I am a mechanical engineer that used to make a good living as a self employed machine designer. The downturn in the automotive sector has forced me diversify what I do for money, I now spend more than half my working day building or repairing things in my shop which was originally just a hobby shop. Despite the fact that I make a bit less money now, I am happier and love to go to work each morning. Perhaps because most people I interact with know my background, I feel no less respected by other people than I did when I worked on a computer all day, in fact I think the opposite might be the case.
I have designed some pretty complicated automated machines with hundreds of components but the greatest satisfaction I have found is in repairing things that others have thrown away. I am convinced that someday our culture will swing back towards being less tolerant of waste.
The above could have been written by myself, but as England is nearly over I'll probably never design a multi process machine tool ever again.
Ive run my own shop for 12 years now and definitely dont feel like Im doing any lesser job that requires any less brainpower or knowledge.
I hate the expression work with your hands and this belief was brought home when a customer last month( a tax man!!) said he wished he had been a machinist/fabricator as it seems nice easy work with no brain required at all.
I told him the old saying about a man who works with his hands is a laborer, but a man who uses his hands and BRAIN is a tradesman , he disagreed