Navigating life as a lonely conservationist with Jessie Panazzolo

Are you feeling lost in a sea of opportunities or grappling with self-doubt as a conservationist? You’re not alone. In the world of conservation, there’s often a glamorized portrayal of the work, with images of breathtaking landscapes and exotic wildlife dominating the narrative.

But often behind the scenes, the reality can be very different – with feelings of frustration, isolation, and struggling for recognition and validation.

Jessie Panazzolo is a passionate conservationist from Australia, who stumbled across this truth and thought she must be the only person who’d ever experienced this. In a last-ditch effort to find meaning in what felt like an impossible career path, Jessie created the blog Lonely Conservationists to share her experiences.

The blog was met with an overwhelmingly positive response – a global community of conservationists who had felt similar invalidation. Through her blog, Jessie has turned a challenging experience into a source of empowerment and solidarity for conservationists worldwide.

The road to working in conservation can be a lonely and arduous one, but here Jessie shares her hopeful story, as well as advice on overcoming obstacles and finding ways to create meaningful change for our environment.

Jessie’s career pathway

Jesse’s journey into conservation began at a tender age, sparked by a simple yet meaningful gift – a stuffed toy gorilla. This moment ignited a curiosity and passion for primates, setting Jessie on a path of lifelong dedication to protecting wildlife. Jessie was determined to make a difference in the world of conservation.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Jessie delved into fieldwork, conducting research on reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and lemurs in Madagascar. But it was her later research on elephants and orangutans in restored Northern Sumatran forests that was most captivating for her.

Contrary to prevailing beliefs, Jessie discovered that orangutans and elephants could thrive in young restored forests, offering hope for biodiversity recovery in restored habitats. Despite this success, Jessie faced a pivotal moment of realization – that sustainable conservation projects require local involvement and cultural change.

This realization prompted a profound identity crisis as Jessie grappled with the disconnect between her aspirations and the realities of her role as a Western conservationist, working on conservation projects in other parts of the world. This internal conflict left Jessie struggling with her mental health, and eventually inspired a change in direction for her career.

While processing her shifting aspirations and rediscovering her sense of purpose, Jessie found solace in nature and particularly through birdwatching and photography. However, working in various environmental organizations back in Australia, she found recurring toxic work environments and financial insecurity plagued her efforts to make a sustainable career for herself in the conservation industry and make a difference at a local level.

It was during this tumultuous time that the idea of Lonely Conservationists emerged – a platform for sharing stories of struggle and solidarity within the conservation community.

Lonely Conservationist: A beacon of hope

Jessie began writing the Lonely Conservationists blog as an outlet for her frustrations and observations from her journey so far. As time went by her blog posts were discovered by others facing similar struggles, and before long people began to reach out to Jessie looking to share their own stories and experiences too.

What started as a personal blog soon evolved into a global community of nearly 7,000 lonely conservationists sharing their experiences, frustrations, and triumphs. Lonely Conservationist has become a beacon of hope for those navigating the challenges of the conservation industry, offering a safe space for validation, support, and connection.

After realising many people working in conservation experience feelings of isolation and being undervalued Jessie took action. She researched the problem, spoke to fellow conservationists, and identified a need for advocacy and support within the community. She began to compile a library of resources on her website, from workshops and talks to mental health support links.

To summarise what she had learned from the blog, Jessie  wrote a book titled “How to Conserve Conservationists“. This first book provides a guide for self-care and empowerment in the environmental sector.

Jessie later published another book, “The Secret Life of Conservationists“, to share the unglamorized realities of the industry.

Understanding the power of dialogue, Jesse ventured into podcasting with her partner. Through their podcast, they explored similar themes to the books – the intersection of conservation and mental health, fostering meaningful conversations beyond the traditional written format.

Despite these successes, Jessie has faced challenges, including the struggle to secure funding and recognition for her work. However, she has remained committed to authenticity, advocating for herself and others within the conservation community.

Through introspection and self-care, Jessie continues to share her journey as she navigates the complexities of permanency and fulfilment in a career in conservation by embracing authenticity, resilience and advocating for herself.

Jessie’s book, How to Conserve Conservationists.

Navigating your own career in conservation

The conservation industry can present a unique set of challenges, including under-resourcing, gatekeeping (the intentional “blocking” of information or opportunities, often a result of competition and resource limitations), no expectation of long-term commitments and the lack of recognition for grassroots conservation work. To combat these challenges, Jessie shares some of her top tips for navigating this space, landing paid and meaningful work, and achieving your goals as a conservationist.

Finding clarity in your journey

Jessie emphasizes the importance of taking the time to understand yourself and your values before diving into opportunities. Many conservationists get caught up in the pressure to apply for everything or pursue a specific career path without considering what truly aligns with their values and aspirations. By taking a step back and reflecting on your goals, you can avoid the trap of chasing opportunities that may not lead to fulfilment.

Embracing rejection and re-defining your goals

Although it can be completely disheartening at the time, rejection can often be a blessing in disguise. Jessie shares how facing rejection may encourage exploring of opportunities outside your initial focus – and can lead to a realization that blindly pursuing any opportunity doesn’t always lead to happiness. Instead of viewing rejection as a setback, consider it a redirection toward paths that resonate with your values and aspirations.

Similarly, traditional goal-setting methods may not work for everyone. Jessie is a strong advocate for taking a personalized approach based on your personal values, interests and decision-making processes. Rather than adhering to conventional frameworks, focus on aligning your decisions with your values and trust in your unique journey.

Cultivating personal sustainability

Rest is productive. Jessie emphasizes the importance of prioritizing self-care and acknowledging your accomplishments. Rather than constantly striving for progress, take time to celebrate your achievements and recharge. Personal sustainability is essential for long-term success in both conservation and life.

Embracing personal passions

Beyond conservation, it’s essential to explore hobbies and interests outside of your professional identity. Jessie encourages individuals to pursue activities that bring them joy and fulfillment, whether it’s gardening, reading fiction or engaging in sports to name a few. Cultivating a well-rounded life enhances creativity and overall well-being.

Comparison is the thief of joy

For aspiring conservationists, Jessie also encourages us to celebrate our achievements, embrace our unique journeys and above all, avoid comparing ourselves to others. Instead, Jessie emphasizes that showing up authentically to make a positive change is a powerful intention. After all, your passion and individuality are your greatest assets in the fight for environmental sustainability.

Keep in touch

Want to hear more from Jessie? You can find out more about the Lonely Conservationists platform either on the Lonely Conservationists website or on Instagram.

 

Author Profile | Susie Stockwell

Susie with a Purple-crowned Lorikeet, during work as a bird bander.

Susie Stockwell (she/her) is a field ecologist, science communicator and creator of the blog and podcast#itsawildlife, a platform to support people on their journey to work their dream job in wildlife science or conservation. Based on beautiful Menang country on the south coast of Western Australia, Susie is passionate about finding novel solutions for wildlife conservation and opening up the space to promote engagement and involvement for everyone interested in pursuing this career.

Interviews