"The Road Home" Podcast

Episode 16: A College Education Versus Truck Driving: Not As Simple As You May Think

Welcome to "The Road Home" everyone! This is TruckingTruth's podcast for those considering a career in trucking or trying to survive their first year on the road.

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Episode 16: A College Education Versus Truck Driving: Not As Simple As You May Think

It's a common question we get, "Should I go to college or become a truck driver?" To some that seems like a rather naive and obvious choice. Who would choose trucking over college? Well it turns out I did, and so did a lot of incredibly happy truck drivers. But the road is far more difficult than you might imagine, and it does mean giving up a lot of great opportunities. Here I will share my personal life experiences and explain how I feel you should make that decision for yourself.

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Transcript: A College Education Versus Truck Driving: Not As Simple As You May Think

Hey folks, this is Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth.com and welcome to another episode of our podcast, 'The Road Home', where we help new drivers prepare for life on the road.

Today I want to share my personal experiences and insights into a common question that comes up from time to time - should I go to college or should I pursue a career in trucking? But in this podcast I'm not going to talk about the normal comparisons you'll hear between the cost of schooling, the length of schooling, the loans you'll have to pay back, and the salary you'll make. Those are just simple metrics that involve a few minutes of basic math. Instead I want to go beyond that and give you a little insight into who I am and the choices that I made, and I'll also give you my recommendation for how to make this decision for yourself.

We have an excellent discussion going for this topic in our forum and you'll see a link on our podcast page that says "join the discussion". Click on that and you'll get a lot of great insights from a number of our members about the choices they made, how things worked out for them, and what they would recommend to people considering these two options.

To start with, I'm an incredibly lucky guy who was blessed with really good brains. That isn't something I can take credit for, it was simply good luck. By the time I was 16 years old I was taking a college calculus course and getting straight A's. I was accepted into the Engineering Society at the University of Buffalo before I ever even attended my first day of class, and was also accepted into the Coast Guard Academy where I would have graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant at 21 years old. I could have been a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon or a Coast Guard officer if I had wanted to.

But to be honest, I didn't want to. I went to college for one semester and quit. It was boring as hell and I felt like I was wasting my time. But more than anything I felt like I was missing out on the opportunity to get out there and actually live life, experience the world around me, instead of just spending more years sitting in a classroom.

So in 1990, at 19 years old, I packed my bags and headed to Atlanta where I lived for a while in an old Chevy van with my buddy, who today is helping me run TruckingTruth. We lived in parking lots for a few weeks, ate peanut butter and soup out of cans, and made $4.40/hr to start as temp workers in a warehouse. We were hired full time soon enough at $5.50/hr and we were then able to move into an apartment in the ghetto, where shots rang out one night outside our door, so we moved back into the van and lived once again in a parking lot, but in a safer part of town.

After getting a better apartment in a better ghetto I worked some lousy jobs in the area until I went to truck driving school at 21 years old and got into over the road trucking. As you can imagine, for me to become a truck driver, of all things, was mortifying for my mom, who knew better than anyone that I had opportunities that not 1 in a 1000 people could ever dream of.

That started a 15 year career in trucking that led to a long series of awesome adventures, which included travelling coast to coast and living in the truck, spending some time living in various states, and several forays into other careers. In turn those careers lead to an opportunity to start my own small business, and that's where I stand today, as a successful small business owner.

In my opinion, your decision about whether or not you should go to college should primarily be based upon your personality. You can teach yourself relevant knowledge far more quickly using a combination of online learning and real world practice than you could ever learn in college.

The problem is that no one is going to offer you any opportunities in the corporate world without that piece of paper saying you chased girls, drank a lot, and spent $50,000 in tuition over four years learning almost nothing of value in the real world.

I truly believe that most jobs which require a college degree only do so because the person doing the hiring had to waste tens of thousands of dollars and several years of their life in college, and now so must everyone else. Because the overwhelming majority of people with successful careers will tell you that the most important thing they got out of college was the experience itself, and the friendships they made. Rarely will you ever hear anyone try to convince you that their successes in life were built upon the actual knowledge base they picked up in college.

Now I've had numerous careers and even today I'm pursuing many other skill sets to add to the long list I already have, but traditional schooling is not part of that strategy. However, I do pay for numerous online educational opportunities that mostly involve books, podcasts, and video tutorials. But you see, I don't need a job. I own my own business. So no one cares if I have a graduation certificate or not, they only want to know if we're capable of doing a great job.

So I'm thrilled with my life choices because they work for someone like me who's blessed with an ability to learn pretty much anything on my own and is super highly ambitious. I love adventure, I love taking risks, and I love being challenged in every facet of my being. I also love running my own business for all of those same reasons.

But here's the downside that you have to be very aware of if you're going to avoid going to college and attempt to forge your own path in life. You’re simply not going to be given many opportunities without that college degree, especially in the tech world where I make my living today. Here’s the situation I face, and to be honest, it seems rather ridiculous, but it is the harsh reality.

Now I went through my first computer programming book when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was a 300 page book on the BASIC programming language, which I completed cover to cover, in about 1981 and I was using a Radio Shack TRS-80 at my grandpa's house to do it.

In the late 90's I started pursuing hardcore programming, database, and server administration skills when I was still a truck driver on the road and the Internet was this amazing new thing. I transitioned out of trucking and started TruckingTruth 10.5 years ago and have sat at this computer an average of probably 55 - 60 hours a week all these years, and almost lost my house and went bankrupt early on in the process.

At this point I've learned computer programming in numerous languages, database administration, and linux server administration, all at very high levels and I have over a decade of real world experience running a large, successful website. I've built everything from real-time GPS tracking systems to adaptive learning algorithms to numerous different content management systems. In fact, I have built all of the software from scratch myself that runs this entire website, which handles millions of visitors every year.

And yet, if I needed a job in technology today the corporations would laugh at me. I wouldn't even get an interview because I never graduated from college. Even if they did give me an interview I would fail it in a matter of minutes because I don't know the right lingo and I haven't practiced the odd puzzles and off-the-wall theoretical questions that I'm told they ask in these interviews.

I'm thrilled with the path I've chosen because it's perfect for me. I would rather stab myself in the eye with a pen than be in the corporate world, and the corporate world is glad that I feel that way, I can assure you. I'm fiercely independent, I'm highly motivated, and I'm fearless when it comes to throwing my entire life in the garbage and starting over from scratch in a new pursuit.

Over the years I've been the climber in my own tree service, Harley mechanic, welder, bus driver, truck driver, web developer, factory worker, and warehouse worker. I played guitar for many years, I tinker on the piano, I've started into rock climbing, and I have years of hiking and snowboarding experience. I even raised cows, chickens, and turkeys and had a huge garden for a number of years. I'm now pursuing film, photography, and sound in an effort to add to the web development skills I have, all in an effort to pursue bigger and better business opportunities.

So at this point in my life I can pretty much do anything, except land a decent paying job.

No one would dream of hiring me because I simply didn't take the path employers insist that you should take. So for the rest of my life I will have little choice but to run my own businesses. And I would want to do that anyways, even if some job offer magically appeared out of the blue.

So you don't have to go to college to learn a lot, or to make a lot of money, or to have an amazing life. But you do have to understand that you're giving up a lot of easy opportunities if you don't go to college. You're taking on a much heavier burden and walking a far more difficult path, where you will have to either settle for blue collar work or forge your own path into the business world if you ever really want to have anything.

To survive long term in the business world you have to be highly motivated, adventurous, courageous, creative, adaptable, full of unique ideas, talented, and willing to fight your way along a much more difficult path without any sort of safety net. Choosing to avoid college usually means you're forsaking the easier path into a career for the privilege of making your way through life on your own terms, but you're going to pay a huge price for that privilege.

In the end you have to choose the path that's right for your personality. and don't kid yourself about who you are and what you're prepared to take on.

If you were to tell 100 people to get themselves to the top of a mountain, 90 of them would enjoy a quick and relatively safe ride in a helicopter. Maybe 9 out of the remaining 10 would hike a long but relatively easy path to the top, with a few scary spots along the way. But only one of the original hundred people would just grab a rope and harness and climb straight up the damn thing, risking their life every moment, grinding it out one gruelling inch at a time, for the privilege of having an experience that you simply can't have any other way.

If you're not the kind of person who's gonna grab a rope and climb straight up the damn thing then don't start down that path. It's easy to avoid college by tricking yourself into believing you're ready for the awesome challenge of greater pursuits, when in reality it's because you're lazy or you're bored or you don't want to pay back student loans.

Trucking for me was the right choice because I wanted a challenging life filled with risk and adventure. I wanted every day to be unique and filled with unexpected turns and incredible experiences. I wanted to get out of the classroom and go live life and experience the world around me. I didn't want a benign and mundane life sitting in a classroom for four more years and then a cubicle for ten more after that.

But make no mistake about it, the path I chose was far more difficult than college would have been. I gave up a long list of wonderful opportunities that I will never have the rest of my life. But in the end it has all worked out beautifully for me because I was honest with myself about who I am, I did not cave into the pressure of following the common path that most people follow, and I gladly accepted the struggle, suffering, and sacrifice that came with my chosen path.

Both college and trucking can lead to many wonderful things, but they are starkly different paths with completely different advantages and disadvantages. Some people prefer to chase money, others chase prestige, some want security, while others may chase adventure. In my opinion you should follow the path that you feel suits your personality the best and pursue it with everything you have. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks and don't worry about where you'll be 20 years from now. Worry about living a life that you can be happy with, regardless of your title or your salary or the reaction you'll get from the people around you.

If you decide that trucking is the right path for you and others aren't happy with that choice, well that's their problem. But, if you choose the wrong path in life and you're not happy with it, now that's your problem. Don't let someone else's preferences override your own. Everyone gets their own life to live. Live yours on your own terms. If that means going to college then go for it and get the most out of it. If that means a career in trucking then pursue that career with everything you've got and live it to the fullest. Do what's right for you so that in the end, when the work is done, you can sit back and relax and enjoy The Road Home.

I'm Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth and we'll see you next time.

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