I started off this year with a new zest for what was possible as I headed out to the smoke covered field with a fellow LC (and entomologist) where we worked day and night to study the birds and insects on an agricultural property for a….wait for it…paying client! Feeling valued for our work, we planned, proposed and conducted the surveys despite the thick air reminding us of the bushfires that raged on somewhere close by. Unfortunately, being a part of Lonely Conservationists and advocating for fair treatment didn’t prevent me from facing sexist remarks in the field, and after failing to remediate this issue with the client, I suspended all future projects of this nature.
Realising that I couldn’t fix the culture of each individual business one-by-one on my own, I set my sights back on the community as a whole and set out into the year to work together to create a collaborative, safe space for conservationists around the world. It was with these values shining brightly, that we celebrated Lonely Conservationist’s very first birthday and took a moment to feel proud of how wonderfully the community had grown in just one year.
A good friend and fellow Lonely Conservationist, Louise Cordery, created her brand new podcast, Turn on the Light, about all things endangered species with some quality tea-time chats with conservationists. I was so honoured to be her very first guest and I was so proud of her for being brave enough to start a new project that involved a lot of navigating new technology and structured conversations for the first time.
The community spirit continued to flow when I attended the Victorian Biodiversity Conference and met so many Victorian LCs for the first time. I loved being able to learn about local conservation efforts alongside some amazing conservationists. With conferences as the theme for February, I represented Lonely Conservationists as a 2020 Women in STEM Changemaker at the Catalysing Gender Equity Conference in Adelaide. Unfortunately, though the conference was surrounding the topic of equality, I felt dismissed for not being affiliated with a university as some professional academics looked away as soon as I said I ran an independent organisation. Thankfully, the other changemakers were all incredible and I was so fortunate to connect with such an amazing group of women.
In March I was determined to start up Conservationists Anonymous meetings here in Victoria, however unfortunately I got the date wrong on the invite and only a few people could attend. It was good, however, to spend time talking about factors that influenced us as conservationists that others in our lives may not experience outside of the industry- also, there was cake.
Quarantine started as the Covid-19 outbreak shut down the world and American Lonely Conservationists started having Netflix parties to stay connected in this time. Australian Lonely Conservationists also met regularly on zoom and I was thankful that we had all established these connections with other like minded people so we could feel connected in such an isolating time.
The amazing Jeremy Hance published an article about us in Mongabay, “Overworked, underpaid and lonely: Conservationists find a new community online”. I loved sharing the article with the words of other conservationists written alongside mine, and to this day it is my favourite piece ever written about Lonely Conservationists. This is a largely unknown fact, but after creating Lonely Conservationists back in 2019, it was a goal of mine to establish the community enough to warrant being written about in this exact journal- so it was a proud moment for me!
Following the article, Speak out for the Ocean Blue did a podcast about Lonely Conservationists and it was so surreal hearing about my life from the perspective of the Canadian host. I often listen to this podcast again to feel the impact of Lonely Conservationists on an individual level for people in conservation across the globe.
April was crazy as I prepared to present on a panel at the Earth Optimism Summit hosted by the Smithsonian Institute at 11pm my time. After settling down with a wine at night, there was often some urgent preparation I needed to get done that was sent through in an appropriate time, if I lived in the UK. One night I was battling the most intense impostor syndrome of my life as I had to create a bio based off an example by an established NASA scientist. Thankfully my partner Todd reassured me that I wouldn’t have been selected to speak if I didn’t have anything valuable to bring to the table.
After burning out from the 6am meetings and 11pm presentations, I finally asked for help and the LC Board was formed. Together, we created the concept for the Lonely Conversationists discussion and workshop series and we supported each other through the increasingly turbulent year that was divulging.
With the help of another Lonely Conservationist, I started started cleaning and analysing the data for our scientific paper on loneliness in conservationists, which incorporated a lot of tedious and surprisingly emotional work. After wondering why less than half of the blogs were submitted by men we had a community based deep dive into the impacts of toxic masculinity in male blog author’s comfort in sharing vulnerable stories.
We ended the month with an appearance in a Shondaland Article alongside Gretta Thunburg and Jane Fonda and I freaked out for the appropriate amount of time necessary when you find yourself spoken about in the same scope as those amazing women.
We had our first Lonely Conversationists discussion and workshop with Jessica Pinder on Lonely Eggs: how to hatch a conservationist and I was so proud of how it went. It was incredible to have the opportunity to chat about the psychology of conservationists with Lonely Conservationists and learn a bit more about ourselves at the same time.
Australian Geographic released an article about us “I felt like the loneliest conservationist in the world”: how one woman started an online community to help conservationists cope and we were a guest on the Animalia podcast.
Getting more and more into the psychology of conservationists, I created a group of professional development scientists from across the world to collaborate on all things conservationists well-being who I would continue to meet with every month for the rest of the year. Conjoining the women I met with individually into a small think tank highlighted to me the importance of collaboration and its role in empowering and inspiring us through our hard slogs.
I started June off with another late night engagement for the ABC Nightlife Grass Roots program before a regularly timed Lonely Conversationists discussion with Sean Washington and Sebastian Moreno on access and race in conservation as Black Lives Matter came to the forefront of everyone’s media consumption and thoughts. I was appreciative of the time that Sean and Sebastian took to have this discussion, as it is not their role or responsibility as victims of oppression to educate us. The words that they shared that day have stuck with me and have shaped the way I operate in conservation ever since, and multiple donations from this event were made to Outdoor Afro to support the access that Black individuals have in nature.
I spoke as a panellist at the People and Nature Alliance conference about the pandemic impacting conservation efforts, and in our own efforts to support local conservation initiatives during the pandemic, we partnered with The Nature Exchange run by Gabrielle Bradley to produce locally sourced and ethically produced T-shirts. A tree was planted for each t-shirt sold which was important after our summer bushfires. Following the success of the T-shirt launch, I opened another merch store with Lonely Conservationists branded apparel for those who live outside of Australia and couldn’t purchase the Nature Exchange collection.
It was already time for our third Lonely Conversationists discussion with Maria Dabrowski and Angus Hamilton on Unusual Pathways into a career in conservation which was a topic that resonated throughout many members of the community. Rachael Gross made me go on a week break and in this time I was inspired to start writing my book, “How to Conserve Conservationists”, so thank you for that Rachael.
We had yet another article published about us with Conservation Optimism and in the spirit of positive actions for wildlife, we decided as a community to not share images of conservationists holding wildlife as an effort to not promote illegal animal trades and negative tourist behaviours. I appeared in Jon Kahler‘s podcast Sustained which was the first podcast interview where I felt like I could divulge more into the interesting aspects of Lonely Conservationists and I appreciated Jon’s platform and interests surrounding ethics and morality which added a bit of spice to my usual conversations surrounding the community.
It was this month that I was accepted into the CoalitionWILD mentor program as a mentee and started my fortnightly meetings with my empowering and encouraging mentor from Canada. He inspired me to acknowledge my skills and journey so far as a project manager and to value my worth in this role. I definitely recommend that any Lonely Conservationists sign up to the program next year as a mentor or mentee to help further your network and support throughout your journey in the industry.
I presented as a panellist at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology Conference in the panel “Never Waste a Good Failure: What You Can Do To Fail Intelligently And Why It Matters” and created the failure wall to share, normalise and celebrate our failures together.
I had the honour of appearing as a guest in the Good Natured Podcast with Conservation Optimism, before hosting our fourth Lonely Conversationist discussion and Workshop with Thirza Loffeld on How to show resilience in a conservation career. I was super inspired by this discussion and learnt from Thirza that sometimes we may feel as if we are a small fry, but actually may be the leader in a wildly un-charted field of knowledge- and its important to acknowledge ourselves as the front runners that we are.
This month was mostly spent writing my book and finalising it before it hit the publication processes, so I spent a lot of time on walks thinking and collating my thoughts and at my computer crafting them into cohesive stories. At this point I was in very intense lockdown, with only an hour of exercise allowed a day which gave me plenty of time to write.
I presented my journey and lived lessons at BioCon with the Australian National University, before our fifth and final Lonely Conversationist discussion and workshop with Julia Migné about staying optimistic in conservation- which as we all know, was extremely necessary to learn about this year in particular.
Nayla Azmi ran the Srikandi Women Empowerment Fellowship in North Sumatra, which was totally funded and supported by Lonely Conservationists and Kathmandu. The program facilitated four local women who run conservation projects to spend a week with Nayla in Bukit Lawang and learn about the natural forest ecosystem of the area, gain entrepreneur skills and give them the opportunity to be a part of a supportive community to empower each other in their futures in the industry.
After two months of writing, I published my first book “How to Conserve Conservationists” and to support it’s release, my partner Todd joined me to produce and release the How to Conserve Conservationists Podcast about the themes discussed in the book. I was overwhelmed with the immediate support for both projects and I am eternally grateful for everyone who gave feedback and support to both Todd and I during this time.
October was emotional for me as the discussions in the book and podcast inspired me to embark on a mental health journey that I could no longer ignore. I finally sought help for all of the factors impacting me from my time in the industry, and upon identifying my constraints, I was able to move forward and regain power over the traumas that controlled the way I felt and behaved in turbulent situations.
Speaking of constraints, I also finished drafting the scientific manuscript on the constraints, inspirations and emotional language used in the blogs from January 2019-June 2020 and applied for a masters degree in Psychology for 2021 to continue this research more formally.
I was accepted into the masters degree, but was faced with the news that university funding has been cut and I could no longer receive financial support for my research. I also realised that my honours degree wouldn’t count towards my masters and that I would also need to complete a year of course work before I could start my research. I grappled heavily with the notion of continuing to burn myself out to work and study and I ended up passing up on this opportunity in hopes that I can support myself and my future in conservation more sustainably into the future.
I started my journey in being coached through life by Jean Thomas who reached out to me after the mental health podcast episode, with hopes that she could offer her help and services to struggling conservationists. After we finish our sessions, I will work with Jean to make this program available to Lonely Conservationists, as sometimes its easier to work with individuals who are also in the conservation industry and have experience and empathy with what we go through in our own journeys.
Despite the life choices and the angst that came along with that, we celebrated the book launch of How to Conserve Conservationists which was hosted by Blane Edwards from Earth Offline and supported by Rachael Gross. It was the perfect celebration to end the How to Conserve Conservationists journey and it was incredible to laugh, chat, and drink wine with some amazing supporters of this project.
Following the book launch, I was a panellist for the the RBMS Panel Q&A discussion forum on mental health and finished the month off with my very first holiday of the year as it was finally legal to get away for the weekend after a string of no covid cases in Melbourne for almost the entire month. I know this is not conservation related, but taking a break is so important for conservationists and I want to celebrate my rest time in hopes that you will too!
I finished my commitments for the year meeting up with the girls from Partnerships For Protection (big fans of Todd) before sharing my mental health journey to the blog and interviewing for some positions to be able to financially value myself next year.
Despite the chaos of the summer bushfires, the pandemic and all of the crazy situations exploding out of America, this year has been an important one for Lonely Conservationists. I started the year in, yet again, another situation where I felt undervalued in the field and I ended the year after twelve months of self-discovery feeling as if, no matter what, I finally understand and appreciate myself for my own value. It is no secret that conservationists are resilient beings, and maybe the events of this year acted as a fire which could break our tough seeds out of dormancy. I know that I relished in the stillness of the world, and the notion that now was not a time for comparison, jealousy or competition, but rather a time for collaboration, empathy and self-growth.
I would like to take this moment to thank each and every individual who helped me on my Lonely Conservationists journey this year and I hope that you have benefited as much as I have from the incredible community of like-minded individuals who I am so privileged to have in my life. This year was tough, but I am so proud of each and every one of you for making it through. I can only hope that next year you are able to flourish like the new shoots always end up doing after an intense burn and keep on prospering into 2021.