When I meet new people, I often don't say what I do for a living. I actively avoid talking socially about it. (Funny part is - I love what I do.) It's my little way of protesting that distinctly American phenomena where we "become" what we do - our profession is other people's view into who we are. We lose all the other nuances (chess champion, sword-maker, pilot, etc.) and just become how we earn money. Suddenly, we are one-dimensional people - an elevator pitch through a business card. And then there is the insidious prejudice that happens against those whose jobs are labor-oriented versus white-collar professionals.
I got a little dose of during the holiday season. As part of the fiscal recovery from the divorce, I snagged a part-time temporary retail job. In many ways it was good for me to have a specific place to go, to interact with people in a live setting, to hear about other people whose lives were "better" or "worse" than mine. Since I've been freelancing from home - it also gave my days the structure and purpose that is easy to lose when you are alone. (Plus it helped fill the void of steady income as opposed to the bumps of freelance.)
People I know well - from my church, from various boards I serve on, from places I've worked - frequented the store. A few said hi and chatted for a minute. (Thank you Rita and Mary). Most of them looked through me and never saw me. Far more amusing were the ones who looked away from me, embarrassed and flustered. If they would have asked, I'd have told them that it soothed my soul to create order out of chaos by straightening and folding; that I liked helping people find pretty things for people they love; that I looked at the experience as hopeful about our economy as a whole and my personal situation in particular. Instead, they saw the manual work I was doing, measured it against the executive work they knew I had done in the past, and found my current life wanting.
Money is just a way to take care of the people I love, nothing more. And I don't have any problem earning it with manual labor or mental effort - whatever it takes. In the end, other people may think what they like - I know the truth of who I am. It's far more complex than what I do now, what I've done in the past or may do professionally in the future.
Take-away - Whatever you do to earn a living, it is not your soul. Never forget that.
Update- 10/10/13 - Just read a GREAT LinkedIn article on how to make networking more meaningful.