The Ego Becomes The Downfall Of Many CDL Students

by G-Town
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One of the most difficult concepts we attempt to convey at Trucking Truth is humility; allowing yourself to be coachable, especially during school and subsequently with your road trainer. These two traits go hand-in-hand; mutually inclusive.

Humility, as defined in Webster’s online dictionary, means “the state of being humble.” They have their origin in the Latin word humilis, meaning "low." Humble can be used to describe what is ranked low by others, as in "persons of humble origins."

When ego takes charge, disgrace often follows, but with humility comes wisdom.

Decades ago my Grandfather taught the meaning of humility by instilling in me the importance of treating everyone with respect, especially as you are on “the way up”, because you never know if you will eventually need that individual on your “way down”. This approach has yielded very positive results throughout my trucking career, especially during school and training.

Be Humble, Be Coachable

For me the other component of student success, being Coachable, means you're ready to do what it takes to change, transform, improve or excel, whatever that means for you and your situation. Is this possible without a reasonable dose of humility? I don’t believe so.

Someone who's not being humble and coachable will display many different kinds of undesirable behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Always thinking they're right (and more than happy to inform everyone of this fact)

  • Unwilling to learn new things (tough to learn new things when you always think you are right)

  • Not open to change

  • Negativity

  • Pessimism

  • Eye rolling during constructive criticism
  • Inability to self-reflect (the focus is on the other person’s short comings)

  • Don't care about improving their life or relationships 

  • Disrespectful of others and their opinions

  • Generally unwilling to learn, grow or do what it takes to improve

  • Putting other people down
  • Overtly critical of others

When you look at the characteristics of someone who's coachable it's easy to see that they're the individuals who'll succeed in life when it comes to health, happiness and attitude. The way that coachable people interact in the world continually helps them when they're striving for growth, learning and success. The attitude of someone who's coachable is easy going, open and receptive, making anything they want to do in their life seem doable. Many times they become an inspiration to those around them because they get results.

All too often a “CDL Hopeful” enters school, be it paid cdl training program or private truck driving school, with nary a thought on how to conduct themselves as a student. The attention is many times outward; what the school can offer and can it pass their muster, as if the neophyte student actually knows or understands what the litmus test is for a trucking school.

Having the expectation a school will teach us to be top tier truck drivers is pie-in-the-sky thinking and must quickly be reduced. In truck driving school you will learning just enough to pass the CDL exams, and little more.

A student must be coachable and humble to the point of opening their mind to learning, absorbing the information presented, and hopefully applying it with practice, practice, practice and more practice. The rub occurs when a Type-A personality, which many of us are, wants to take control, imposing their will as if they have been there before, offering criticisms consistent with what they know and have experienced in their totally unrelated past.

The ego can be, and many times is the type-A’s worst enemy. Many look at their previous careers as an exalted professional in their chosen field and find it difficult to reduce their lofty esteem and accept the fact that while in school, we are all equal. We all know absolutely “nothing” in the eyes of the instructors and the companies footing the bill. Our previous success and of course failures have no direct bearing on the outcome of schooling or success learning how-to drive and back a truck.

I have said this many times before, there a very few experiences in your life or your previous careers that can adequately prepare any of us for trucking school. Humble acceptance of this very basic fact is a critical success factor for every student.

As many of the experienced drivers on this forum understand, a strong ego rarely produces a positive result and often creates conflict. These students often feel there are shortcomings in the teaching style and content delivery and create a disruption to the learning process for you and everyone around you. We have read countless accounts of students focused on evaluating and critiquing teaching styles and occasionally even the content of the curriculum. This critique is often based on hearsay, like from things they've read on the Internet, and almost never on experience. Evaluating the school’s performance is okay within reason, but when it becomes the focal point and the bane of a student’s existence (and the majority of their CDL training diary content), difficulty and possibly failure is likely.

Diversity In Trucking

Trucking is incredibly diverse. More diverse than any single industry I have personally observed and witnessed, with no boundaries of any kind based on race, color or creed. Just taking a cross-section of the Trucking Truth forum will reveal former business owners, business professionals, engineers, government workers, skilled & unskilled labor, office workers, healthcare professionals, software professionals, retired military, former K-12 educators and most recently a College Professor.

On one hand we have the very young in their early 20s, the seniors at 60+ years, and everything else in between. The playing field is flat and level; anyone can succeed, though few do. And of course anyone can fail, and unfortunately many do just that.

Such diversity is unparalleled in most other industries. Although fascinating and interesting, it creates a monumental challenge for the mere mortals attempting to teach us skills that are like nothing any of us have ever experienced. Many of the instructors are former journeyman truckers thrust into a position of tutoring the future Professional drivers of America without the benefit (in most cases) of previous teaching experience. It’s daunting to say the least and requires the student be acutely aware of how best to fit-in, adjust for success, and not become frustrated because of some preconceived notion of how the school should operate.

Lessons From My Time In CDL Training

I recall my own experience during school at Swift’s Paid CDL Training, at their Richmond Academy. Soon after the basic classroom activities were finished, the driving instructor’s personalities became blatantly obvious. Their personalities were as diverse as the backgrounds of their students; all of us being stirred into the same pot of stew. If not for the stress this created for many, it was at times highly entertaining.

The approach I took to my schooling was very simple; I did not allow my personal opinions or feelings of an instructor’s delivery approach (or crude behavior) to distract me from my ultimate goal. For those of you who know me and my style, repressing my opinions wasn’t always easy, but I resisted the urge and focused on the end-goal. I never unveiled my emotions, be it happy, sad, frustrated or angry. I never provided evidence to any of the instructors that would have them question my motivation or effort. Poker-faced, I was there to learn, nothing more.

For the next 3 weeks, learning was my job for 15 hours a day and I took it very seriously, not allowing anything or anyone to compromise my focus. Noise, Headtrash, and Negativity were effectively squelched from entering any of my thoughts. And believe me, there was a lot of negativity around. The only students I hung out with were of like mind, desiring success, wanting to study after hours, and of course had no interest in idle chit-chat during school hours.

I was not there to make friends or conduct a personal crusade for how I would teach the class or adjust teaching style to fit an individual’s personality or learning deficiencies. No, I was there to learn.

Almost immediately I adopted a very flexible approach to learning that focused on me adjusting to the instructor, not the other way around. Listening to Understand is far more effective as a learning tool than “Listening to Reply.” Most of the time unless asked, there doesn’t need to be a reply unless you have a question or would like to confirm that you understood the content.

Although I did not always agree with the totalitarian style of several of the instructors, I never allowed it to distract me from learning or diluting the material being thrust down my throat. I also believe they all recognized this refreshing behavior in several of us. Besides, I was not the expert, they were, and they made that fact abundantly clear.

I focused on humbling myself. I resisted all temptation to challenge the instructors, thus eliminating many of the distractions that can be a trap for failure. I also focused on being coachable with an open mind towards enabling the teaching process to occur naturally, despite the frequent harsh critiques. I never wavered from the laser focus required to successfully perform the job of professional student.

What became obvious during my steadfast approach was that the intensity level of the teaching style began to ease a bit, to the extent I began to develop solid working relationships with several of the instructors. However, that was not the experience for all of the students, many of whom made it difficult on the instructors to teach them, but made it easy for a forced exit. In fact it happened several times.

I believe many of you are familiar with one of my favorite lines –

“Watch Your Wagon Driver, Watch Your Wagon.”

This was barked throughout the day by one of my favorite instructors, who’s wisdom and pragmatic approach to truck driving remains a foundation for how I conduct my business today. To say that his effect on me was impactful is an understatement. Had I approached him with anything less than respect, humility, and a coachable attitude it’s doubtful his care in my education would have amounted to much more than the ambivalence or going-through-the-motions.

As students we are also not there to teach the class or aggressively assist a failing student at the expense of our own learning, or even worse, possibly creating conflict with an instructor. I know this may sound cold and unfeeling, but I think it’s important to realize that soon after passing the schooling, trucking is really a competition. It’s a competition that starts in the very beginning, the very first day. There's no honeymoon. You're either all in, or not.

Like any competition, there are winners and there are losers. The selection process is swift (no pun intended) and continues to the very end. At the paid CDL training programs this competition amongst students, including each student’s ability to focus and apply effort, becomes an intrinsic part of the overall job evaluation process. The interview, so to speak, begins almost immediately.

Although I have no way of knowing if my simple approach to being a student changed the outcome, I am quite sure it yielded the results I desired and actually exceeded my expectations. Was it the school? Was it the instructors? Or was it me? In summary I think it was some percentage of all three, with the emphasis on the student and knowing when to keep my mouth shut and when to adjust to the individual instructor’s teaching style.

The schooling is all very short lived, over in the blink-of-an-eye, and if nothing else will help build the mindset necessary to be successful long after the memory of driving an old-beater teaching truck fades. The schooling doesn’t last very long so make the absolute most of the time and resources you have available.

Be Coachable, be humble.

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