I have an idea, a part of answer, about this. Basically, I guess it's about expanding notions of what one "does" and how one defines oneself around and beyond the title of associate professor.
I grew up in a university town, so it's been clear to me for a pretty long time that "being a professor" is a great gig. Even as I've sunk into the long haul of a phd program and even as I've confronted painful realities about the academic job market and the future of the academy as a profession, while it has made clearer to me that this job ain't for everyone, I've never stopped wanting to do it myself. But in confronting the daunting career prospects, I've also began to see (coincidentally really, but perhaps also as a strategy) that there are many other compatible things one can do (and do well) along the way to, on top of, and (if need be) instead of being a professor.
What does this mean? Well, to me it means that I've realized I like writing about interesting things enough to write about them much more often (and in much more simple terms) than most academic publishing careers allow, so I've embraced the idea of blogging, twitter, and writing for more 'popular' publications, not just as a distraction, but as something I enjoy and identify with. The same can be said for photography, which I've incorporated into my academic work but is also something I can really identify with 'doing'. I don't expect either of these passions/identities/jobs to disappear just because I get tenure or something, in fact I hope I'll have even more time for them.
Another example, even more directly related to my academic work, is the connections I've started to make in the world of art, architecture and design in terms of writing, speaking, acting, and event curating. Having been invited this year to join a team putting on an international architecture and design exhibition as a result of my research in sociology makes me confident that these sorts of unexpected, exciting, and extremely fulfilling non-academic opportunities are out there and can still be totally tied to academic work.
These things are specific to my own experience, but anyone can chase such opportunities, and indeed I think they should. Perhaps the most obvious general activity to spice up an academic's life and identity is activism! We think of people like Francis Fox Piven or Norman Finkelstein who are defined by their activism, but many academics (and not just social scientists!) are fulfilled by fighting for the causes they believe in.
Again, this is not the answer for everyone, and I concede it's a pretty roundabout, off the rim attempt at a solution to improving the lives of dismal associate professors in general or broadly. But for me it offers a great deal of hope in the face of articles like this that there are many fulfilling ways to put one's interests, passions, knowledge and academic training to work beyond "just" researching and teaching.