This week, I was going through security in an airport, and was too short to reach over and get a gray bin from the stack behind the counter where we were all removing our laptops, shoes, and clear ziploc bags with < 3 oz. containers of liquids and gels. A tall man behind me reached over and shoved the stack closer, where we could all reach them easily, and I thanked him. He ignored me, but smirked at his friend next to him and said "Lead, follow, or get the hell out of my way.", which I believe is a slight reinterpretation of a quotation by Thomas Paine, and perhaps more recently a self-help book title. Somehow, I don't think this inspirational leadership mantra was intended as a means for tall men to insult short women.
On the plane, I sat next to a very polite and pleasant man who, when he saw me working on some papers, asked me what I do. I told him that I am a science professor (specifying my field of science). His first guess was that I teach at a community college. Nope. His next guess was that I teach at a local small college. Nope. His next guess was that I teach at a small church-affiliated university in the region. Nope. Finally I said that I am a professor at the Big University of X. He was surprised because he has a neighbor who was a professor there, and this neighbor was a very distinguished man who wrote a famous book. And his point was.. what?
The amazing thing is that I know his distinguished neighbor (long-retired), and I teach a class that he used to teach. By any measure (# of papers, grants, books, citation indices, honors etc.), I am more successful than the distinguishd professor ever was in his long career, but I will never be distinguished. I will never look it and I will never act it.
I once went on a lecture tour as a Distinguished Lecturer for a professional society. At one airport, I waited and waited for someone to meet me, and after a long wait, I was paged. It turns out that the student sent to pick me up had been waiting in the same place I was, and had seen me, but it hadn't occurred to him that I could be the distinguished professor he was supposed to meet.
8 years ago