My friend Maddie has a great habit that I try to emulate: when she meets someone, through friends or at a party, she eventually gets around to the question, "So, how do you spend your time?" rather than the much more common, "So, what do you do?" It's a subtle distinction that speaks volumes, and a conscious acknowledgment that (a) especially at the current economic moment, plenty of people aren't "doing" anything as a regular, 9-to-5 gig, but they're still doing plenty and (b) you are more than the sum of your duties at work.
I'm fortunate to have a job that I love, writing for a magazine that tells visitors about all the great facets of St. Louis. It's fun, challenging and changes every day. (It also lets me be out of the office a lot, checking on what's going on, an aspect that I don't take lightly!) But at the end of the day, my job is not my life I spend at least as much time on The Commonspace, both the online magazine and the real-life community center, for example, plus countless other little projects that I seem to get entangled in. It's a trend I've noticed quite a bit among my peers these last few years, this unwillingness to let our lives be dominated by the thing we happen to trade some hours every day for money. The phrase "day job" has become ubiquitous, as people try to point out that they are not solely their occupations.
It's an encouraging sign, I think, that so many people do have significant interests (beyond TV) outside of their work. Interest groups, political activism of all stripes, neighborhood movements and civic connectivity all happen because a few people care enough to get out of their cars, their great rooms or their entertainment-center dens to be a part of something important with other people. (It's still an uphill battle, this swimming against the bowling-alone tide: my sister-in-law recently told me that when she explained The Commonspace's "public living room" concept to a friend, the friend replied, "Don't all those people have living rooms in their own houses??")
The other side of the coin is encouraging, too: rather than pack it all in for a life of either work drudgery or sheer craven capitulation to whichever brand of investment banking/real estate/plastic sales will win them the most coin, younger (and some older) people seem to be seeking out a day job they can feel great about. Lots of people of my acquaintance, lucky ducks all, have given up perfectly okay jobs, or just taken on a huge risk to get closer to their dreams: publishing a local newspaper, running an art studio, helping the city's underprivileged, creating a new performance festival, fixing our schools. It's refreshing to see the combination of actual skills and experience meet up with dewy-eyed idealism. It might just change the world.
And if not, there's always the day job.