Written by Jessie Panazzolo
Being a Lonely Conservationist is hard and often feels endless. I have wondered so many times if I will ever get to where I want to go, meet who I want to meet and have the experiences I have dreamed of. Recently, I realised that I have got myself to a really happy place where I’m not so lonely and I am doing some cool things for the conservation industry. Being a Lonely Conservationist, you know these feelings peak and trough but I have found that the peaks last longer when I find effective ways to deal with the slump periods.
So without further ado, here is my Survival Guide to being a Lonely Conservationist.
1- Be an actual part of nature
Being in nature is one thing, going on a walk with your earphones in listening to a podcast or your favourite tunes is still being in nature, but I say go a step further and be a part of nature. For me, I experience this when I photograph birds. The thing is, I have found that being one with the birds I photograph is an effective way to get close shots without having an expensive zoom lens. I often have fairy wrens hopping around my feet in a totally wild patch of scrub and I have also had a willie-wagtail land on me before. Being so immersed in nature that you become a part of your surroundings makes you feel connected to everything and reminds you why you are even busting your ass trying to save this beautiful planet in the first place. Maybe for you, this means getting out into the ocean and swimming with the fishes, lying on a sand dune and watching the stars swirl around you or even lying on your lawn and watching the ants march materials back to their colony. It’s important to remind yourself that in the end, you are just another animal on this planet.
2- Find your own colony
The Lonely Conservationists Instagram account was actually a life saver to me when I moved cities. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in my feelings was one thing, but finding like-minded people to meet and explore nature with changed my life. I also had a similar experience when I started my birdstagram when I got really into bird photography. Finding similar people who get you and can help you develop your passions and interests is really essential to combating that loneliness.
3- Knowledge is power
A couple of years ago I found my bank account dwindling but decided to spend my remaining money on four bird books. I decided that if my only friends were birds, I needed to know more about them as it felt rude to spend so much time with them and not know much about them. Reading these books opened my eyes to the way the world works on a deeper level and so I never stopped. I read books and listened to podcasts about all sorts of things from dinosaurs to citizen science and animal sex. Before long, I found myself in job interviews, backing up my statements with case studies I had read about and making friends through my quirky conversations about weird natural phenomenon. Learning more about the things that interest me really gave me such a leg up in everything I did.
4- Look after yourself
So to be honest with you, I took this statement to the extreme and it didn’t work for me. I joined a gym, exercised almost every day, ate healthy home cooked meals and took time to bird and read and do the things that I loved, but you know what? I was exhausted from all of this and it really had the opposite effect on me than I thought it would. Recently though, I have actually been looking after myself by resting and not feeling guilty about it – even congratulating myself for it! I have been doing everything in moderation and also letting myself be spontaneous – I have been making cookies shaped like llamas and sharing them with new people I meet. I have been, most importantly, saying no to people and it has been incredible! I highly recommend practising the word “no” and using it as a positive rather than a negative term. People who have asked me to attend events or for favours have even congratulated me for prioritising my health and well-being over their projects so sometimes, it is even a rewarding thing to do.
5- Be authentically you
So recently I have been on two training retreats with two separate groups of people. On both retreats I have been celebrated for being authentic. For me, being honest to myself and everyone around me has had many benefits, because when people know problems you have, they are more able to help you with it. When I am truly myself, it builds relationships I never thought I could, and often the things I am scared about saying are the things that lead to the most incredible interactions with people.
I don’t know many people that would base a whole organisation on the fact that they are a Lonely Conservationist, because admitting you’re lonely is going against the norms of society, especially on social media. But can I just say, telling the world how I feel like this has been the only thing in my life that has ever cured these feelings for me. Others now come up to me and tell me how they are also lonely in conservation and ironically, I feel so connected to all of these people so deeply in these moments. I now have all of these incredible people sharing their stories on the blog and them showing their authentic selves has helped them build their own communities and connections too. Being authentic has been the most life-saving survival tip of all. It takes time and courage to lose your fear, but it is so worth it.
So there is your five part survival kit– I hope you take it into the world, use it to conquer your hurdles and be the most awesome conservationist that you can be. I hope you know that by being a part of the Lonely Conservationists community, you have already started your journey to being more authentic and through admitting your loneliness to the world and you have found your colony of like-minded individuals. Don’t you love it when you write a list and can already tick two things off, well congratulations! You get to feel that exact feeling right now. You’re welcome.
For more of Jessie and Lonely Conservationists, follow @ecolojesst and @lonelyconservationists on Instagram