Blue vs. White

Here’s one you may not have considered: Is it better to be a working stiff or a suit if you’re an entrepreneur who’d rather be working for himself than the man anyway?

Entrepreneurial types tend to gravitate towards management (suit), but does that really serve their greater goal? Managers tend to spend long hours on the job and usually get paid on salary (which means no overtime). Where’s the time to make yourself rich?

My Prism

I see the business world divided into two groups: working stiffs and suits. “Suit” doesn’t necessarily mean they wear a suit to work every day; it’s a metaphorical term for someone who makes the decisions and delegates work to the stiffs.

Under my definition, an airline pilot is a stiff, the same as a coal miner. Each does the job they were hired to do with little say over the larger decisions, such as which routes to fly or where to dig.

“Stiff” Characteristics

Hourly Pay
Repetitive Tasks
Supervise Few or No People
Make Local Decisions
Gets Delegated to
Limited Upward Mobility


Airline Pilot
Flight Attendant
Construction Worker
IT Professional
Film/TV Editor

“Suit” Characteristics

No Overtime
Varied Tasks
Supervise Several People
Make Global Decisions
Expanded Upward Mobility


Restaurant Manager
Airline Supervisor
Construction Manager
IT Supervisor
Film/TV Producer

Risk and Reward

The decision of which path to choose is a big one. If you’re a GeniusTypes reader, you probably have high expectations. Anyone who is looking for online income obviously wants bigger and better things. If you choose to be a stiff and the online income thing doesn’t work out, you risk being a stiff for the rest of your life. If you choose to be a suit and never have time to create online income, you risk working for “the man” for the rest of your life.

Even more powerful are the sociological beliefs that we and our peer groups have about our career choices. If you come from a family of college graduates, you might be expected to pursue a white collar career. Conversely, if you come from a blue-collar family, being a “suit” might be looked down upon.

To get where you want to go, it’s important to get past your beliefs about career issues and choose the path that serves your goals the best.


A lot of creative types work in the service industry as waiters and bartenders. In New York, LA, and Austin (all of which I’ve spent time), when someone says they’re an actor; it’s usually followed by a tongue-in-cheek “which restaurant do you work at?”

Service jobs fall under the “stiff” category, which serves artists well. The jobs are flexible, the pay is relatively decent, and the job doesn’t require much responsibility. An actor or writer can pay their bills with a bar job and spend the rest of their time creating art (which probably doesn’t produce much income).

I’ve been around the bar/restaurant scene long enough to see many artists face the same dilemma: after several years in the service industry, without much success as an artist, they’re given the opportunity to go into restaurant management.

It’s usually a tough decision. Their friends and family have been pressuring them for years to get a “real job,” and management looks much better on a resume. On the other hand, managers spend endless hours at the restaurant which leaves less time to pursue their art.

To complicate matters, entry-level restaurant managers often make less than waiters and bartenders on an hourly basis. The trade off being they have more power and the chance to eventually become the General Manager of their own restaurant: a job that pays pretty well.

In my experience, choosing restaurant management means the end of their dream as an artist. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. If they weren’t ever going to make it as an artist, perhaps it’s a good thing.

Entrepreneurship as an Art

Entrepreneurs are creative types with a little more business sense than the average artist (notice I said “little”). Therefore, entrepreneurs face many of the same challenges as artists. The rewards for their passion can be massive, but the risk is great.

In the restaurant example above, you could easily exchange “real estate investor” or “bulk candy vending entrepreneur” for “artist”.

Film/TV Business

A similar thing happens in Hollywood. Everyone’s first job is always PA (production assistant), which is definitely a “stiff” job; but after that you have to choose if you want to start on the path to producer (suit) or specialized labor (stiff).

It’s an interesting dilemma, and your choice will depend on either your personality or objectives. Producers get to call the shots. They have all the power in Hollywood, but they don’t necessarily have all the money. Think about it: who gets paid more, actors or producers? In most cases, actors do. Until you get to Jerry Bruckheimer’s level and you own the joint, you won’t make as much as a highly specialized stiff.

Being a paid actor might just be the greatest “working stiff” job on the planet. They get paid ridiculous amounts of money to have fun all day, but they don’t get to call the shots… producers do.

On a lesser scale, the same thing happens with other specialized jobs. In post-production, editors get paid much more than producers. I’ve worked in edit bays where the editor is getting paid over three times as much as the producer, but the producer is controlling the editor’s every move.

Some producers do it because they love the power. They would gladly give up the money as long as they can boss people around all day. I’m just the opposite: I’ll do anything you want, as long as I’m getting paid three times as much as you.

Editors get paid a certain amount of money because the art of editing is a specialized skill that few people possess. They need to have the technical skills of an I.T. professional AND the creative skills of a storyteller. The “suits” hire the editors for an hourly rate and tell them what to do. If an editor works more than 8 hours in a day, they get paid overtime. If a producer works more than 8 hours, they may not.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with choosing the producer route; it just depends on your objectives. If you plan on running the studio some day, then producer is where you want to be.

Airline Business

The same thing happens at airlines. Airline pilots have a specialized skill that few people have and they get paid for it. I once knew a pilot that made $500 an hour.

It’s a high-paying profession, but it’s still a “stiff” job. Most of the pilots I’ve talked to say it’s actually pretty boring. After you take off, the plane flies itself (it will even take off by itself if you want). On a seven hour flight to Europe, pilots kill time by reading the newspaper and turning a little dial every once in awhile to change course.

Pilots punch the clock like any other stiff… they just get paid more.

An Interesting Idea

Consider your objectives when choosing a career path. If you’re an entrepreneur who hopes to create online income streams in your spare time; your only criteria for getting a day job might be this: the one that pays the most for the least amount of time spent.

You need to make enough to have some left over to invest, so stay away from minimum wage “stiff” jobs. There are plenty of specialized labor jobs that pay well. Think bartender, pilot, editor, etc. Even construction workers make a rather decent hourly wage.

If you choose this path, it’s important to stay focused. If you forget to put money away to invest in your entrepreneurial ventures, then maybe you would have been better off as a suit. I know more than a few actors/waiters who never found time to act. It’s a pretty crummy feeling to have spent many years in a “stiff” job without anything to show for it.

Check the Ego

When I was starting out in the career world, I had a mental block towards “stiff” jobs. I worked at an airline for awhile and briefly considered going to flight school. I ultimately decided that I wouldn’t be happy as a pilot because I wanted more control. I saw myself as more of an executive type who told the pilots what to do. (is that crazy or what?.. for $500 an hour, I could have controlled just about anything I wanted).

That’s the thing about life experiences: they make you who you are. Because of that experience, I didn’t make the same mistake the next time around. I joined the TV/Film industry four years ago and was told that I could pursue any career path I wanted. It was tempting to take the producer route… but I chose the path to editor.

(Featured Photo by David Blackwell. )