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The trucker is a venerable figure in the mythology of the United States. Part-cowboy, part-laborer, and all-American, truck drivers are usually held in high esteem by the public, and rightly so. Truckers’ jobs are tough, requiring physical, mental, and spiritual strength to endure seemingly unending hours on relentless American roads. Having worked in the industry for more than a decade, I can safely proclaim that life as a trucker is unique in the world — for more good reasons than bad. Here are six of my favorite lessons I learned directly from my years behind the wheel.
1. You Can Go Farther Than You Ever Expected
Almost everyone has dreams of seeing the world, but only a few ever manage to get out and do it. Travel is expensive, and the cost of transportation, lodging, and sustenance only continues to rise. However, as a trucker, you have the opportunity to get paid while you explore the country around you. After my first year, my travel log was overflowing with pushpins marking my destinations. Inevitably, you will travel through every one of the Lower 48 states — from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, from hot desert to freezing blizzard, and from congested city to wide-open countryside.
2. Planning Is Always Worthwhile
Though modern truckers have dispatchers who chart their every move, I began my career with significantly more liberty to choose my routes, my speed, my stops, and more. However, in return for this independence, I was responsible for getting my truck to certain locations on time and in one piece. To do this efficiently, I needed to learn how to plan.
Even today, with my dispatcher telling me where to go and when, I prefer to start my day with a schedule and a plan. With the right foresight, you can avoid difficult situations, like rush hour traffic or 200 miles until the next restroom. Plus, establishing a planning habit will inevitably benefit you in ways outside of work.
3. Most People Are Kind and Most Places Are Beautiful
During my adventures, I stopped in all sorts of places to unload, reload, fuel up, and take breaks, and I learned that generally, the world is a fine place to live. The vast majority of people I met were considerate and kind, offering help, providing smiles, and generally making life more pleasant. Though every once in a while you may encounter a discouraging individual, the overwhelming positivity I encountered on the road allowed me to let few instances of bad behavior slide.
4. Solitude Can Just as Easily Stabilize the Mind as Frenzy It
There are few places in the modern world where a person can be truly, freely alone. Even as cities become more packed with people, the Internet toils day and night to establish permanent, unbreakable connections between individuals.
I found the emptiness of the open road to be a relief from the hectic, crowded lifestyle most people live. I take the alone time as a blessing, using it to sort through my thoughts and organize my mind. After all, it’s something I yearned for when I first looked into getting a trucking job.
However, truckers are usually alone for about 23 hours every day. Humans are naturally social creatures, and even an introvert like myself starts to lose it after a week or two on the road. Before you set off, you should have a handful of emergency distractions — favorite albums, audiobooks, mental logic puzzles, etc. — to keep your brain healthily occupied while you drive.
5. You Can Read Situations Like Books With Enough Practice
Four-wheelers (what we truckers call regular cars) are much more dangerous and daring than they should be on the open road, and a situation can quickly become a catastrophe if a truck driver isn’t aware of the goings-on.
Fortunately, even after a month on the road, I found that I was nearly clairvoyant when it came to anticipating fellow drivers’ behavior. With enough experience, you will develop a sixth sense about driving situations that will make you feel more comfortable behind any wheel.
6. Never Pass Up the Opportunity for Activity
This lesson is just as applicable to office workers as to truckers. Sitting all day can be dangerous to your health: Not only does the inactivity encourage the growth of dangerous fat, but poor posture discourages circulation in your lower body, creating clots that can easily end your life. Whenever the truck is stopped, I walk around, stretch, and generally try to be as active as possible so I can live to drive another day.