The year started off with new possibilities as I met with someone from a brand new socially responsible networking site with the potential to collaborate and earn some money for the work I was doing with Lonely Conservationists. I met with the people behind the software regularly to provide feedback and help shape the future of this product.
I was feeling positive stepping into the new year after the first edition of How to Conserve Conservationists passed its 200th sale in two months and I was chatting to amazing people such as the Fancy Scientist, and Brian and Molly from the Hive, as a guest on their podcasts.
February was a rollercoaster as I had to set boundaries with and ultimately jump ship on the networking site. They were all for using my content on valuing conservationists, but not willing to adequately value my time for the help I was giving them. Standing up for myself had been getting easier with the help and perspective of my CoalitionWild mentor, Tom, and setting boundaries was now staring to feel empowering rather than horrifying.
While it didn’t look like much was happening from the outside, Todd and I were busy recording Season Two of the How to Conserve Conservationists Podcast, frantically trying to get it done before we were to get married in early March. We were proud of our idea to represent the diverse voices of our community and speak up on behalf of those who couldn’t themselves. This format proved time consuming, however, to ensure that each episode was thoroughly checked and approved by the blog authors involved and any changes were made as needed.
Understandably, a lot of March was taken up by our wedding and honeymoon, however, as soon as we returned we released the podcast episodes for the listening ears of the community. We were overwhelmed by the incredible feedback and your wonderful comments inspired Todd and myself to continue to speak up for others in tough or marginalised situations, even though it felt weird to speak on experiences we hadn’t endured ourselves. Through this time, I also noticed that Todd also had quite a fanbase and it was amazing to hear how his thoughts and experiences resonated with listeners in the community.
April came along soon enough and I was so fortunate to be asked by Monash University, here in Melbourne, to come and speak to their Global Challenges Students about what it is to be an early career conservationist. A particular student, Ashleigh, had read my book and realised its relevance to the students involved in her course so I thank her for reaching out to her supervisors to arrange the event! After receiving a beautiful hamper of goodies from them, I was grateful to everyone involved for making me feel valued throughout the whole process for my time and efforts.
During April, How to Conserve Conservationists was featured in the Wildlife Society Magazine and our Patreon supporters raised $400 for the Srikandi Women Empowerment Fellowship run by friend and fellow Lonely Conservationist, Nayla Azmi in North Sumatra. Due to the pandemic, however, the fellowship had to be postponed to a later time.
May came about and I decided that a second book was needed, initially decided as a replacement for How to Conserve Conservationists, as I hoped this new book would contain a wider array of perspectives and experiences. I sent an email out to blog authors with stories fitting the size and relevancy constraints and started to get approval from authors to include their pieces in the anthology. The book didn’t have a name yet, but I threw some ideas out to the community to get their opinions and by the end of the month, we landed on “The Secret Life of Conservationists”.
The two podcasts I was featured on as a guest in May were Fireside Ch@s with Joe Buck and the Good Natured Podcast with Julia and Sofia from Conservation Optimism. Our own podcast, How to Conserve Conservationists got its 3000th view and we were ecstatic!
This was the month I also started considering creating educational content and started playing around with sketchnote videos, which the poor Patreon community saw a lot of!
In June, Ashleigh from Monash University and I created an on-demand education program through RYVIAS about valuing the conservation staff and volunteers in organisations and businesses. Although this program basically has a niche market of nobody- which we were aware of- we really wanted to take this project on as a learning experience and an opportunity to acquire new skills.
By this time, I knew who would want their blogs to be published in the Secret Life of Conservationists, so authors started refining their pieces and getting them where they wanted them for publication.
July was when Jack started working on the cover art for the Secret Life of Conservationists, and after five design proposals, he refined the amazing cover we have today. Meanwhile, Phalguni had also been creating illustrations for the interior of the book and the book was starting to come together!
Speaking of the book, this was the angstiest month for me as I tried to get funding to produce this project. I had people telling me that a global and community-driven project such as this would warrant funding from organisations who believe in our mission, and after a while, I believed them. I started meeting with an organisation who seemed very interested in funding the book, and possibly even partnering with Lonely Conservationists more broadly. This was until the third and final meeting that left me in a fit of rage when I was told that the only way the book would be funded, was if I only published stories written by American authors. As an Australian running a global community who prides herself on inclusivity, that was the worst proposal they could have for me. I felt like my clearly stated values were ignored and disrespected and my own voice, irrelevant.
This is when I decided to end my mission of having Lonely Conservationists as more than just a passion project, and defeated, I went on a full time job hunt to be able to properly fund and value myself as a conservationist.
Thankfully, WildHub reminded me that my voice was still valuable when they published an article about my environmental education and mental health experiences and Saving our Species had me talk on their Business of Biodiversity Podcast series.
By August, all of the stories in the book had been refined and approved by the authors and Renuka could come in with her magic copy- editing skills. With the illustrations done, this was the last step in preparing the book before we began the publishing process.
I had also secretly been chipping away at my new edition of How To Conserve Conservationists in the background as I realised that I did want to keep that book on the market. I liked having a summation of all the topics encompassed by Lonely Conservationists as a handy “how to guide” separate from the endless content on social media. I decided to just improve the chapters so they contained more blog excerpts, more diverse perspectives and a lot less angsiness. I mocked up a cover on my own (for once) and the community seemed to agree that it was a winner!
The end of August brought me the new job of my dreams, and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have got it, if not for the skills I’ve picked up while running Lonely Conservationists. It was an extremely full circle moment to have started Lonely Conservationists because no employer valued my work, only to end up with employers valuing my work BECAUSE of Lonely Conservationists. It really taught me that you don’t need to rely on any course, training or guidance to develop the skills you need to succeed in your future and that skill accumulation is totally in your control. The best part was that I still got one day off a week to focus on running the community and publishing too many books.
By September, it was time for How to Conserve Conservationists 2nd edition to be edited by Renuka and for the publishing process to start for The Secret Life of Conservationists. It was all ready to launch on the 1st of October and shortly after How to Conserve Conservationists would be scheduled too. Balancing my new job with getting these two books finished consumed the entirety of the month.
October saw both books hit the online bookshelves and the Authors and the rest of the community could start getting their hands on some end of year reading! Now all that was left was to plan the book launch for early November, working with Jack as the MC and authors; Phalguni, Rachael, María and Madhushri as panellists.
Because of closed borders, I presented remotely at the Tasmanian Landcare Conference about valuing conservation volunteers which was apparently well-received. I say apparently as I had to pre-record myself and didn’t actually see anyone watching my talk except for in some photos which was very weird.
The book launch event came around in November and it was incredible to actually hear from the authors around the world and discover what the book writing process meant to them. It was so wholesome and it really made me want to create more events where conservationists can congregate, connect and congratulate each other on their efforts.
Around the same time, Kate on Conservation published a piece about the books and Jacob King had me on his EnviroConvos podcast. We also released Phalguni’s artwork designs on tshirts so that her art can live beyond the pages of the book and can be worn with pride by the community.
With so many new things coming out of Lonely Conservationists, I gave the website a bit of a refresh and shortly after, I discovered that we are listed as a legitimate resource on the University of Florida’s website!
Working in sustainability education, I wanted next year to focus on the younger conservationists, especially in high school and undergraduate degrees, which inspired an idea for a new book. I played around with getting some perspectives about being a conservationist in everything we do, but needed to change gears after it became to focus around behaviours unattainable to young student-aged conservationists. I instead opened the floor to take peoples letters of advice to their younger selves to be published as another anthology, however, the impostor syndrome hits the members of my community hard and there has been a lot of apprehension about being worthy enough to participate. This is of course, despite my constant and incessant reminders that everyone in the community is worthy and valid as a conservationist.
We ended the month by hitting 6000 Lonely Conservationists in the community and started to get ready to wind down for the rest of the year.
Letter submissions for next year’s book close on the 31st of December at midnight AEST. So December will be about gathering those submissions (if there are any, considering the current impostory landscape) and having a well-earned rest before we embark on yet another year of being Lonely Conservationists together!
In 2021, I learned two very important lessons. One is that I can and should advocate for myself in professional situations, and by doing this, I will garner the respect I deserve. In February, I interviewed for a casual job that offered me minimum wage, to which I protested it on the grounds of my experience. They ended up giving me the pay rise and mentioned later on in the position, that they have all the confidence in me for the role, because I had that much confidence in myself.
The second lesson I learned was that Lonely Conservationists are utterly relentless in their impostor syndrome, and no books, podcasts, or any other content I can ever produce can erase the decades of trauma they have internalised about their self-worth. This breaks my heart, but I guess all I can do is keep trying to share their stories and voices widely, and prove to each and every one of them that I, Captain Jessie Panazzolo, value them immensely.
Thank you to each and every Lonely Conservationist who submitted a blog, took part in the book, or touched base with feedback or comments at any time throughout the year. I will never tire of hearing from the wonderful people in this community and I can’t stress enough how you all changed my life. I hope this community has changed all of our lives, and that we will, at the very least, go into 2022 a little less lonely.