It's about the three stages of an academic life.
1. When you start out as an academic, your whole life is spent in applying for things. Your mentors may have told you never to turn down an opportunity, and it's good advice. Think about it:
- Applying for jobs (and applying and applying and applying).
- Submitting abstracts and papers for conferences.
- Pouncing on every call for papers.
- Applying for travel funding and grants.
- Volunteering to be on committees.
- Waving your hand high in the air when someone wants you to help with a conference.
- Hearing yourself say things like "Sure, I can write a draft of the report."
- Getting rejections and applying all over again.
- You get asked to contribute to a collection.
- A journal editor hears you give a paper at a conference and asks you to submit it.
- You talk with someone in your field at a conference and put together a panel. Maybe you even get to know enough distinguished people to ask one of them to be a commenter at a conference that more or less requires a famous commenter to get on the program.
- Someone asks you to write a report, or run a search, if you are fortunate enough to have a fulltime job, or be on a committee. This is the "just say no" phase that so many bloggers have written about.
3. In the third stage, the one Notorious is talking about, you realize that you can't do everything. The time after tenure may feel at first as if you're in the movie Groundhog Day. Now, you're not a jerk like Phil Connors, so you don't have his lessons to learn. But you're doing the same things you did before, except that you can't see the next goal ahead.
Every path you take--and they can be all good choices--means that there's a path you can't take. It's not infinite any more, and it's not directed toward a single goal (tenure). You have to choose the goal, and, in choosing, decide that some paths are ones you're not going to follow, maybe forever.
- Do you go into administration? That can be a new challenge, but it may mean you have to spend less time on scholarship.
- Do you focus on scholarship? If you do that and turn down opportunities in administration, you might not be asked again.
- Do you like where you are or decide to leave? Do you apply for new jobs? I mention this because Notorious does, but it's a drastic step.
- Maybe you decide on more work-life balance and take a few steps back from the job, either emotionally or actually, by resigning from some commitments and scaling back on others. You decide you don't need to go to as many conferences and that you will put that money toward your and your family's well-being. Are you prepared for, and can you accept, how that might affect your job in practical ways? For example, what if your department see you as less committed to it and to scholarly pursuits, which may be reflected in your performance reviews?
You wonder if your choices are good ones, and you know you have to make the most of them. Part of coming out of the slump may be the growing conviction that yes, this is a good choice for me, and yes, this is a good path to follow. Eventually you get there, and you hope that it's February 3.