I have been a Registered Early Childhood Educator for 7 years.
I left the field after 2.
My name is Michaela Jardine, and this is part of my story.
We tend to believe and make assumptions about a person’s story and how they got to where they did in their life and career. I know I am guilty of assuming that people just went to College or University and landed a job they loved. But that isn’t the case, not always. Yet, we don’t tend to hear about the struggles, challenges, and hardships that people face on their path in life. This seems particularly true in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care.
I have become a huge advocate for mental health and well-being since leaving the ECEC field in 2016. Not many know my story, why I left, what brought me back, and what has led me here.
After the last year and a half of what the child care field has been going through with the pandemic, I feel even more drawn to sharing this part of my story. I am hoping that by sharing my journey it will resonate with you and remind you that you are a priority too.
This hasn’t always been easy to share or talk about but I have come to realize that it is a part of who I am.
I graduated and became a Registered Early Childhood Educator in 2014 and I am beyond grateful that I received a job offer right away. In my first two years working in the field I had the opportunity to work with school age children, preschoolers, toddlers and even gained some knowledge and experiences working on tasks alongside my Director. She became a role model for me and I looked up to her, her accomplishments, and her drive for the field.
An experience in those first two years that I am proud of was working with my Director and another co-worker in creating the centre’s first toddler room. Being fresh out of College, this was not an opportunity I thought I would get to be a part of, let alone have a say in.
I worked at that same centre until I left the field in October of 2016.
It wasn’t easy leaving the field or the children, families and coworkers that I had built relationships with over the years but it was hard to ignore the burnout I was feeling. They were my family and deciding to leave was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I had recently moved an hour away and at the time I thought I could do the drive but the harsh reality quickly set in when I found myself spending 2.5 hours on the road each day while not making enough money to truly support myself and family. There were other problems that has arisen in my home life that only piled onto the growing burnout I was feeling. I was not myself. I was negative, tired, stressed, and didn’t want to do much outside of work besides be at home.
“It wasn’t easy leaving the field or the children, families and coworkers that I had built relationships with over the years but it was hard to ignore the burnout I was feeling.”
I tried to brush off the feelings for months. I tried to tell myself that I shouldn’t be feeling burnt out, I had only just started my career, I had only been in the field for 2 years. But the truth is, you can experience burnout during any point of your career, especially in the early years. I didn’t have a proper routine, nor did I make myself and my mental health a priority. I was trying so hard to be a great RECE and make sure my career was stable, that I had forgotten about looking after myself and making sure I was stable and cared for too.
When I left, I started working in a factory closer to the town I was living in. It paid double what I was making as an ECE, a job I had gone to College for two years to get. I was frustrated that the career I had dreamed of having one day, couldn’t support me or my family, which at the time made me consider never going back.
Switching jobs and working at the factory allowed me to start focusing on myself again, which I had forgotten to do. I started going to the gym, going for runs, seeing family and friends – I started to thoroughly enjoy life again without feeling burnt out.
Now don’t misunderstand, while working at the factory had its perks, it wasn’t a rewarding job. It allowed me to get ahead financially, get back on track for my physical and mental wellbeing, but I always felt like a piece was missing.
I missed working with children, seeing the accomplishments and milestones they reached, I missed interacting with families and colleagues.
While I knew I wanted to go back into the early years field, I also knew I had to make some changes. I had to make my mental health a priority.
So I started a gratitude practice in the Spring of 2017 and intentionally focused on the good things in my life. Berkeley researcher Dr. Christine Carter, who has been studying and dedicating her career to the ‘science of happiness,’ has explained that counting our blessings is central to not only our physical health, but mental health as well.
My Gratitude Practice
I will say that I did have other supports and resources to help me during this time but a practice that I started and continue to practice today is gratitude. Gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, depending on the context it can mean grace, graciousness, or gratefulness and allows people to acknowledge the goodness in their lives.
I start and end my day with The Five-Minute Journal and have been using it now for 4 years. It is a simple way to create a morning and nighttime routine that I looked forward to each day. I also really enjoy that it only takes 5 minutes in the morning and night. I love the Five-Minute Journal because it’s easy to follow and straightforward. The morning routine focuses on gratitude, what would make today great, and daily affirmations. Whereas the nighttime component focuses on reflection, amazing things that happened, what would have made it better and I will sometimes include what I am looking forward to tomorrow. After about a month of practicing gratitude I noticed I was beginning to feel grateful for more and more things throughout the day that I wasn’t even thinking about before. I noticed my inner voice saying more and more loudly, “I’m grateful for…”
Practicing gratitude regularly allowed me to focus on myself, my goals, and my overall well-being. Something I had previously been neglecting. I started to feel happy and joyful again. I even started putting my foot back into the child care field, searching for potential jobs. Although on a neurological level, researchers are just beginning to understand gratitude, it has been shown that grateful people are healthier, happier, more resilient, have a higher sense of self-worth and are, in general, more satisfied with their lives.
Gratitude is a way to appreciate what we already have, instead of searching for the next thing to make us ‘happy’. Walsh (2013) found that when people practice gratitude they are more likely to, enjoy higher flows of dopamine (happy hormone), feel brighter and more alert, and have greater activity in their hypothalamus which influences stress and metabolism levels.
“Although on a neurological level, researchers are just beginning to understand gratitude, it has been shown that grateful people are healthier, happier, more resilient, have a higher sense of self-worth and are, in general, more satisfied with their lives.”
Gratitude is a mental state that grows stronger with each use and practice and helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. It wasn’t easy getting used to practicing gratitude or being consistent with my morning and night time routine but I knew it needed to be a priority. Working at the factory wasn’t fulfilling at all, I missed the rewarding career I went to school for. Making myself a priority wasn’t an option anymore, it was essential.
It is so easy to put yourself on the back burner and keep giving when your cup is empty, but eventually you burnout and have nothing left to give. As professionals in an already demanding field it is imperative that you are taking time for yourselves each day. Implementing a practice around gratitude into my day, made sure I was dedicating a part of the day to me, my wellbeing, and refilling MY cup.
“It is so easy to put yourself on the back burner and keep giving when your cup is empty, but eventually you burnout and have nothing left to give. As professionals in an already demanding field it is imperative that you are taking time for yourself each day.”
In the Fall of 2017 I made my way back to the early years field. I have learned to focus on the wellbeing of the children in my care AND on MY overall wellbeing as well.
Whether you practice gratitude or have another way of refilling your cup, I would love to hear how you practice self care! And if you don’t currently prioritize a part of your day for yourself, I challenge you to start. There are so many ways to practice self-care, gratitude is just the one that works best for me.
If there is anything the last year has been reinforced for me, it would be that when we are not at our best, we can’t give our best.
Make yourself a priority, you are worth it .
Written by Michaela Jardine
How do you prioritize yourself and practice self-care? Share your story in the comments below and join us in congratulating Michaela on the successful completion of her internship!
Harvard Health. (2011, November 22). Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Walsh, E. (2013, November 18). The Science of Gratitude in Kids. Spark & Stitch Institute. https://sparkandstitchinstitute.com/science-of-gratitude-kids/.
Young, K. (2020, October 15). The science of gratitude – how it changes people, relationships (and Brains!) and how to make it work for you. Hey Sigmund. https://www.heysigmund.com/the-science-of-gratitude/.
Michaela Jardine is Strive’s Project Intern from the Honours Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership program at Fanshawe College. Michaela was born and raised in Tillsonburg, Ontario and is the youngest of 3 siblings. Outside of school, you will likely find Michaela at the gym, taking on a home renovation project, or out adventuring with her adorable pup, Donny. After graduation next year, Michaela has her sights set on Teacher’s College and hopes to stay connected to local ECEC advocacy work as well.