Written by Ella Thomas
Hi everyone, my name is Ella and I’m a 22 year old Education Officer at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS). Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the Gold Coast, which is on the east coast of Queensland, Australia.
Ever since anyone in my family can remember (including me) I’ve been absolutely obsessed with wildlife. I hogged the TV as a child and watched documentary after documentary… much to my sister’s displeasure (she just wanted to watch cartoons or Disney channel). I remember being asked in second grade what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I remember answering, “Follow in Steve Irwin’s footsteps.” Little did I know that a year later I would be crying my eyes out as I mourned his passing with the rest of the world.
Throughout Primary and High School my love for wildlife grew daily (despite being teased for being so passionate), and I remember when the day came to apply for university. I was supposed to have three choices of bachelors, one I wanted to study and two backups. I clearly remember looking at the school career counsellor in confusion and confessing that I had no back up plan – it was wildlife, or nothing, and there was only one Uni close by that offered a wildlife bachelor. She looked at me like I was crazy and insisted that I needed two back up plans. We had a stare off and I simply said, “Well, I don’t,” and submitted my university application with only one bachelor – Bachelor of Wildlife Science.
I was accepted in January 2015 and finished my Bachelor in December 2017 and then threw myself head first into another 6 month certificate, and then another (which took me a year and a half to complete. I finally finished it December 2019). At the end of my first year of Uni I began volunteering at a Wildlife Hospital and was there I was there for 3 and a half years and learned a lot. Two things I learned in those 3 years while studying and volunteering was that one, I didn’t want to pursue post grad study, and the second was I didn’t want to work in a vet clinic. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Post Grad study and the people that do it are awesome and VERY important, I’m just not wired for that. I’m wired for teaching people and science communication.
Come December 2018, a year after graduating, I was still volunteering at the wildlife hospital, working as a waitress, finishing one of my certificates, volunteering at CWS, AND starting my new job as an Education Officer at CWS. By the end of January 2019 I was burning out and dead tired, I knew something had to give (but I didn’t quit my waitressing job or volunteering at the wildlife hospital until June 2019). At this point in time I also didn’t have a car. To get to my new job, I would take a train the day before to the city, stay overnight in the city, get up at 4am to get a 4.30am train, and travel three hours to be at work by 8am. I’d finish at 4.30pm and get home close to 8pm, it was MENTAL. But I was doing what I loved so it was all worth it!
February rolled around and my boss was suddenly offering me 4 days a week in March to cover for one of the full time staff who was taking leave for a month. Of course I said yes, but inside I was panicking! I couldn’t afford to keep staying in a hotel! I also couldn’t crash on my boss’ couch for four days a week for a month! Previously, I had for three nights during our crazy school holiday program week. I remember looking up at the stars as I made my way back to the hotel and just muttering, “Help me”. I knew I was on the right track so I just had to hope it would all work out. Back at the hotel I resumed looking for cars within my price range and noticed a car that I’d previously been eyeing off had suddenly come down in price. Perfect!
Fast forward to the end of February, the weekend before I was due to start working four days a week, I bought the car. It was a close call but everything fell into place. Phew! What a relief! But then – BOOM! Impostor syndrome reared its ugly head. I was 21, so, so, young – surely I was in way over my head – right? Wrong. I learned to take a deep breath and just do my best – and it was always enough. If I didn’t know something, I asked. I flourished and have continued to do so in the year I’ve been working there. But a few questions kept popping up, namely this ugly one, “Wow, you’re so young and you’ve landed your dream job! What’s next?”
What was next? I didn’t really know, and at that point I didn’t want to think about it just yet. I wanted to ENJOY the job I’d been working towards my whole life. And so I did, but that nagging little voice didn’t give up. So I started thinking, and planning, and over thinking, and worrying, and then not thinking, and not planning, but STILL worrying. All I knew was that I was very passionate about Education and Conservation, believing that both go hand in hand, and that education could help reduce global human-wildlife conflict. Then I got a shake-up in July. A friend of the family was planning another conservation trip to Africa. Africa was once again was calling my name, just like it always had been ever since I was a little child. And this time, I couldn’t ignore it.
Fast forward to now, January 2020. I am planning a conservation trip to Africa, I am applying to be made part-time permanent at work, and I am now the Coordinator of our School Holiday Program (oh boy, when I got asked to do that the Impostor Syndrome raised its ugly head again. My thought process was something like this, “BUT I AM ONLY 22! I AM ONLY CASUAL! I AM THE YOUNGEST BY 10 YEARS IN MY DEPARTMENT (THE OLDEST IS 30 YEARS OLDER THAN ME) AND I WILL BE ROSTERING EVERYONE FOR THE WEEKS THE PROGRAM RUNS?!” Once again I told it to shush and instead said, “Wow! Yep! Sounds Great! I’d love to!”).
What I have learned is that just because I am young, that doesn’t mean I am any less valid or capable. Yes, sometimes I feel out of my depth but we all have to start somewhere; and if we are humble enough to ask for help, and bold enough to face our challenges, nothing can stop us. I have also learned that we have been given passions and dreams for a reason, and that if we follow them and work hard, SOMEHOW everything will just fall into place.
I wonder what the stars look like over Africa.
For more of Ella, follow @ellaswildlife on Instagram