Setting realistic goals and expectations before going into trucking is essential if you want a long and healthy career.
Many drivers get burned out before they even give the career a proper chance, and I believe much of that is due to a lack of understanding and preparation. Knowing what you’re getting into can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that come with the first year or two of driving, and make smarter decisions as your career progresses.
Here are four pieces of advice that will help you prepare for your trucking career.
As a truck driver, you’ll have to deal with challenging situations and people. You might expect to be fully independent, but that is not the case. The truth is, you will rely on a lot of other people (customers, dispatchers, recruiters) during your time as a truck driver.
The sooner you figure out how to communicate effectively, the better off you’ll be. Communication will help you avoid problems, negotiate your terms, get better treatment, and forge strong relationships along the way.
Good communication isn’t just about talking to people, it’s also about how you present yourself. Treating others and yourself with respect and dignity will help you get more of what you want out of this career, and avoid some of the pitfalls leading to burnout and disillusionment.
Effective communication in trucking comes down to:
A trucking salary can look like a lot on paper, but your expenses can quickly catch up to you. On the road, you’re likely to spend a lot of money on upkeep – things like feeding yourself, clothing yourself, getting clothes washed, etc. can all quickly add up.
It helps to have a plan and be prepared for all the little costs that can quickly eat into your net pay. Budgeting for meals and other expenses will be extremely helpful in helping you keep more of your paycheck and save money throughout the year.
If you’re a company driver, there are many expenses that you won’t have to worry about; but owning your own truck (or going into a lease-to-purchase program) is a different story. Truck maintenance, repair costs, and more will pile up quickly, and your expenses will be likely to eat up much of your paycheck. Before making any life changing decisions to become an owner op, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into.
When it comes to trucking, many say that driving is the easy part. But there’s a lot more to the job than just driving.
Finding a place to park can be an issue. We wrote about the truck parking shortage here.
If you have a family, you’ll be forced to spend time away from them. That’s hard for a number of reasons that I don’t need to explain.
Beyond that, you might find yourself stuck in traffic, unable to find the customer, or navigating an unfamiliar city. You’ll be faced with a lot of stress.
Facing challenges and being overwhelmed is inevitable, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. Prepare yourself for hardship and learn to take things one step at a time. There’s not much else you can do but stick it out, get better, and eventually become a trucking god (if that’s what you want).
Even though hardship is to be expected, not all hardship is created equal. Some of it is just plain unnecessary and pointless.
In fact, sometimes all you need to get rid of most of your headaches is a change. Changing carriers can sometimes be the best thing you can do for yourself and your well-being.
At the end of the day, you’re driving because you’re looking out for yourself. You need to be properly compensated and treated for the sacrifice of your time and energy. If you feel like your company isn’t straight with you, you should switch jobs.
It isn’t always easy to make the move, and switching jobs comes with stress and uncertainty, but sometimes it really is the right thing to do.
Of course, hopping around too much isn’t looked at favorably within the industry, so it’s important that you make a thoughtful choice when switching jobs.
If you want to find out more about how to switch companies without shooting yourself in the foot, I wrote about finding happiness in trucking to address how to identify a job that ticks all the boxes.
Knowing what to look for when switching jobs increases your chances of finding an employer that you can spend many, many years working for. The grass always seems greener, but a company that treats its employees right is always worth sticking around for.
Remember that you’re entering this career to look out for yourself. You will encounter a lot of challenges, and you will be pushed to your limits.
Whether or not trucking is worth the sacrifices is up to you, but giving up too quickly isn’t advised either. As with all careers, options and opportunities open up with time. In the very beginning, you won’t have the same value or leverage as a veteran driver with a history of safe driving. But that’s fine. You shouldn’t be expecting the highest salary, the best working conditions, and the best treatment right away.
Giving up on trucking shouldn’t be seen as shameful or evil, either. Sometimes the OTR lifestyle is incompatible with your personal or lifestyle needs, and that’s fine too.
You’ll find that trucking is a huge industry full of variety and many, many companies and jobs to choose from. Where you start and where you end up are NOT going to be the same, both literally and figuratively. It’s up to you to make the choice to stick with it, or give up.
However, if you can stomach the challenges, you’ll find yourself in a career like no other and doing something truly important and essential.
Being able to overcome the challenges of the trucking industry is the key to your professional well-being as a CDL driver.
Staying on top of your game will help you make smarter choices, land better jobs, and have a clearer picture of where your career is heading.
We’re here to help you do just that.