Written by Jessie Panazzolo
Looking at the Instagram page I created a mere eighteen days ago, I never expected to see the 300 Lonely Conservationists who had joined me in my plight to make conservation a little less lonely. I also never expected to get a message on every single one of those eighteen days thanking me for creating the community and letting me know how this community has come at just the right time for a lot conservationists out there. Some people had just lost their contracts, some people were drowning in data and other people felt alone in their struggles to work for free, continually switching jobs that never felt right or have people in their lives telling them to move on to a real career (whatever that is).
But this platform seems to be a double edged sword. One of the blogs made me realise that exposing our struggles on a public forum could be seen by past, current or future employers who don’t appreciate us sharing our journeys. This scared me into worrying that this platform, with a soul purpose of bringing people together and forming a safe space for struggling conservationists, could actually cause more stress and possibly even end someone’s career – or even mine. There was an evening in amongst these past eighteen days were I genuinely felt that this platform could terminate my current employment and I had to ask myself very seriously what was more important, my own involvement in the conservation industry or providing a community where conservationists have a safe space from the hardships they may encounter. I came to the conclusion that if I chose employment over the welfare of conservationists, that I was perpetuating the injustice that I was working so hard to prevent. Luckily I did not have to make this decision.
This situation really got me thinking about cultural clashes and privacy and how much someone’s life could change just by writing their truth down on a public forum. I never expected anyone to get hurt from this platform but I also never expected that after such a hellish experience, some good could arise from the ashes. Positive change slapped me in the face when the problems written about in the controversial blog were all solved after the initial uproar. It occurred to me that these changes, after not happening for months and months, were only provoked by publicly airing the truth. This platform, like each of our stories may encounter some mountains to climb and some rocky roads, but maybe, just maybe, if enough people speak out about what is happening in our industry across all countries and in all ecosystems, that something could actually change for us. This was the marking of the first real impact caused by this platform, and it made me proud to see changes happening in real time.
Of course, this wasn’t the first positive situation to come out of Lonely Conservationists, seeing people read and share stories about their experience in conservation, share their opinions about goings on in the industry and connecting with other like-minded people was already something really special. If a question arose, there was suddenly a pool of experts who had explored every angle of the situation who could chime in with research findings and help to provide answers. For me, the best part has been reading the guest blogs and being deeply moved at the immense relatability of the writing and in some instances, being told through their stories what I desperately needed to hear. I am not alone and if I am taking weird steps to get to where I need to go, that’s okay. So is everyone else. Our journeys are not linear but more like grabbing a machete and forging our own way through this thick stretch of jungle. Sometimes there is a clearing and a nice river to take a breather in, but for the most part there are a lot of leaches, mosquitoes and sweaty chins. (Don’t you hate chin sweat? For me, it is the worst kind of sweat!)
There is one other thing I have to mention in case anyone else can relate to this. Due to sticking up for myself and letting some unpaid opportunities go while I focus on the hunt for some paid work, I feel like I am not doing enough in the industry right now to even constitute being a conservationist. While reading almost all of the blogs I felt a pang of jealousy that people had jobs at all, despite them being transitional or freelance or jobs outside of their field of choice. Just getting paid for something at all related to conservation was something I was in awe of. During this time of self-pity (ironic because I created this platform to overcome the dreaded mope) I expressed this to a fellow Lonely Conservationist and she told me that creating this platform has changed her life for the better, that I am now eternally on her conservation journey with her and that she saw a new best friend in me. I am now starting to think that if I can help a bunch of people save a bunch of plants, wildlife and ecosystems that part of me will go along for the ride on all of those journeys. It is now so clear to me that I need to make sure that conservation is a sustainable career for mental health and not just for the environment.
Thank you so much to all of the Lonely Conservationists that have gotten involved by reaching out, submitting your stories, sharing your photos and supporting each other and me in this new endeavour. In my wildest dreams, I never knew that so much could happen in eighteen days that would bring me so close to conservationists all over the world and to help me understand that I was never alone in this industry, all I had to do was try and find my fellow Lonely Conservationists.
For more of Jessie and Lonely Conservationists, follow @lonelyconservationists and @ecolojesst on Instagram