A senior colleague in a field closely related to mine is about to retire. Here are some excerpts from a personal email I received from this scholar*:
As I look back on my career in academia, the greatest regret I have is that I didn't prioritize my research as much as I could have. I know that I could have done a lot more, made a greater contribution to my field, published more consistently. The world of academia offers so many activities and imposes so many obligations that seem designed to entice us away from our desks, from our unfinished manuscripts, from that eternally terrifying blank page it is our calling and our duty to fill. It is never too hard to find convincing, seemingly valid reasons why this difficult and often painful work needs to be postponed. "Just one moment more, executioner, just one little moment more," we plead in the style of Madame du Barry faced with the guillotine whenever we find ourselves in front of that blank page. This, however, is the greatest mistake made by so many scholars. . . Your are still very young, and your life as a scholar is just beginning. Since you asked for advice, here is the best suggestion I can offer: do everything in your power to make a name for yourself as a specialist in your field. Your record of publications will be the bulwark that will protect you in times of strife and uncertainty, give you security, respect, and ultimately, yes, power. There are institutional humiliations that become harder to accept as you age. . . The only way you can prevent the work of a lifetime from being undermined by these kinds of pressures is by ensuring that your name carries enough weight to shield you.
*Of course, I requested and received permission to publish this text anonymously on my blog. I translated it into English, so all verbal infelicites should be attributed only to me.