What Does it Take to Become a Successful Truck Driver?
Why are you choosing truck driving?
Before you consider life on the road, consider why you are making this decision. You may have heard that truck driving has good pay, independence and minimal schooling to get into the trade. While these may be necessarily true, it’s important to take into consideration all aspects of the career before jumping in.
Maybe you have done some extensive online research already and found everything ranging from seasoned road veterans telling you that you have to break your back to earn any amount money and respect to those that dabbled in it and say it is not worth the effort. Like anything you read on the internet, tread lightly and keep an open mind.
Online you will find an outlet for complaints and raw deals. It’s best to find your way to experienced drivers in person or any friends you may have that either are or know truck drivers. Out of the vast network of drivers there are plenty that can offer productive insights and help you make the right decision.
One of the first things to ask yourself is what your goal is in truck driving. Are you looking to start your career with intention of gaining experience and building your way up? Or are you planning to make money to save up and start your own business? Is it something you want to try because you have always been curious and would like to travel and see the country? Whatever your reasons are, be sure you go into this career with eyes open and a plan.
That plan can be as simple as getting your CDL, getting with a company, commit for a year or two to try it out and go from there. The key is going in with a mindset of committing to a plan.
How’s your work ethic?
Regardless of what you have read about and studied; no job is effortless. When it comes to truck driving, you may need to be prepared to put in the extra hours, especially when first starting out. Trucking is an industry where one must “earn their stripes” to land a good position, in a good company, with good pay.
The trucking shortage has led bigger carriers to decrease their requirements in multiple forms leading to many drivers on boarding with minimal experience which in turn can lead to higher turnover. When a driver is committed to their work and can put up with the nuances that come with the job, a good company will see that and be sure to do right by them.
In a great article written by a seasoned trucker, he states: “Here's the truth about getting started as a new truck driver: You alone will determine whether or not you can be successful at this career.”
Truer words couldn’t be spoken, that goes for any job out there but for trucking, it is especially critical. You’re attitude and perspective will make or break how successful you are not just behind the wheel but in you’re everyday like. Trucking just lets you get in some extra practice.
The author mentions setting expectations for yourself high in the beginning, do not expect special treatment just for showing up. Most of those who find themselves miserable in the industry have expected a high return on doing the bare minimum. Over time your reputation will follow you and that can work in your favor or against it. A driver that is consistent, safety conscience and communicates well with their dispatch and company will likely yield higher rewards whether it’s bonuses, more miles, or your manager may be more inclined to give you a preferred route. A driver that consistently complains, believes that everyone has it out for them, and finds no satisfaction in a hard day’s work may not fare so well.
Speaking of communication…
One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself and those around you is learn to communicate well and read the situation right when you start out. Communication is one of the most underrated skills in the industry. You cannot rely on others to read your mind when you need help or are lost on a customer’s yard. For example, if you have been waiting at a shipper for six to eight hours when you typically only wait one or two, it may be a good idea to contact someone there and find out what is going on. This is where the independence of trucking comes in. You won’t you’re your manager or supervisor onsite making sure everything is going smoothly so it’s up to you to take certain situations into your own hands.
Once you have opened a specific line of communication to a customer, your dispatcher, or another driver, your job can be made a lot easier instead of assuming things are certain way and be done with it. Do yourself a favor and brush up on those skills before hopping behind the wheel.
All that being said, you alone are your own advocate. If you have gotten in the industry and find that the work is not suitable for you or your lifestyle, it is easier starting over elsewhere than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
What no one will tell you…
You may have a few fears that keep you from making the decision to go into trucking and it may be time to evaluate if they are there only because of uncertainty and unknown experiences. Here are a few things that will get a couple of those fears out of the way so let’s rip off that band aid.
· You will get lost and that is okay! Getting lost is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is getting lost and not asking for help when you need it. Call your dispatcher, or the customer if you have that resource and permission, and they can get you back on the right track. It is best to stay calm and know that it happens to everyone at some point.
· It is more than just a safety hazard when you don’t get enough sleep, it can affect your entire day. It is necessary that a trucker driver has enough self-discipline to take the time to sleep whenever they can. After a workday and you have your ten hours to yourself, it’s okay to decompress but getting that much needed sleep when you can is something you should work as hard on as you would any other part of your job. If you find yourself at a shipper where you know it will be more than a couple hours of waiting time, it’s ok to head to the bunk and get a quick nap if you’re feeling drowsy.
· Expect the unexpected. It is easy to say that but to experience it is what makes the best truck driver. There may come a time that you’ll have to figure something out on your own whether it’s a leak in an air line or one of the loads you’ve secured isn’t behaving. Most seasoned truck drivers have had to become highway-MacGyvers at some point, so expect to learn a few tricks along your career path that can get you out of a jam without having to call your dispatch.
· The people you meet will be as colorful as they get, from shippers, receivers and even the fellow trucker you may have parked a little too close too. While you should avoid going into trucking with an expectation that everyone you meet will have a destructive attitude, it is important to know that when you do come across someone that seems like they planned to ruin your day from the start, you keep your cool and remember that you are just a small part of their day and you, theirs. Loosing your head and getting into it with whoever is giving you grief will set you on a fast track to an even worse day and possible hold ups during your route.
Let’s be clear that none of what we have listed is expected of a new driver, rather it comes with the miles. The more you are out on the road, the more you learn how best to handle the situations thrown your way and the easier it gets.
If that interests you…
There are a lot of things to consider when making the decision to get behind the big wheel and we have covered more of these here. But the best way to really know is to try it. Get your CDL and find yourself a company that fits your needs best then get out there on the road and find out what the trucker life is all about. You may not have the luxury of a cozy cubicle and a break room with vending machines as a truck driver, but maybe looking out your windshield to a vast landscape ahead of either mountains, plains or rivers alongside meeting some of the most interesting people might supplement those fluorescent lights. If you find yourself not wanting to stay in one place for long and can handle the occasional adventure, you might be suited for a truck driving career.
Looking for your next move?
If you have some experience under your belt but searching for something better, give Meadow Lark a call today and see what awaits you! We encourage to ask all your questions, talk about your goals, where you want to be and become part of our family that has been supporting drivers like you since 1983.