Written by Lorenzo Seneci

Since I found out about the Lonely Conservationists community on Instagram this year, I’ve been pondering about how I could use my personal experience to contribute. It took me a long time – and I’m about to explain why – but finally, I think I have something truly meaningful to share. This is my story, and my plea for help. I am Lorenzo Seneci, and I am a… A…

Yeah, this is the point. What am I?

Throughout my life, the single most important element that defined me has always been my undying love for reptiles. It started with a little kid of 4 years old searching for critters through dirt and mud, and now it’s developed to… a little kid of 23 years old searching for critters through dirt and mud, basically – only now I get to call it “research”. I got a bachelor’s degree and hopefully a master’s coming up, did a couple internships along the way, volunteered here and there- standard aspiring conservationist package, I guess. However, even now it feels wrong to associate that term with my background- or with myself in the first place. Am I really a “conservationist” just because I help raise funds for conservation efforts and do educational outreach from time to time? What have I done to earn that label? Does my degree qualify me as a “biologist” when I still have zero publications to my name? Can I refer to myself (or be referred to) as a “herpetologist” simply because I did two research internships in the field and volunteered in a reptile zoo for a mere three weeks? All around me I see people my age or even much younger – some of them being personal friends of mine – engaged in on-site conservation and education initiatives, getting published in prestigious scientific journals, presenting their research findings at international conferences. Then there’s me, stuck in this swamp where I see no progress nor meaningful personal development. I always put a lot of pressure on myself and was surrounded by great expectations throughout my life – “he’s gonna be the next big thing”, “we’ll hear about this guy one day”, and so on. Honestly, I liked the ego boost- let’s say I was never the most humble person on Earth – but now it’s coming back at me in all the wrong ways.

For the last seven months, I’ve been working on a research internship for my master’s – my colleagues and I had to assess the impact of a combination of stressors (i.e. pesticides, nutrient discharge, and an invasive species) on a semi-natural freshwater ecosystem. I can say with no exaggeration that my repeated mistakes during this time have become meme material. Preparing wrong ethanol solutions, breaking cuvettes, missing my deadline by nearly a month, even irreparably damaging a freshly bought lab oven – been there, done that, which sure isn’t the best way to impress your supervisors. It felt like a sucker punch, and still does to be honest. I can’t help but wonder, am I really all that after all? What am I doing with my life? How am I using my time now that I’m in such a crucial phase of my formation?

No, there’s no happy twist in the end, with words of wisdom and advice based on how I got through this – because I simply haven’t yet. I am wondering of any of you proper conservationists have experienced this at some point in your lives, if you too ever felt like you were only smoke and mirrors. Again, this is a plea for help – and even if this sucks, it feels good not to be lonely.

For more of Lorenzo, follow @crazy.snakeman on Instagram