By John Latta
For a lot of people who work hard, their work is just a series of motions they have to go through or cog-in-the-wheel decisions they must make. And their workplace, whether it’s a factory or a high rise office building, is just somewhere they go to earn money. They leave themselves at home when they set off for work, put on a work face and go through a sort of performance because that is how they pay the bills and reach for the things they really want in their lives.
A crash in the production line or a snafu in the accounting department may be potentially disastrous for their company, so they put on a game face and look concerned and help with assessing what’s gone wrong and repairing it. But they’re still acting. The lathe, the business plan, the wrench and the computer are inanimate tools, nothing more nor less. For them, enjoying your job is company policy, not reality.
These unfortunate workers and executives help build things or create services, then walk away from them for the night or the weekend, uninterested in the final product of their labor until they have to work again next morning. Endless hours of wiring a machine or writing a report on a new market, welding metal to metal or developing computer software is not something these people see as part of their essential selves.
Some drivers feel the same. The cab and the sleeper are just a workplace; the load is whatever someone put back there. But for most truckers there is a strong feeling that their work and workplace are more than just a means to a dollar. They’re like a suit of clothes that fits you comfortably and reveals something of you to other people, and you chose it with your heart as well as your head.
When another trucker looks at your rig, he learns something about you. It takes on something of your personality, and you reflect something of what it is. That’s because that tractor is not just a machine to fire up and run through an identical set of motions day after day. It’s not something you walk coldly away from or treat with the disregard of someone who is simply using it. And if you neglect it, it may kill you.
Your tractor demands more than an operator who just pushes buttons or follows instructions. That rig is something of an extension of you. It reacts to the smoothness of your shifts and to your understanding of what that turbo whine is telling you. The gauges let you look inside the engine, but you know more than just the numbers that the needles are pointing to. Driving your rig tests you, it asks something of you and when you give it, you get back the satisfaction lacking from a lot of factory and white-collar drudgery that masquerades as a career. A good job must do that.
You don’t operate a piece of equipment that a robot or a boardroom executive could run. The job requires feel. Hunches still count. There’s unpredictability you meet with an experience/instinct mix. Technology has not stolen your usefulness. I know a lot of truckers who realize this and are grateful that, while the work is hard, it brings a measure of satisfaction as well as money.
When he parks, a trucker knows that all through his work day his skill, his understanding of the tractor and his ability to sense what his motor, transmission, brakes, and hydraulic and electronic systems will do and can do – and for that matter what they can’t do – made a difference. The driver, with his knowledge and experience, was an essential part of the work.
You don’t just get in and drive. Oh, you can, and you’ll get from A to B, but three other things will also happen: first, you’ll get bored; second, you’ll be a lousy, unrespected trucker; and third, the industry will know both of those things, and advancement just won’t happen, even in these days of driver shortages.
Trucking isn’t the only work with job satisfaction, but it is your livelihood. You do it primarily for money. But whether you earn a lot or not, it’s important that the work you do with your hands, your heart and your mind provides more than just a paycheck and asks more of you than just your labor.