My 30s became the turning point in my career. Up til then I kind of floated, not really happy with where I was and what I was doing, but comfortable with it. Teaching was my passion, early childhood was where my heart was and I got paid so I wasn’t complaining.
It wasn’t until I turned 30 that things suddenly changed. An opportunity became available leading a room at an early childhood centre. I was still ‘training’ as a student teacher but the idea of leading a group of other ECE professionals and really creating a vision for the room was compelling and I thought I was ready, a sort of false confidence that later proved to be a mistake.
I landed the role even though I was up against more experienced and qualified teachers. I guess they saw something in me. I eagerly took the reigns in the room. I wanted to hit the ground running and spent countless hours just thinking about all the changes I could make, the directions I could take the room.
There were immediate and significant results. My vision was starting to become a reality, the environment and teaching practices were changing and I took any opportunity I could to spend more and more time reflecting on and perfecting my leadership. I built myself up to a point to where my view of myself was dependent on whether or not the room and my leadership was successful.
Then the inevitable happened. Things started going south. There was resentment amongst teachers that I wasn’t including them in making decisions about the changes. I was exhausted from exerting so much energy in getting the room to where I wanted to be that I started missing things that I would have normally picked up. I became frustrated often, anxious and I could feel myself becoming depressed.
This approach I’d taken lasted for a few years as I finished studying, starting managing and continued this cycle of neglecting my own wellbeing so long as the centre I managed continued to look as if was doing well.
It took a major event to turn things around for me. It came as a sort of emotional breakdown. I didn’t want to get out of bed to go to work, I found myself tearing up for no reason (or the reason I was unsure of at the time) and I started isolating myself from people I cared about. I thought I was losing my passion, my fire was burning out.
You know what they say though – Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom if you want to climb your way back up. That was my rock bottom. I had to completely re-assess my leadership and my approach to both work and life. I was still driven, but I had to re-direct my drive toward taking care of myself and others. My leadershp became less self-serving and more about serving others.
I decided to have more fun….
Early childhood education had become a business to me and my success measured by getting bums on seats and turning a profit. This perspective is the first thing I had to change. Changing what I thought successful leadership was to a new kind of leadership – one that centred on my wellbeing and that of others transformed me both professionally and personally.
Things became a lot easier when I started taking care of myself and adopting this new approach. It become less about compliance and ticking boxes and more about appreciation, caring and respect. I started loving what I was doing again, rather than it being something I had to do to get recognized. I become more energetic and enthusiastic toward what I was doing. There was a new spring in my step and all because I started caring for myself.
I became the person and leader I always wanted to be instead of the leader I thought others wanted to see.
Recommendations for Self-Care
Slow down – Don’t rush through things. Take your time, make decisions with both your head and your heart in unison. Nothing is too urgent and when we rush, that’s often when mistakes are made.
Relax – If things aren’t going your way and you’re feeling like everyone is against you or you can’t do anything right, take three deep breaths, close your eyes and remember why you decided to become a teacher in the first place.
Surround yourself with positivity – negative people will only drag you down and make you think and feel negatively. Seek out positive people and embrace those things in your life that you feel positively about.
Become one with nature – There is evidence to suggest that being in nature helps you to centre yourself and is positive for your mental health so take any opportunity you can to get out into nature and just sit, listen and appreciate what you have and where you are.
Find a hobby – Read a book, go for a walk, play a sport, take up knitting. Do something that will take your mind off your worries completely. If you’re naturally social, find ways to network and enjoy the company of others. If you like to be alone, find something that can hold your attention without needing to include others.
Love yourself – this is a bit of cliché but really – learn to love yourself for all of your imperfections, flaws or vulnerabilities. You are uniquely you and you are awesome.