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How a Motorcycle Club Built Me for Success

It began shortly after scoring my first real office job following college graduation. I met a guy… but if you want to learn how “Beauty met the Biker” you’ll have to hang on for a different story. If you guessed that the biker became my husband, you’d win a prize – but this story takes […]

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Motorcycle Clubs and Personal Branding Chantel Soumis
Photo by Kendall Hoopes from Pexels

It began shortly after scoring my first real office job following college graduation. I met a guy… but if you want to learn how “Beauty met the Biker” you’ll have to hang on for a different story. If you guessed that the biker became my husband, you’d win a prize – but this story takes place long before the “I do’s”. For the sake of identities, we’ll change names and locations starting with my husband’s… let’s change his club name to Bolt.

I wasn’t a very sheltered kid. With three older brothers, I figured things out on my own pretty well. My mom was my best friend and shared her stories with me and my Dad warned me about things like this, but like most young women, I tested my limits and fell in love.

Running with the club was a game-changer for me. When I first started coming around I was, terrified, insecure, extremely shy, and filled with social anxiety. My self-doubt radiated and I stuck out like a sore thumb. There’s no way I’d ever fit in.

But the club wasn’t going to change just because a millennial walked through the door. I had to toughen up and adapt if I wanted to fit in. Over time, it became ever so clear to me that we were all just a bunch of misfits who’ve never really fit in, in the real world.

I realized, over this past year reflecting on my health obstacles (diagnosis and failed treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, blindness, and mobility issues) and advocacy in the differently-abled community along with a recent patch of professional success, just how much this chapter meant to me.

Here’s how the motorcycle club (MC) built me for success and a little history lesson on MC’s…

Motorcycle Clubs 101

According to BikerDomain.com, motorcyclists started organizing clubs in 1903 when the New York Motorcycle Club merged with the Alpha Motorcycle Club of Brooklyn to form the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM), focused on improving driving conditions for motorcyclists. As many of its members were sent overseas to fight in World War I, FAM collapsed in 1919.

The end of World War II saw the rise of a number of “outlaw motorcycle clubs” – outlaws in the sense that they were not sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and didn’t follow the AMA’s rules. The end of the war saw servicemen returning home, many of them afflicted with what is now known as PTSD. Their condition and their wartime experiences made them a poor fit for conventional civilian life. They needed an outlet, and joining an outlaw motorcycle club was one such outlet.

Image by Joe Bennett from Pixabay

To boil things down, MC’s were either a place where you went to ride (like a HOG or Harley Owners Group chapter) – or a place where you went to fit in in a world where you felt like an outcast.

ONE. The Importance of Community

The biggest cultural impact I experienced was the bond this community had. Brotherhood. The original motorcycle clubs were built on military foundations of brotherhood, respect, and dependability. This group of outcasts was family regardless of how different you were.

If you were in a pinch at 3am on a Tuesday morning, you could call anyone in the family and they’d answer. You’d reciprocate the respect and dedication if anyone else had a need.

Broken down on the side of the road, 5 hours from home? Don’t worry… there’s a club in the area that’ll treat you like family too.

You listen when someone talks, and they’ll share the same respect with you. You answer when someone calls, and they’ll answer any call of yours. You stand up for them, and they’ll stand up for you. You respect them, they’ll respect you.

Respect. Integrity. Grit. These are three characteristics that were branded into my soul and I refuse to let go of. Values that formed a lifestyle and turned strangers into family…

Lesson: Never burn bridges. The people in your community know you for who you are and there is so much power in these relationships. Always treat others how you want to be treated. Want to have fun and be appreciated? Love and value your community and it’ll dish it all right back to you in return. Respect others no matter how different they may be, stay honest, and commit to your word.

TWO. Know How to Build & Protect Your Reputation (or Personal Brand)

Yes… you’re personal brand matters. Especially in a motorcycle club. When I met Bolt, I knew him as just that. Not his real name.

I thought “why?” but again, that’s another story… all their names sounded like Snow White’s dwarfs… talk about building a personal brand!

In the club, reputation was everything. Reputations started as early as hang-arounds (the people that were regulars at club events and rides) through prospecting in their denim “rags” or “colors” (the vest with club patches/rockers) when you earn your official club name.

Impressions last. Yes, even I earned a reputation and nickname – but if you want that story, you’ll have to ask. That story takes time, too!

Lesson: Build your reputation. Be who you want to be and represent the version of yourself in all aspects of life. If you stand for civil rights, stand up for something. If you’re a hungry entrepreneur, serve as a mentor within your community. Staying active in your community with networking, speaking engagements, volunteering, and mentorships will help you build, protect, and maintain that personal brand.

THREE. “Let ‘Em”

I had a painfully small amount of confidence. Every time I left the house, I walked on eggshells – afraid to disappoint anyone around me or draw attention. I later discovered it was a form of social anxiety.

No matter who I met or where I’d go, the following thoughts always flooded my mind:

“Are they talking about me?”

“What if they don’t like me?”

“What can I do to fit in?”

When I started coming around the club, people would talk. They’d judge me for dressing hoity-toity in a dress suit from the office because that was their go-to defense mechanism. They’d give me a tough time, testing my character.

Hanging with the club, I learned immediately how people looked down on us. I was called a “low life”, “worthless”, “biker trash” and worse just for who I associated with.

It’s easy for strangers to make assumptions about a well-dressed blonde in a group of leather-vest wearing, bearded bikers. I’d hear whispers about being a “dancer” or “escort” as soon as I’d enter rooms with them, which wasn’t easy to hear as a professional grad school student working as a marketing coordinator by day and bridal consultant by night.

One day, Bolt and I rode to a Fred Myers jewelry store to check out rings. The manager of the jewelry store watched us for a while and we caught him whispering behind the counter. After a few moments, he approached us and said, “We were just taking bets on how long it’ll take you to grab something and run.”

Uhh… what? Even at 23 years young, Bolt had a very responsible job with stable income and a heart of gold, so why would a manager of a jewelry store say something so offensive to a customer? I couldn’t take it anymore and had to ask… “How do you not let that get to you?”

The response I received was your typical biker lingo…

“F*** ‘em. Let ’em judge.”

I laughed like it was a joke… but he didn’t smile in return. He reminded me that we’re all misfits. The MC lifestyle is something people don’t seem to understand and at the end of the day, it’s their loss.

“We’re some of the most reliable, hard-ass working people on the planet. They’ll never know these values. Let ‘em judge. They don’t matter to me, just like I don’t matter to them.”

Was it really that easy to brush off harassment and humiliation? Apparently. We went on to a club connection’s jewelry shop and had a piece custom made. Reliable connections always win the deal.

Growing into the club and the culture, I discovered the magic of the MC lifestyle with a new family to call my own. A family that supported me and encouraged me to be more and do more. A family that saw my mission to improve myself and encouraged every little bit of it, even if it meant having to leave eventually…

Which is what we ended up doing. It wasn’t a fit for our lives at a certain point and we had to close that chapter… which again, is another story, and you know what they say about those that share too much!

Photograph by ICFotos Madison

To wrap it all up, there are three main things I learned from the MC that built me into the professional and MS warrior I am today…

Understanding the importance of community. How to build it, keep it, and serve.

Learning how imperative a reputation can be and how strong personal brands can operate.

Ignoring judgment and toxicity because it doesn’t serve you any good at all – this has especially been a strength in the social media community where trolling is significant.

I hope you enjoyed my story of three lessons learned from the MC! What was your favorite lesson? Make sure to let the Thrive Global community know in the comments below!

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