Lonely Conservationists

Laura (PART 1. You are enough)

Written by Laura Marsh

First of all, I’m so glad this community exists. I love that there is a platform where we can post our thoughts and feelings about environmental concerns in a vulnerable, honestly raw way.

My story comes from a place of desperation. Desperate for a career I felt passionate about, but also could serve a greater cause. I have always been desperate to live a life of meaning in conservation biology without sacrificing or selling out. Desperate to get paid what I know I’m worth, instead of working for next-to-nothing. My story is in two parts — so buckle up and make yourselves comfy!

A bit about me — I’ve been pursuing a career in biology since I was 19. At the prompting of my family I entered college as an engineering major. I’m good at math and science, but it wasn’t me. I hated engineering and was horrible at physics. Thankfully, I listened to the small voice inside me saying “get out now”— and am so glad I did! Two weeks into my freshman year I changed majors to Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and never looked back.

After undergrad, I did a lot of environmental education: working at nature centers, zoos, and so on. I was very good at it and could have made it my career. But that small voice said “there’s more for you.” So I went back to school to get a Master’s in Environmental Science. I really wanted to work with birds, so I chose a research project where I gained bird banding (or ringing) experience.

I felt most alive in the field. I loved every part of working outdoors: the green, the sweat, the spiderwebs, the connection to nature. I knew I had to do more of this. I accepted a temporary position in California on yellow-billed cuckoos and knew I was on the right path. As soon as I got home to Tennessee, I couldn’t wait for my next field job.

But then I got pregnant and immediately felt like my career and plans to travel the world were halted before I got a chance to even flex my biologist muscle. The ink of the diploma for my master’s degree wasn’t even dry when my first child arrived. I was 26.

So much of those early days with a baby were lost in a haze of wishing I knew what I was doing with my career. I jumped at every chance I could get to work outdoors — with birds —praying that it would somehow land me an elusive full-time position that conservation organizations never seem to have open. But in the depths of my heart I wanted to keep traveling and having a baby made that extremely difficult.

In that season of life, I chose to teach Environmental Science at the university I got my MSc, and volunteer with birds (or any fieldwork!) as often as possible.

I was depressed and had debilitating bouts of PPD, but I couldn’t figure out why. I’m so fortunate…I should be grateful, repeated through my head. We are debt-free, my husband has a stable career, so I have nothing to complain about. I don’t have to work full time and I am able to pursue my passions.

However, that tended to make my environmental guilt and depression even more severe. I’m so fortunate,” I would think, “the least I can do is bring my own jars to reduce plastic waste when I go to the grocery store! The least I can do is bike to campus today instead of driving! The least I can do is use only reusable diapers for my kids!”

The least I could do. Those words haunted me to the point where I would have panic attacks in the grocery store, torn about buying cheese sticks because they produce too much plastic waste.

It was as if every decision, every step I could have made differently, better for the environment, more thoughtfully planned. And I would beat myself up in my head all the time. I hated myself. I felt I wasn’t a good enough environmentalist and like a total hypocrite.

It was even harder teaching about this stuff. As I prepared each lecture, the more I learned about all the problems we face — ecological, politically and globally. To be frank, my depression was so severe there were days I could barely make it to my own lectures.

In my first semester (Fall 2016), we elected Trump. I could barely come to class to teach, much less get out of bed. It weighed so heavily on my heart that America would elect this vile man as the leader of our free country. Life, which I was already floating through anyway, felt completely surreal.

As I write this, finally being vulnerable enough to share with a safe community, I’m holding back tears and quaking with the unpleasant memories. I don’t want to go back there in my head. I’m so grateful I’m at a much better place now, but it hurts to relive the memories. However, if anyone else benefits from this post, even one person, and even a tiny bit, it’s worth it!

I was in that dark spot for a long time, so I don’t want to gloss over how I just “got out of it.” Meditation and prayer helped. But more so figuring out a way to address that voice in my head that continuously says “You’re not doing enough. You’re not good enough.” I am, and you are. 

So: To the person who is reading this who is maybe beating themselves up for not recycling every scrap of plastic…You are enough.

To the person who knows they should support local food and small businesses, but shops at big box stores out of convenience and time and hates themselves for it…You are enough.

To the person who sees the many problems with the world and constantly feels hopeless because “how can my small actions matter?”…You are enough.

To the person who feels guilty for spending money to go to therapy instead of donating it to conservation efforts….You are enough.

You need to take care of you before you can take care of our world.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Take care of you. Find out what makes you whole, joyful and complete. I don’t mean external forms of satisfaction, like drugs, food, a romantic partner, or even exercise. I mean figure out how to be happy in your own brain, your own body. Find acceptance within yourself. Be very, very nice to yourself and shut down those voices telling you that you suck. You don’t!

Once I got mentally and emotionally better, I could recognize the lies. And once my brain started recognizing the hate that I was telling myself, it got easier and easier to fight back. This took many years, hundreds of trips to therapy, and six or seven different counselors to finally get where I feel whole.

What helped me the most was realizing my unique gift and passion for a specific aspect of environmentalism, wildlife conservation. If “Saving Our Planet” is a pie the slice I am most eager to eat is wildlife biology (horrible metaphor, I’m sorry).

It took me a long time to realize focusing on this slice, the part that I was passionate the most about, is enough.

There’s always more we could do. We could go zero waste! You could go plastic-free and blog about it! We could go grid-free, harnessing completely sustainable energy on our homestead! You could grow all your own organic fruits and veggies! All of those are extremely valuable and unique ways to battle climate change, but none of them were me.

Once I finally accepted my unique calling and my avenue to make a difference in this world was through starting Nova Conservation, I took the leap and the door flung wide open. The dam broke and my ideas came pouring out. Use whatever metaphor you want to, I finally have a channel for my energy and passion.

So in January 2020 I launched my website (novaconservation.com). My plan was to partner with wildlife biologists and coordinate eco-trips so participants can experience a unique side of conservation. I even took an entrepreneurial class to get my idea off the ground and I started planning trips and workshops. What could go wrong?

No one expected corona virus to hit….


For more of Laura, visit @nova_conservation on Instagram


  • Lance Cruse

    Laura, thank you for sharing with us. Having used positive affirmations in order to change my inner dialogue (I felt I needed to be perfect too!)

    I will reiterate your quote in bold:

    You need to take care of you before you can take care of our world.

    One of the wonderful people I’ve met along my path suggested that “if you try to melt all of the snow, you’ll surely die from exposure”?

    Can’t wait four Laura – part two !

    • Lance Cruse

      I miss quoted! Our, your, the world ! I hope you got Laura’s ‘drift’. See how difficult it is to get everything right! Should I add my reply to the failure wall!?

      Part of learning to love yourself for who you are is also learning to invite laughter back into your life and to not take yourself too seriously – life can be too short!

  • Louise Cordery

    Wow, thank you for writing this incredibly honest and raw account of your experiences! I know, this week in particular, I needed to hear a lot of those words and definitely need to be kinder to myself. What you are doing is amazing, I can’t wait to read part 2!

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