My wife and I were having a conversation about retirement and income planning the other day, and the conversation turned to my job and the amount of time I spend away from home.
“I never fully understood what attracted you to truck driving. I never saw it as something you would do. What made you do it?” she asked
“We needed the money,” I replied.
My wife simply nodded her head in confirmation. Since that conversation took place, I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy thinking about those four simple words – “we needed the money” – because it’s what propelled me to spend the last two decades in the cab of a truck.
I did not have a master plan or boyhood dream of driving a truck for a living. My wife and I had plans and dreams but they were dashed 20 years ago. We were sinking.
We had folded up our retail business in the Spring of 1998, our funds were exhausted, and we needed the money. There was nothing sexy or exciting about my decision. We needed an above-average income and we needed it fast. Truck driving kept jumping up in front of me as I searched for a source of income.
So here I am, almost 20 years of driving under my belt, and I think my story is repeated more often than we like to think about in this business. The one constant over the course of my career is that carriers never stop looking for qualified drivers.
I think this is why we always talk about truck driving as a lifestyle choice – because if it’s not in your blood, you simply don’t survive for any length of time. Driver turnover is a constant, as new drivers to the industry discover they simply don’t have the mental stamina or patience to deal with the constant demands a driver faces living on the road.
For some people, no amount of money is worth the emotional rollercoaster that is a truck driver’s life. Of course, if it’s in your blood, if you’re born into it, you probably wonder why anyone would not want to enjoy the independence this work offers.
Think of trucking on a scale of one to 10. If you enter this business solely for the money and driving is just a job – a means to an end – then you would be a one on the scale. If all you ever dreamed about is driving a truck and everything trucking is what you live for, then you would be a 10. Most of us that have been driving for any length of time fall somewhere in the middle to upper middle of that scale. Anyone that scores under a five rarely makes it past the first year.
The big problem the trucking industry is facing is that the business does not attract potential drivers that would score eight to 10 on my theoretical emotional scale.
Those drivers are grown organically. They are the product of family trucking businesses.
I believe that is where the driver lifestyle is formed. Many of those family businesses are being absorbed by larger corporate trucking businesses and that source of organic growth is drying up. A dying breed? Perhaps. That’s just my feeling as a longtime driver – not a definitive fact.
The late Stuart Mclean of CBC Radio fame used to say of his show, The Vinyl Café, that it celebrated the importance of the unimportant. The little things in our lives that really matter to us. For me those little things revolve around family. Being separated from family is my biggest challenge as a driver. That separation triggers all kinds of emotional issues for me, especially since grandchildren have come into my life.
Money was the motivation that opened the door to trucking for me but it’s my carrier that recognizes the importance of the unimportant that keeps me here. We need more of that.
Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross
canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.
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