I've recently started an acting class (more on that soon), and as it's a beginners class the attendees generally aren't in the industry. One or two would like to write or direct, but generally people are within other careers.
I've been honest and told them what I do. Here's a conversation I had last week after class with a small group:
Them: so what do you edit?
Me: Animation, mostly, at the moment. I have a short film or two coming up on the side.
Them: So where do you go after that? What is it you want to be?
Me: An editor.
Them: No, I mean, would you like to direct?
Me: Nope. I love editing.
Them: But... you already edit. What do you do next?
Me: Edit more. Edit better.
I'm not denying that there are editors out there who have always had their hearts set on directing. After enough sets of bad dailies I have sometimes wanted to make a film under the impression I at least knew a lot of what not to do.... perhaps that's why I'm doing well in animation editing where I have input over the way the framing works, the timing of lines, and the way we actively expect lines to be re-recorded to change performance.
Perhaps it's the lack of perceived credit/ glamour in the eyes of the public that puts the job down? I'd imagine most people on the street would find it very difficult to name any editor. Ask them about directors, and the job becomes much easier. It's true, our sector of the industry does seem to get marginalised (I remember commenting on Twitter one time when I noticed the editorial department credits of a feature film listed below on-set catering) and ACE and MPEG are actively campaigning for greater festival recognition of editors (see editorspetition.com for more information). Editors are traditionally seen as the quiet workers behind the scenes, and that's how a lot like it. But the lack of recognition for the job as a craft, and to want to always learn how to do your job better, does sometimes grate.