We spend a lot of time at TruckingTruth trying to help folks understand how to succeed as a new truck driver. We realize the problems that people will face, and we despise the crazy misleading information that is readily available when people start getting online to try to educate themselves about the career.
We stress to people that they need to stick it out with their first trucking job for one full year. There are some really valid reasons why that is a profitable strategy, therefore we try to prepare folks for the inevitable difficulties they will experience during that first year. I'm hoping I can lay out for you a few of the things that you'll want to prepare yourself to face when you are getting your truck driving career started so that you won't become one of the many folks who throw in the towel early on.
Getting started in the truck driving career is not like just switching jobs, it is more akin to moving to a completely new and different culture. It is a total change in lifestyle. That in itself catches many people off guard. They think,
“Hey, I need a job, and everywhere I look there are truck driving jobs available. Trucks are pretty cool, I think I'll be a truck driver!”
That sounds reasonable. What does not seem reasonable are the sacrifices that we soon realize professional truck drivers make while pursuing this career and lifestyle. Let's take a look at what kind of things the average truck driver is faced with and how they affect his ability to stay with it for that first year. And let's just realize that this short article will not cover all of the things that cause these rookie year problems, but I want to kind of give you a primer of what you can expect so that you know what you're getting yourself into. Sometimes knowledge is power, but if your knowledge is really only misguided or irrelevant information it can be hurtful. I want to share with you some good solid information that I hope will help you get off to a good start.
It is very easy to get focused on all the wrong things. If you know what your end goal is then that is where you want to focus. Don't allow all the trivial little irritations to side track you from your goal.
We hear people complaining about the way their recruiter acted on the phone, and they make this huge irrational jump from there to claim that this is the culture of the company.
We hear reports of how difficult a personality their driver trainer is, and they somehow view that as a reflection of the company. Everyone is already on the alert and as nervous as they can be that the company is going to treat them badly because that is the kind of nonsense you hear all over the internet.
This is what I mean about irrelevant, misguided information being considered as reliable knowledge. It is not helpful, and it destroys many trucking careers before they even get started. There is a 5% success rate among new entry level drivers, and the other 95% are the ones who everybody takes advice from when pursuing this career. It makes no sense at all, yet we struggle against it day and night. You will struggle with it as a new driver, and I want to warn you ahead of time to be prepared. If you let it grab your focus, you are doomed to fail.
Focus on the end goal. Do what it takes to get through all the little irritating things that you don't necessarily find enjoyable and get yourself set up to go solo in your own truck. Once you've gotten yourself to that point you can then focus on the next goals.
We mentioned having a difficult time with your trainer. That is a common scenario – be prepared for that. I had a terrible trainer. I was miserable with him, but I didn't let it deter me. It was a temporary situation, and I decided I would deal with it as best I could. I focused on getting through that time period and moving on to the next level.
You know what? I have been a very successful truck driver. My miserable trainer had no negative effects on my ability to excel at this career. Your trainer can in no way fully prepare you for everything you are going to face out here on the road, and you should not expect that time period to make you proficient at this career. It is really just a probationary period, sort of like having training wheels on a bicycle.
You are starting out with another person in the truck with you so you don't screw up too badly. The whole design of being with that trainer is to ease you into this profound new responsibility you have taken on. Once they think you can handle being alone at the helm they will turn you loose, and you will be scratching your head wondering, “Am I really ready for this?” More than anything that trainer is there to help you understand company procedures like turning in your paperwork, communicating with dispatch, and how to handle fuel purchases and breakdowns on the road.
Recently we had someone in our forum who was still upset that they had not been trained properly to back their truck into a parking spot. They were actually going to leave their company, and go find a different trucking job in the hopes that this new company would train them how to properly drive backwards in a truck.
Here's the kicker – they had been working for this company for a full year! They were patting themselves on the back for sticking it out for one year, yet they were still focused on their perceived lack of training. Good grief people, you can teach yourself how to back a truck into a parking spot. That is what we all do. It's called “practice makes perfect.”
This is the kind of stuff that you cannot allow yourself to fixate on. This person was miserable because they were still fixated on their training experience. They could have easily remedied this problem with a little self initiative, yet they wanted to lay the blame on their company, and it has made their career choice a miserable one.
Every one of us has trouble backing a big rig, but we just take it slow and easy and we look at each time we get to back that beast up as a learning experience. We sometimes have to laugh at ourselves, but each time we go through the exercise we pay attention to what is happening back there and we learn from it.
If you think spending three or four weeks with a trainer is going to make you an expert at backing a big rig, you are greatly mistaken. It is going to take you a good year or three before you feel confident in your backing skills. It is a motor skill that has to be developed. I mean, the trainer can tell you that to get the trailer to turn left you steer to the right and to go right you turn left, but beyond that it just takes time and exposure. This is a big deal that causes people to stumble. You will be expected to figure a lot of this stuff out on your own. It will be covered in training, but there is no way that you will feel proficient at it.
This is a big deal for new drivers. We spend weeks at a time out here on the road, and we go through three or four states a day sometimes. We are constantly living a nomadic lifestyle and we seldom ever see anyone that we know or have any type of relationship with. That is a big shock to some people.
I am not embarrassed to tell you that I actually burst into tears a few times while out on the road as a rookie driver. The loneliness would just hit me sometimes all of a sudden unexpectedly. Thankfully we have all sorts of ways we can communicate with one another nowadays, but the lack of human touch and interaction was a big shock to my sensibilities at times.
I would get really focused on what I was doing and sometimes the complete lack of meaningful interaction with another individual was overwhelming. This is one thing that kills this career for newbies. We don't even think about it. We are focused on how much fun we are going to have traveling around the country, and then one day it just catches up with us and slaps us in the face. This is a big career killer for some, and I want you to be prepared for it to catch up with you at some point.
This is huge. I don't even know if I should list some false expectations or not, but I want you to be prepared for this to be a big contributing factor of what will make you want to abort your trucking career early. Let's go ahead and make a simple list, just to get you thinking about the kind of things I'm talking about.
We already mentioned the false expectations from the training experience – that is a big one that trips up a lot of people. Sometimes we have false expectations of how much money truck drivers make. I can't tell you how many times I have seen people quit over that matter. It is disturbing too, because you will pretty much measure out your own pay in this career. Our pay is performance based, and that is where you will determine your level of pay.
I heard a terminal rat recently complaining about their pay and they said they went and had a meeting with their dispatcher about it. The meeting infuriated the poor driver because the dispatcher told him that truck driver pay was “performance based.” Apparently that was the first that driver had ever heard of that concept.
Many new drivers have false expectations concerning how many miles they will be running each week. Here again is where that irritating idea of performance comes into play again. The drivers who prove themselves each week and get things done on time will be rewarded with the best loads and end up turning the most miles.
We cannot expect ourselves as rookie drivers to be consistently turning out the big miles. It takes time to get ourselves on our dispatcher's list of “top tier drivers.” It takes time to learn how to manage our clock so that we have time to pump out some big miles. It also takes time to just build up the stamina to handle the big miles. We can't expect ourselves to just jump in here like seasoned veteran professionals right from the start. False expectations are a big deal for new drivers and I hope I've given you a little idea of what to watch out for.
This is another thing that catches some newbies by surprise. The hours that we put in are long and erratic. There is no set schedule to this job like there are at most other jobs. We sometimes work all night, we sometimes work all day, it just depends on how our loads dictate.
We work basically the equivalent of two full time jobs. This bothers some people. We do a lot of work that is not necessarily paid for like you would normally expect at an hourly job where you are paid for the time that you spend at the job. I've seen people quit this career because they weren't getting paid for the time they spent sleeping in their truck! Somehow they think they should be getting paid like they're acting as the security guard of the company's property. It is usually the same people who can't understand the whole "performance pay concept" that come up with these crazy ideas.
My main point here is that often times the effect of fatigue will influence a new driver to hang up their keys early. It can be a very tiring job at times. The unusual hours that we work and the erratic sleep patterns take a toll on some people. It takes some getting used to it at first and the very effects of fatigue have caused some people to decide this career is just not for them.
My main purpose in putting this together was to help you be prepared for some of the things that may surprise you as you start this new career. It can be quite a rude awakening at times. If you are prepared a little bit for some of the surprises that will affect your ability to keep some “skin in the game,” then I'm betting that you can keep yourself in the driver's seat.
The main thing is to keep your goals in focus. Don't let yourself get sidetracked by the little distractions. It takes a good while to gain your stride in this career. It is worth the effort, but the effort has to be continued for some time before you'll be proficient at trucking.
I thoroughly enjoy my life as a road warrior, and I hope you can too. Don't let the things that sidetrack most rookie drivers throw you off course before you get to the point where you are enjoying this new lifestyle.