How to tell when you are past ‘it’

Although I am not entirely sure what ‘it’ is, I think it refers to no longer being in any sort of light, let alone a limelight (though I am not sure what that is either!) Anyway, it just occurred to me that I have not been asked to speak to any group, prestigious or not, for at least five years. I acknowledge I am about to be 86 (how could I do otherwise?) and I hasten to insist that this note is not a thinly disguised way to finagle an invitation that I would almost certainly decline. The issue at hand is an intellectual exercise: how do academics conclude that they have reached a point where few, if any, have an interest in anything they might have to say or write? Clearly, the absence of invitations to speak is one convincing indicator. Another might be an absence of invitations to review papers even for ‘good’ journals, because I have a hunch most editors are so desperate for a reasonable (and reasonably prompt) review that they will ask almost anyone. That may explain why I keep being invited to review but also why I don’t consider reviews to invalidate my ‘past it’ hunch. Are there other indicators? Possibly another is when colleagues at some social or professional gathering stare at your name tag trying to remember who you are ? Or maybe it is when your children are unimpressed by all the famous people you once knew because they are not old enough to know who they were! Really, however, it is likely you are truly past it when you suddenly discover that you actually do have time to write that memoir, read all the books and magazines that have piled up, or listen to your favourite concerto. Or, better still, get back to playing the piano every day no matter how badly you do so. One way or another it is almost certain you will get the message. Once you do, accept it graciously and remind yourself of all the other things you promised you would do when you had ‘more time’. For the record, though, I have followed my own advice and try to do all the things on that list but there is still not enough time!

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