I Am Not a Sheep.
When I was young, maybe five years old, I was in a dance recital.
We were dressed as bubbles in bright blue polka dot tulle skirts and tops, with giant bows on top of our little heads. Being the quirky individual that I have been likely since birth, I wanted to wear my bow cocked to the side on top of my fountain pony tail. My parents approved, pinned it down, and off we went to the theater.
Here the girls and their moms snickered at me, bringing me to tears because they all wore their bows perfectly perched right on top of their smooth, ringlet curls. I ran to my dad, crying to help me fix my mistake.
In this terrible moment of being bullied by girls too young to know any better and women old enough they should’ve been ashamed of themselves, I learned one of the most valuable lessons I’ve encountered in my 27 years of life.
My dad crouched down, looked at me, and said, “Jess, are you a sheep?” Confused, I sniffled and crinkled my nose when I said, “No, Dad,” thinking he was surely insane for asking this obvious question. I’m certain I didn’t get his analogy in that moment, but he assured me that if I wanted to wear my bow to the side with my ponytail, then there was no reason for me to follow the other girls and that I should just do it.
“I’m not a sheep,” I repeated back after our chat and I (likely, knowing more about myself now, very poorly) danced my bubble dance with my fountain-do and my crooked bow and have been making un-sheep-like decisions ever since.
Many years later, when I went to open the doors to my first business — a boutique bakery — I was approached by a woman not much different than the moms of those mean little girls. She introduced herself making small talk as she sized me up and filled her arsenal with information about me and my business.
As the months went by, she spread rumors, left fake reviews, and attacked me at industry events, leaving me deflated and heartbroken. I hadn’t felt the sting only a true bully can give since high school.
She planted a seed in my mind that flourished, growing into a full, lush overgrown sore spot. I became afraid and spent my time with clients cautiously getting to know them, hesitantly selling my services, and looking at any feedback through my fingers — absolutely certain the world was full of cruel women with a love for attacking others. I was being a sheep.
Years passed and my sore spot grew smaller, but I always knew it was there. In moments of stress, it gave me a little tug back to reality. I was afraid. I was falling in line, quietly moving through time and trying to go unnoticed.
Finally one day, I snapped. I likely had far too little sleep and far too much coffee one morning and the tiniest thing set me over the edge, but I needed that push, regardless of how unglamorous the reality of it was. I found myself uncontrollably shaking, sobbing over a box of biscuits.
“I can’t do this shit anymore,” I sobbed.
In that moment, I was catapulted back in time. I was standing in a big blue polka dot bow, cocked to the side of my thin but proud ponytail with my dad in my face.
“Jess, are you a sheep?”
I am not a sheep. I am not a fucking sheep.
In all those years before, I felt the world was telling me to put my head down and keep moving. I fell in line with others in my industry, working my hands to the bone, feeling entirely unattached to a craft I once loved, keeping my fears of the opinions of others alive. In business I was successful — very successful, really — but I felt dead inside.
As I held that box of biscuits and lost control of my voice — allowing all the real shit to come spilling out before I could cover it up with some bullshit positive mantra about how life is hard work and I could do anything — I wasn’t a sheep anymore. I was big and strong and vulnerable and honest, and I was about to do everything I ever wanted.
I sold my business for a fraction of its worth, because I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. I passed my customers, my connections, everything I lived and breathed all on to someone new. In that moment, I choked back tears and handed her my keys, remembering the actual blood, sweat and tears I put into those four walls.
I won’t ever find success again. I won’t ever find worth again.
I started my path toward being a wolf among sheep, and it wasn’t pretty, but it was me — real, raw, unedited me.
I keep a picture from the morning of my childhood dance recital above the door in my office. Each day I walk through the door I see my goofy face, with my big blue bow cocked to the side, before I ever met those women, before I ever knew I wasn’t destined to be a sheep.
Some days it takes me time to remember — to look past the bullshit and see what’s actually happening around me, but I always come back to it. Even when it isn’t the easiest choice or the prettiest sight, I’m not a sheep. I am not a fucking sheep.
Jessica Romero is a small-town introvert with a fiery passion for helping women do big things. She believes in heart-led, authentic living, finding the courage to be big and loud, and eating brunch every single Sunday. She coaches entrepreneurs by day, writes by night, and dreams big every step of the way.