Confidence Can Be a Killer
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 MARK A. BEAM
F Company, 1/171 Aviation
I’ve had many different jobs in my lifetime, but one seems to be ingrained a little deeper in my mind than the others. Maybe it’s because it was almost my last.
When I was younger, I had the opportunity to obtain a Class A commercial driver’s license. I had no real need for it, but I took the test anyway, passed and put my new license in my wallet for potential future use. About 10 years later, I found myself unemployed and in need of a job. At that time, I had a wife and two children who were depending on me as the family’s breadwinner.
As I pondered my next career move, I noticed the classified ads in the local paper were flooded with job opportunities for qualified commercial drivers. I recognized the name of one of the companies that was hiring because I’d met the owner at a social function. I figured applying for the position was worth a shot.
I don’t know if it was my charming personality or the fact that the trucking company was really short of drivers, but I was hired that day and told to report at 7:30 the next morning for a road test. I passed the test and was handed the keys to a new American Class Peterbilt truck with an 18-speed transmission. It was hooked to a 53-foot box trailer. My first trip would be to carry a load from Jackson, Mississippi, to a warehouse in Newark, New Jersey.
I was excited as I climbed into the beautiful white rig with red leather interior, double-bunk sleeper, refrigerator and all the latest bells and whistles. I had no doubt in my ability to command this beast of a truck to the East Coast and back without issue. After all, I had a CDL and passed my 10-minute road test the day before. It wasn’t until I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway that I realized that maybe I was a little too confident in my abilities.
The constant grinding of gears as I merged onto the interstate was evidence of my lack of experience and the potential dangers that lay ahead. With each additional mile, my confidence level decreased and, before long, I realized I’d gotten in way over my head. In retrospect, I should have turned around and been honest about my lack of ability and experience. The owner probably would have allowed me to spend some time riding with one of the company’s more experienced drivers to improve my level of competence before sending me out on my own. However, being the Type A American male that I am, quitting was not an option.
Needless to say, I had many close calls along the way, all stemming from my lack of experience. I took wrong turns, continued to grind gears and even caused a long traffic jam when I got the rig hung under a low overpass. Fortunately, only the exhaust pipe had minor damage. It wasn’t until I passed the “Welcome to Alabama” sign on the final leg of my trip that I began to relax. I knew then that I only had a few more hours to go.
By then I’d been driving for about 18 hours without sleep. To make matters worse, it was 3 a.m., it had been raining consistently for four days and I was traveling in a construction zone with limited visibility due to a downpour. Crews had been laying asphalt in the area, and there was a 4-inch drop-off where they’d stopped working. I was startled when the front tires hit the drop-off and may have inadvertently turned the wheel slightly. Just after the rear trailer tires dropped off, the rig’s handling started to feel weird. When I looked into my left mirror, I saw my trailer sliding to the left side of the road. I thought, “It’s over for me.”
Anything that happened from that moment until I was standing in front of the truck in the middle of the pouring rain with my knees shaking is a blur. I do remember clutching the steering wheel with all my strength and taking my foot off of the accelerator. Somehow, the truck had stopped sliding and corrected itself, and I was able to pull over and stop on the shoulder. After collecting myself for a few minutes, I finished my drive back to Jackson.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Confidence in your abilities is a good trait to have. Overconfidence, however, can take you to places you don’t want to go.