It's a luxury to have a job where you get to define yourself. In academia, every class is a chance to remake your image for a new group of students. Every research project is a moment of freedom and possibility -- more so as you develop a reputation and gain respect with your colleagues. And opportunities are always coming along to direct this, administer that, edit the other thing. You get to choose what kind of career you want to build.
I feel like I'm at one of those moments of choice -- not in a pressure-filled way, but in a freeing way. Having started a new field of research last year, I've now gotten validation from my colleagues in the form of papers accepted to a national and international conference. Now I can decide where I want to take it, how fast, and for how long.
This fall there's another book coming out with my name on it -- a co-edited volume arising from the conference my colleague and I organized a couple of years ago. My boss thinks that puts me well on the way to a promotion to full professor -- an opportunity I'll have in another couple of years. And if that promotion comes my way, I'll be at the top of my profession. If I choose to look for opportunities, I can. The kinds of chances coming my way will be bigger and involve more changes. But there is an advantage to this stage in life -- the freedom to imagine something different from a position of strength. After years of apprenticeship and stress about career viability, it's nice to be in a place where most of the choices in front of you are good.