I think it really helps to know what it is you ultimately want to accomplish in your career. Unless you have a very concrete vision of your ultimate destination, it is hard to avoid making false moves and wasting time and energy on moving in a direction that will ultimately prove to be a dead-end.
I do have a vision of where I want to get in my career. I don't think that something like tenure can be the ultimate goal. For me, tenure is a means to an end. Of course, I will be very happy and celebrate massively when / if I get it. However, that will only be one of the sine qua non conditions that will help me get closer to my goal. There are academics who never look beyond tenure while on the tenure-track. The tenure process is such a time-consuming, complex and often daunting proposition that it often tends to obscure the fact that one will spend many more years in academia after one gets tenure than on the actual tenure-track (which normally takes between 5 and 7 years.) I know several people who experienced a major letdown and a couple who got seriously depressed after getting tenure. For years, the list of tenure requirements was the organizing principle of their lives. Once it was gone, they had no coherent vision of why it made sense to do research and publish any more. (I felt something very similar after I passed my doctoral comprehensives and was left without a reading list that would organize my existence.)
My ultimate goal (and if you want to make fun of its sheer grandiosity, feel free) is to become a female and non-Marxist Terry Eagleton. What I mean by this is that I want to arrive at a point where I will write books on scholarly subjects that interest me (ideology, identity, feminism) for wider audiences. I chose Eagleton as my model because he manages to write in a way that is accessible to any reasonably educated person who is not a literary critic. He does so, however, without compromising the quality of his ideas. Eagleton doesn't dumb down or simplify. Rather, he uses his incomparable writing style to explain even the most complex matters in a way that makes them easier to understand.
Most people believe that academics live in a world apart, that they condescend to those who are less educated, that they can only speak in jargon that nobody other than them can decipher. I can't say that these opinions are completely misguided. The image of the academia as an Ivory Tower is more relevant today than it has ever been. As I said many times before, I am not a Marxist. I don't believe that economic interests guide people's actions and form the basis of everything that happens in society. History has demonstrated time and again that economic interests are nothing compared to the power of ideas. By locking ourselves in our Ivory Towers and excluding everybody not versed in our jargon from gaining access to ideas, we end up creating a society that will eventually expel academia altogether. We are seeing the beginnings of this process already in a slow erosion of tenure and closures of so many programs on the Humanities.
Yes, politicians do damage to academia and so do anti-intellectual corporate administrators. I love ranting against them as much as the next person. (Read the archives of this blog if you don't believe me.) However, we are to blame, too. There needs to be a greater effort made to bring our ideas to a wider audience. And this is precisely what I want to end up doing.