conference with lots of tedious travel, costly out-of-pocket expenses that won't be reimbursed, anxiety about writing yet another paper, time taken away from other projects, and all the rest.
"Or maybe we're just over it," Colleague said. "Maybe we've just done that and want to do something else for a change."
I've been having this conversation a lot with mid-career academics, especially those who are at full rather than associate. They still love teaching and research, and they're still good at it, but they want to do something else. If they write criticism, maybe they want to write something different, nonfiction or a biography. Or maybe they want to work more in administration, or write fiction, or work harder for social change within the academic or local community.
Let me be clear: this isn't a complaint, because I know how lucky we are to have a career in academics and how many adjuncts (of which I was one) would kill to have this job. Reading the blog posts where we're invited--nay, enthusiastically encouraged--to die or quit or retire keeps that very firmly in one's mind.
And I'm not quite at the "over it" stage. I have a lot of academic goals I haven't met yet and am faithfully working away at them.
But I wonder this: at what point does the tipping point for creative reinvention of one's career take place? When do academics start thinking about extending or shifting what they do, even if they love the basic parts of their jobs? After 10 years? 15? 20? After a promotion?