It is tough to answer because it implies a presumption that is wrong much like “when did you stop beating your wife?”. Technically speaking, what I do to live is to eat, sleep, and keep in shape physically and mentally. However, most of us do at least two of these, so that is not really an answer.
What the question really implies is what do you do to get the money to pay your way? Well, I make small withdrawals from my investment portfolio. Awkward silence! Obviously the question was intended to neatly group me into some preconceived notion which would save the person, asking the question, a lot of mental effort in trying to find out who I am e.g. “Oh, so you’re an accountant” (thinking stand-up citizen, well off on the socioeconomic scale, maybe a little boring). Now, they’re thinking whether I’m a dot com millionaire or a trust fund baby or something. No, not at all. So how come they have to go to work and in the words of your enterprising friends “create alternative income streams” to further increase their spending when I don’t. Well, I don’t really spend much money and I have saved a lot.
(explains the concept of saving money until the person looks at me as if I’m from another planet and I start wondering if I actually am from another planet)
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, I got … (long list of obligations)”
So what do you do now that you don’t have to work?
Well,…I work (I like to provide value to people(*))
- full time (salary) as a researcher in an unspecified place and field.
- part time (unpaid) as a director in a nonprofit.
- freelance (sole proprietor) as a copyeditor on a technical journal.
- on this blog of mine (unpaid). You should check it out, maybe?
Obviously real conversations with their 5 second sound bites never go this way. Instead I skip right to the bottom and list one of the four, typically the first one. This satisfies the person’s need to classify me based on my employment status and lets the person believe that I am one of them.
(*) Curse this idealistic streak of mine!
Maybe I should handle this differently, but how?