INTRODUCTION 4 3
We take care of everyone but ourselves. We give so much of our
time and energy and so much of ourselves to others that we tend to
neglect our own needs. We vainly try to hold things together, turning
a strong face toward the world while falling apart inside. We need to
ask ourselves: What is really happening here? Why are we sacrifi cing
our physical and emotional health to the demands of a job?
If we choose to ignore our needs, no matter what our profession,
we become physically and emotionally exhausted; we become burned
out. This is what burnout looks like: We become detached from our-
selves and from others; we become zombies who go through the mo-
tions of caregiving. Our hearts and minds are no longer in the work;
we are out of tune. Burnout affects us physically as well: insomnia,
sore backs and necks and knees, headaches, tight chests, queasy stom-
achs, and lack of energy. Burnout also affects us emotionally: we drift
without focus or direction, fi lled with an all-consuming emptiness or
anxiety and a variety of uneasy feelings. We neglect our families and
friends, our coworkers and peers, and the children in our care because
we lack the energy to deal with the myriad things we have said yes to.
And here lies the irony of our situation: the more we neglect our own
needs to give to others, the more we shortchange them and ourselves.
We need to care for ourselves fi rst before we can care for others.
This bears repeating. We need to care for ourselves fi rst in order to
have the internal resources to care for others. When we don’t care for
ourselves, personal dreams drift away into the dark corners of our
minds. Goals go unrealized. Life becomes an unending slog through
When burnout reaches this point, we fi nd ourselves at an impor-
tant crossroads where we can choose to leave the profession entirely;
make superfi cial changes (like a lateral job change) and continue as a
burned-out zombie; or make subtle and mindful changes that lead in
a fresh, energized, and positive direction. We have to choose our
course and fi nd our answers; no one can do it for us.
If you are still reading, you probably work as an early care and edu-
cation professional. It doesn’t matter where you work: child care cen-
ter; preschool; Head Start or family child care program; elementary