Written by Jessie Panazzolo
I have come once again as a lonely conservationist to share my frustrations with you on the blog. I say that I come as a lonely conservationist because I often feel like members of the community forget that I founded this community on being lonely in conservation myself. I am not a professionally trained community organiser, project manager or social media specialist, I am a conservationist like yourself, and still face all the frustrations and isolation of working in the conservation industry.
The harrowing reality of my life is that twenty months on from starting the community, I am working even harder than I was before, still for no pay, but this time across international time zones. To give you a taste of what I do, I research, write scientific papers, speak at conferences (often at 6am or 11pm- thank you northern hemisphere), I am writing a book, managing a team, producing a web series, starting a business and have a lot of meetings and interviews. As you can probably tell, the blogs and social media aspect of Lonely Conservationists are just the tip of the iceberg. After all, I am more so a scientist than a social media presence. Ever since I saw the need for someone to step up to the plate for the well being and mental health of conservationists, I didn’t hesitate in taking the shoes that needed to be filled and putting them on.
I have tried to live the values of the community in everything I do, from sharing when I am scared, when I fail and when I am frustrated to normalise these very normal human emotions and try to help to mitigate impostor syndrome and the bouts of perfectionism that are so prolific in conservationists. I also spend my days working hard to uncover ways to mitigate the systemic issues that impact so many of us. Now that I know that the factors that have always constrained me also impact over four thousand other people, I feel intense motivation to make negative forces like sexism, workplace bullying and mental health, less prevalent to the future generations of conservationists.
I thought that being strict with my authenticity and values would make it easier to stop the exploitation and start to see changes. Unfortunately on multiple occasions, professionals have claimed to have been “Lonely Conservationists”, show empathy and understanding, but when push comes to shove, it was easier to take the unethical option in making me jump through hoops rather than to re-evaluate their personal or professional culture. On one occasion I experienced sexist comments from the field staff of an organisation and the take away from upper management was that they should have provided me with better training and that I was brave for calling the issue out. If I wanted to continue working with them, I would have to jump through more hoops and as for the field staff culture, they claimed to have “fixed the problem” and they left it as that.
It is so disheartening when I spend so much time being such an advocate for conservationist well being and mental health, but I have recently been very worn down in both regards. It seems crazy that I would consider deleting a platform of over four thousand conservationists on Instagram, but you can imagine that when hundreds of people turns to thousands, it is easy for values and the communication of core messaging to get lost. What once was a wholesome platform to find other like-minded individuals has evolved to a point where its impossible to make meaningful connections with every single person that joins the community. At this stage, sub cultures can form and I have been informed that I am starting to become de-humanised by the social media platform, despite my intention to be raw and authentic with everyone and in every interaction I have with the community.
For me to put so much of my honest and raw self into this community, purely for community values rather than any financial gain or popularity, makes it extremely sad to hear that the community I am working so hard for doesn’t see me as a person anymore. This is of course is by no means the perception I get from everybody, with many of my community members sending me messages most days appreciating the work I do, but it doesn’t take away from the pain that the growth of the community may be detrimental to my values and be quietening the important voices that need to be heard.
To be honest, since creating Lonely Conservationists, I haven’t felt lonely again up until now, but here I am sitting with the realisation that the four thousand others in my community are probably very disconnected to the efforts encompassed by this movement that go well beyond social media. Instead of deleting the page, I will make strides to re-structure the content to showcase the important voices that are getting lost and show my face more as a community representative to re-human myself. Even today, I was reminded of the power of the community twice, once after this week’s blog when multiple people felt less alone after hearing the story of another on the same journey as them. The other was moments ago when an old friend called me and her personal understanding of my feelings made me feel less alone again. After all, that was the feeling that sparked the importance of this movement in the first place.
It has been a sad week to have my mental health plummet as a result of a movement that values and actively advocates for the mental health and the well being of conservationists. What a truly definitive indicator of failure, to feel all the impacts and emotions of the issues I am working so tirelessly to stop. I hope this post in itself can humanise me and showcase the need for people to be empathetic towards others, no matter if they are in the industry or not and how much their social media following expands. I also hope this post can also share with you all the other side of Lonely Conservationists, the side that works to combat systemic issues rather than gathering like-minded individuals in solidarity.
Now is an obvious time for a new evolution of Lonely Conservationists. Before, I was just trying to see if anyone else felt the same as I did in my frustrations in the industry and now that we have built a global community of like minded individuals, it is time to use our powerful voices to make incredible change for conservationists everywhere. Just like a single celled blue green algae mutated into the incredible life on Earth we have today, we need to use our own mutations, mishaps and natural signals to evolve ourselves and our own projects. We ultimately need to use our imperfections to create new and unique life on earth.
For more of the real Jessie, check out @ecolojesst on Instagram