There are few things in the world that most people will ever do that will test your character more than driving a truck for a living. Everyone and everything from your truck driver training to your CDL examiners, the trucking companies you work for, the challenge of handling a big rig safely, the time away from family and friends, and of course the other drivers on the road, will all push you to your limits sometimes - and those that survive and thrive in the trucking industry are the ones that develop the character needed out there to be safe and enjoy their career on the highways.
The fun will start with the pressure of CDL training. The schooling, although not quantum physics, is not easy. They cram a ton of information into a very short amount of time. And not only do you need to learn the classroom stuff - like DOT rules and regulations, mechanical knowledge, logbooks, endorsement knowledge, etc. - but then you have to learn how to handle a tractor trailer, both driving down the highway and backing up through a series of maneuvers in an obstacle course. Then, after a few weeks of training, you must pass several written tests - and out come the CDL examiners from the State DOT to give you the road test and backing test. Believe me, it's a lot of pressure. If you'd really like to know what it's like to go through truck driving school, follow TruckerMike's day by day account of CDL training. I'd say 95% of candidates make it through just fine, which is great, because that's the easy part.
Then you get hired by a trucking company and you go out on the road for several weeks with an experienced trainer. The personality of these trainers varies from Mother Teresa to Adolf Hitler. You never know what you're going to get. You're new to life on the road, you're sharing a living space the size of a walk-in closet with a stranger, and this stranger has a few weeks to teach you everything they've learned in probably 20+ years of driving that they think you'll need to know to survive out here on the road. More information overload on top of the information overload you had in truck driving school. But most people survive this portion just fine too, and it's a good thing - because that's still the easy part.
Then Hitler or Teresa - depending upon your luck - will decide that you are probably as ready as you're going to get to go out on the road by yourself. So you go back to the company's terminal, take yet another exam for the company, and if you pass it, you get your own shiny truck and you get to head out on the road by yourself. Most people get to this point just fine - which is good - because this is still the easy part!
So you've passed the CDL schooling, passed the company training, and now they give you your own set of keys to your own shiny truck - now you're on your own. This is what you've been waiting for! And it's very exciting! But a part of you sort of wants to throw up. I mean, this is it! You're a real trucker now and you're expected to handle your rig with professional skills and represent your company with a professional attitude. And you fully intend to! But not everybody does so well at it. This is where the tough part begins.
For the first time, nobody is holding your hand. You're given an address to pick up a load, an address to deliver it to, a schedule to do it on, and not so much as a "good luck" or an "'at a boy!" Nothin'. Ok, no big deal, right? Well, to be honest, yes it is a big deal.
You have no solo experience in a big rig, and yet the traffic, the weather, the road conditions, the DOT, the customers, and your company are just as demanding of you as they are of a 30 year veteran like Pappy. It's a ton of excitement, but a ton of pressure too. Let's not kid ourselves, here - there are lives on the line. Not just yours, but everyone around you.
Oh, so you're a woman in a male-dominated industry, eh? Oh, then you should get a break then, huh? I'm sorry to say, but it's going to be even tougher for you. It's totally doable - and tons of women are out on the highways as you're reading this right now and doing just great! But the last figure I saw said that 95% of drivers are men, and if you want to know just how tough it is to make it out there for women truck drivers, we have two of the nicest, most experienced women you could ever have the good fortune of coming across right here at TruckingTruth. Rhonda and Tumbleweed have all of the stories and advice that any woman considering becoming a truck driver or any woman that's new to the trucking industry could ever hope to have!
I could go on for months about all of the qualities and skills you will need to survive that first year on the road and thrive in the trucking industry. But right now I'm going to focus on just one thing - patience. I'm telling you right now - everybody is going to test you because nobody respects a rookie. Why? Well, because you haven't earned it yet.
Even your company is going to push you. They will want to see just how far they can push you and what you can handle. Can they take advantage of you? Can they count on you? Not only are you new to the company, but you're new to the industry, so nobody knows anything about you yet and there's a lot on the line. Big-time money, expensive loads and equipment, and the lives of those around you are just some of what's at stake. This is a business. It's not about making friends, it's about making money. If you can't safely make the company money then you're not an asset to them. So don't look for any loyalty from your company - they're not in it for that. Keep making them money, get along with people, and be safe - that is what they expect of you - and nothing less.
You must be very, very patient out there - especially your first year. Even though the schedule is often tight, you must take your time, keep your distance from other vehicles, and keep your cool. You cannot get flustered by traffic, irritated by a lack of sleep, distracted by your surroundings, or overwhelmed with all the things you have to learn. One small mistake and that could be it.
Even though your company is going to push you and test you for a while, you must take it all in stride, stay with your first company for a minimum of one year no matter what, learn the ropes, and do it all safely. It's a very difficult task, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you ever accomplish. Getting through that first year safely with one company is a major accomplishment for anybody - I don't care who you are. It's not easy at all - but it sure can be exciting!
If you're the adventurous type, if you want a fascinating and exciting career, if you'd like to travel around and see the sights, and you'd like to make good money without a boss looking over your shoulder, then trucking may be perfect for you. It certainly was for me. It was also one of the most challenging and rewarding things I've ever accomplished, and looking back on it all is always just so much fun! But a lot of crazy things will happen to you out there, and the adventures and challenges will never end. The better you get at it, the more enjoyable it gets. The memories you'll have someday will be priceless!
So if you think trucking may be the right career for you, then I say give it a shot! But more than anything else you must go into with the idea that you're going to face a lot of tough situations on a regular basis and that a perfectly safe and successful career in the trucking industry begins and ends with perfect patience. Anything less than that may not be good enough.