I'm with Kelly, it has been a wonderful living for me and my family.
I went to work full time at a bodyshop one week after graduating high school in 1977. Getting Married in 1979 (first wife) and she never had to work, my forever wife whom I married in 91, never had to work. And we live in the SF bay area, it ain't cheap here. I own a home and pay my bills and save a little all on my income, so yes you can make decent money.
But aside from the money, I honestly can compare it with an actor or someone else in the arts, I have enjoyed what I do for a living for 35 years. I have not limited myself to one part of it, I have done most everything in the industry from used car junk work, full on restoration and custom, paint and body, late model collision, parts sales for a year (couldn't make good money but I loved it) a paint rep where I traveled here and there and had a territory that covered a good part of California including up in the redwood country of the northern areas. I owned a shop, estimated, everything. I have been at the same very large family owned shop for the past 12 years with 8 in the shop three in the office and now a year or so as the partsman. This is a very large shop where we do about 3.5 $million a year in sales. I am open to learning anything new and because of this I could go anywhere in the country and find a job, in a heart beat.
One of my friends who left high school and went right into law enforcement retired, I am ten years away from that. I was talking to another old friend of mine who had also went into law enforcement and when I was telling him how I should have went into law enforcement too (we studied the subject together) he said I couldn't be more wrong. He told me "our friend was retired after 35 years of cleaning vomit out of the back of his patrol car, at seeing the world in the worse possible light, at seeing mothers beat up in front of their children. While you have enjoyed what you do, you have made show cars, you have won awards, you have traveled, you have fixed peoples cars when they were in a very bad time, made things better for them. Brian he said, you have enjoyed the last 35 years and if you need to work 10 more so what, you enjoy it, you are the lucky one, I wish I would have done that."
And I know he is right, I have really enjoyed it, every day of it. One of the greatest things that ever happen to me was meeting someone at a shop near mine when I was in my twenties who enlightened me on protecting my body. I wish I could find her now, I have tried but can't, I owe her a lot. I am as healthy as a horse (thank God) because I protected myself from the harmful things we work with. And I am damn thankful my mom bought me that spray gun for a graduation present.