Words by John Polson, Managing Director, Black Sheep Cycling
This year, The Man Ride enters its second year. In what has now become an even bigger initiative, we are heading to nine locations around the world and are asking you to get personally involved. Rides that will test you physically and mentally, but with a greater purpose to encourage a collective voice in raising awareness for Men’s Mental Illness.
“Breaking down the barriers, stereotypes, blocks that make people think they are the only people that get to such depths of mental darkness.”
The significance of The Man Ride for me is personal. I talked about it last year and subsequently received countless emails, texts and letters congratulating me on my openness. In turn, people shared their own personal stories. This was, and is, the ultimate goal of The Man Ride. To break down the barriers, stereotypes, blocks that make people think they are the only people that get to such depths of mental darkness.
“All of this - and I am still overwhelmed with self-doubt.”
Over the last year, my personal and professional story has gone through more symbolic moments and galvanised the importance of what we are doing with The Man Ride. Black Sheep has grown beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Double digit growth every quarter, and expansion into more traditional markets such as the UK, and into new markets like East Asia. Our product range has expanded significantly, as has our bullishness to organise events that bring back some personality back to cycling, such as Night Riders and The Classic. We have moved into a beautiful new headquarters in Brisbane, and invested into the future of the brand and our products like no other. All of this – and I am still overwhelmed with self-doubt.
“Often, it's started by the keyboard warrior that questions the direction of the brand, the customer that is disappointed beyond belief with their late delivery, or the staff member that is disappointed in one of your decisions.”
Being at the reins of a growing business is something I am sure many of you have experience of. You would be familiar with the mistakes you inevitably make, the people you upset, the opportunities you miss. These stresses are outside of the presumed logistical, financial, operational areas, and that has been surprising to me. I can only rationalise it as an emotional roller coaster powered by my own emotional connection with the brand. As inconsequential as it may seem, it's often started by the keyboard warrior that questions the direction of the brand, the customer that is disappointed beyond belief with their late delivery, or the staff member that is disappointed in one of your decisions. Some of these people are warranted in their view, some are not. Reality is that they are few and far between yet always sting like a dagger. They flip you upside down in confusion, making you doubtful, if only for a moment, of the path you have taken to get here and where it is leading you. My natural tendency, which as I have now learned is shared by many people, is to forget about what we are doing right, and focus on everything that we are and have done wrong.
Do I have an answer or a magic lesson to self-doubt? Unfortunately not. Is this something that many people experience? Absolutely. All I can say is that despite all of the negative tendencies, as I sit here, I couldn't be more excited about what we are doing with The Man Ride and the future of the brand. And there must be something in how I have gotten to that place.
“What is more important to me, and to our staff, are the initiatives we are able to do if we are successful in selling the stuff we make.”
Not to sound cliche, the only answer I have to me still being able to be positive is my unrelenting focus on what it means to be a "Black Sheep". Not the frequently-copied wank vision that brands now state of "being different", but more importantly, "just being me – just being us". Black Sheep is a brand that makes apparel and sells apparel. We're good at both, but we are not exactly changing the fucking world. What is more important to me, and to our staff, are the initiatives we are able to do if we are successful in selling the stuff we make. It's The Man Ride, it's #lovewomenscycling and, it's Racing Club. Some of are simply fledgling initiatives, but what is consistent is their goal to promote the enjoyment of cycling, and the benefits it has for personal and community health.
So where am I going with this? When you doubt yourself, stay true to yourself. You will keep making mistakes, you will keep fucking up, but you at least know exactly why you do things your way when someone questions you otherwise. Most of the time those other voices are wrong, you just need to have the answer ready to go and not let the question beat you down.
I hope you join us for The Man Ride 2017. I will be in Wales riding 1000 kilometres. Pray for me. It's more than my yearly volume to date.
On October 1, nine locations around the world will come together to raise awareness for Men’s Mental Illness by doing something crazy on a bike. The inaugural The Man Ride Day is a 200-kilometre ride, for men and women, designed to push you to the extreme, physically and mentally. We don’t want your donation, just you and your bike.