January began for us right from the moment the year started. Submissions for our latest novel idea “Letters to young conservationists” were due at midnight of the new year, giving people the rest of 2021 to submit their letters for consideration. This month was filled with work on the book, editing and reviewing the submitted pieces, illustrators toying around with illustration concepts, and starting to formulate what the overall manuscript would look like.
February was big for me personally, as it was the first time I was able to integrate Lonely Conservationists into my paid work as personal development. An opportunity came up to apply for the Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) cohort for 2022 and I was about to knock back the opportunity until my husband, Todd, suggested that I could do the program as personal development for my day job. My managers agreed, and this was the first time I have been able to mix my work life with my Lonely Conservationists life.
This is the month I also tried mentoring through the CoalitionWILD EXCELerator Peer Mentoring Program and I believe I failed abysmally at this. I found it super challenging to connect with other people in different time zones with limited communication and connection. The program organisers themselves were lovely and accommodating and if you live in the northern hemisphere, I recommend that you give this program a go. I, however, found that I couldn’t be the best mentor I could be due to the logistical and cultural constraints of who I was paired with and my southern hemisphere time zone.
The book was coming together quickly, and the manuscript was able to be sent to the editor, following lots of hard work from many of the authors. Some authors had to spend a lot of time and energy perfecting their pieces and getting them ready for the editor to go through their words with a fine tooth comb. I was really proud of the authors, despite this being a frustrating process, because refining personal stories for a specific format and audience was something new to many of the individuals involved and we all learnt a lot together.
Lastly, February brought with it a lot of organisations and individuals reaching out to ask me to speak at various events and I felt as if my four years working on this community were culminating magically. For the first time, it felt as if opportunities were coming to me, instead of me having to seek them out.
By March, I was getting exhausted with running Lonely Conservationists as it was evidently changing from its humble beginnings. Blogs were no longer coming in, and I was having to recycle old stories in hopes that they would reach new pockets of the community for the first time. I also decided that I would no longer speak on podcasts as it was becoming emotionally taxing for me to see my past trauma being used as clickbait for other people’s projects. At this point, I hadn’t set the necessary boundaries about what I was giving of myself for the benefit of others in the community.
What re-connected me to the community and breathed new life into my experiences were the times that I was able to connect meaningfully with others in the community. In March, I was a plenary speaker at the Wisconsin Chapter of the Wildlife Society conference and it was incredible to connect with other like-minded individuals, virtually, on the other side of the world. This was one of the most incredible events as the plenary speakers covered the hard science and biology, Indigenous perspectives, and conservationist wellbeing. To have such a well-rounded discussion following these presentations was absolutely revolutionary and I hope more conferences can follow suit into the future.
March was the month that I was accepted into the WELA program, and started to prepare my year for the two retreats and online content that I would be participating in. With two amazing achievements so close together, I felt like a new era of Lonely Conservationists was blossoming, replacing of my old attitude of mourning the loss of how it used to be.
In April, I spoke to the Global Challenges cohort at Monash University for the second time, fostering our wonderful relationship. This was the second time in the year where Lonely Conservationists overlapped with my paid job, and I was able to continue to work with students from the cohort throughout the year in a capacity related to my work with sustainability in schools.
The online sessions for WELA began and I was taken aback by our sessions, especially on impostor syndrome. I soon found out that others in the cohort had never heard of impostor syndrome before, despite having experiencing it themselves. I was sitting with the notion that maybe I shouldn’t have been granted a position in this program as I had written books and created this community because of the exploration of topics such as these. In these sessions, I started to believe that individuals who hadn’t had the luxury of four years of self-discovery and introspection should have taken my place.
This is also the month that the book editor came back to me and shared that she didn’t think that this manuscript would be appropriate for a book due to the traumatic content discussed repeatedly throughout the letters, making it hard for a reader to digest. If the letters were more career-oriented with less of a focus on the individual’s backstory, they would be too similar to the content found in The Secret life of Conservationists, and so wouldn’t be unique. I sat on this for a long time and ended up deciding that if the stories were published in replacement of blogs on the website, they would be spaced out enough to be digestible and would highlight each author for the week that it was published. The illustrations could also be published with the letters and everyone could still have something to show for their work, in a more accessible way than was previously intended. This option was offered to the authors, and those who agreed to transition their pieces from book to blog had their pieces prepped for publication.
In May, the first letters and their corresponding illustrations were published on the website, including an introductory piece about why the blog content would look different this year. The letters then took off and were published up until the last one in November. This was great because the authors and I could get immediate feedback on the letters from the wider community, and every week, we got to showcase a new conservationist and their story. I really hope that the lessons shared in these letters will be able to help early-career or student conservationists from across the world and make it easier to grapple with the undulating ebbs and flows of a career in conservation.
I also had the privilege of joining this year’s National Youth Leadership Council for the Jane Goodall Institute on their retreat, to run two workshops about how we can conserve ourselves as early-career conservationists. These workshops would then become the framework for others that I ran during the course of the year, and changed the way I shared the importance of wellness in environmentally minded individuals. Spending the weekend with these dedicated and passionate youth leaders filled me with such an immense amount of gratitude to be a part of their journeys, where they even fostered my new love of fan sponges and my old love of fire building.
With June, came the first of two week-long WELA retreats. In this retreat, I lead my conserving conservationists workshop again, but this time it ended with a very substantial emotional breakdown. After the workshop had concluded, a facilitator from WELA expressed that it must have been so challenging for me to have gone on my journey without any support or guidance, and offered her support to me in that moment. I immediately broke down into fits of sobs because in all my time sharing my journey and presenting about Lonely Conservationists, nobody had ever asked if I was okay or had offered to help me afterwards. This poignant moment in my year forced me to reflect on the ways in which I have lost myself in caring for others, and have forgotten the need to be cared for myself. In a twist of fate, contracting Covid-19 the following week forced me to allow others to start caring for me immediately. This is when I started to understand the benefits of engaging in the WELA program, and was grateful to have people supporting me and caring for me along my journey.
Coming out of an emotional paradigm shift and physical destruction from the virus, I spent some of my recovery time playing around with and changing the website to best suit the content and resources that were on there. I often forget how much is involved in running Lonely Conservationists, but doing it alone forces me to be equipped in everything from the outward-facing presentations to the behind-the-scenes IT management.
At this time, it was also lovely for Lonely Conservationists to be mentioned in a blog post on Gyaneshwari Dave’s blog, Pineconedream. More often than not this year, I have revisited the sense of loneliness and isolation from when I first created this community, so to see it resonate with others still has been incredibly touching and special for me. All the moments when lonely conservationists have reached out about the books, podcasts or even just their experience in finding the community, have been stark reminders of the impact that our wonderful community can have in making people feel seen and heard. I cherish these moments forever, and they do make my days, trust me on that!
August brought the exciting news that both How to Conserve Conservationists and The Secret Life of Conservationists would be circulated in libraries across Eastern Victoria! This was amazing to me because now conservationists could incidentally stumble across these books, but also, they could rent them out for free if the price point was an issue in obtaining them. I hope that others in the Lonely Conservationist community can ask their libraries to get these books in if they too want them to be freely accessible in their local community.
August also brought with it many great chats with many industry professionals, and one of them was Tom Curtis. Tom is both a conservationist and trained counsellor who wanted to offer his services to Australian Lonely Conservationists if they need someone to talk to who understands their plight. Tom is now listed under our mental health resources for any Lonely Conservationist from Australia to seek services from. It would be great to locate other conservation-minded psychologists to help others from other parts of the world, as understandably, there are restrictions governing the provision of mental health services in places with different legislations.
September came around and with it came the realisation that I need to re-wild myself. Through the second WELA retreat (thankfully less emotional than the first), I was able to explore the notion of regaining the terrestrial forest conservationist that I was before Lonely Conservationists and the passion I have for the natural world. Fortunately for me, this is when I was paired with my new ecologist mentor as a part of the WELA program and we were able to explore these facets of my life together. A highlight of the retreat was when one of the guest workshop presenters identified me and shared that she was reading my book- a wild experience for me!
Something else that I took away from the retreat and actually actioned was the ability to have crucial conversations in a professional and personal environment. Through this training, I was able to share my visions and hopes for my future with those that I work with and ask for their support in my transition to the next stage of my journey, wherever that may be. I never thought that it could be possible to ask my superiors to support me in evolving and finding new ways to thrive, so I hope I can encourage others in the community to take brave steps forward and advocate for yourselves when and where needed.
October graced me with a new opportunity to speak to a different cohort of students from Melbourne University’s Wattle Fellowship. It was a great opportunity to be the person I needed as a young conservationist and explain why it’s crucial that students advocate for themselves in their careers and think about their environmental shadow rather than become crippled by their footprint. It was also a good opportunity to remind everyone that wildlife needs adequate and quality resources to survive and thrive, and so do we.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to reunite with the National Youth Leadership Council at their graduation event. At this event, with a guest appearance by Jane Goodall herself, I was able to give the members of JGI Australia permission and some time for reflection to meet their own needs in order to thrive in the next stages of their conservation journey. I have been extremely grateful to have so many opportunities to work with this year’s cohort and know that they will create important change for themselves and our natural world.
This month was also the month I started to seriously explore the idea of helping environmentally focused businesses and organisations to conserve their conservationists. This may be a large facet of Lonely Conservationists into 2023 as I start to push the boundaries of what we can achieve as a community and platform centered around protecting environmentalists themselves.
November was a rollercoaster of emotion as we said goodbye to the Letters to Young Conservationists series and said hello again to the blogs! I was positively shocked to have blogs roll in the second that the letter’s ended, and was extremely appreciative of the community’s continued involvement in contributing to the website.
After meeting with Landcare ACT, and hearing their enthusiasm for integrating reconnection to self and country into their work with hardcore nature restorers and protectors, I remembered how important it is to advocate for a safe space for conservationists. Inspired by the conversations I had been having with conservation professionals in the wellness space, I started to think about running independent conferences or webinars surrounding the idea of creating failure-safe spaces for learning and teaching within the environmental industry. It is important that I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone to be the change that I want to see in this world and so I am interested to explore these ideas more in the new year.
December started in Tasmania where I facilitated two workshops for Landcare Tasmania members and staff about incorporating wellness and respite into their landcaring efforts. Both the staff and the member workshops were very successful, despite my never having run programs for conservation professionals at their place of work or volunteering before. Gaining tangible outputs and actions from these workshops validated to me that there is an important space for addressing root causes of issues and creating innovating solutions to remedy them. I understand that the topic of wellness carries a stigma to some people, but despite the “caring for Landcarers” title of the workshops, these were very practical, useful and important sessions to have.
This is definitely something I want to do more of in 2023, and I hope I can work with more conservation NGOs around Australia to increase the mental and physical capacity of their staff and members for the benefit of our natural landscapes and wildlife. These workshops proved to me the value of constructive and open conversations between environmentalists of any age, demographic or stage in their career and validated my efforts in conserving conservationists so far.
In 2022, I finally feel as if my work in conserving conservationists has amounted to something important outside of the online community. I was approached to embark on new opportunities with universities and NGOs, whilst also being asked back to collaborate with existing partners. I am honestly grateful for this year’s book failure which has demonstrated to me how flexible and adaptable this community can be in achieving outcomes for conserving conservationists, and it makes me proud to work with people who are so understanding and dedicated to the cause.
Five years ago, my husband Todd gave me until I was 30 to succeed in the industry, or for my own sanity and well-being, I should have to re-train in another field to have some semblance of a life and financial security. Thanks to his support and the immense encouragement that I receive from all of you, I turned 30 this November and have not only been able to survive in the field of conservation, but I have seemingly created my own new facet of the industry in conserving conservationists. I can proudly say that I can now pay my bills, live comfortably, and am getting paid whenever I run workshops or present- which is easy to advocate for as I speak about valuing people for their work!
This year has truly felt like the best encouragement to never give up on my values and vision for the world as I have been shown that there is a need and a benefit to making the environmental space a safer and more compassionate space. I hope that 2023 brings more stories shared between the community, more connections made, and more individuals advocating for their needs and space within the industry.
Just know that if you are wanting to advocate for yourself, your needs, and goals next year, that you have not only me, but a whole community of empowered and not-always-so-lonely environmentalists behind you. It is also important to remember that above else, I am proud of you for everything that makes you a uniquely-you conservationist and for all that you have done in 2022 to make our world a better place.
If you want to share your story in 2023, head over here for more details
If youwould like me to speak at your events or facilitate workshops at your place of work, volunteer or study in 2023, reach out at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org