The late great conservationist Steve Irwin got something very important, very right; the idea that conservation starts with appreciation. This is why he was so successful as an educator. He taught people how to love creatures for their purpose on this planet. He taught me how to want to do the same.
“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.”
This is an approach that needs to be taken once again. The only difference is that now more than ever we must push it further still into the mainstream. How do we do this?
I don’t have the answers, but I am actively working on finding them. I have been doing minor conservation work since I was 13, selling lemonade and donating everything to different organizations, and stepped onto the bottom rung of the Big Leagues ladder when I was 17, largely because a few happy accidents threw me into the field headfirst.
I couldn’t have gotten to where I am if it weren’t for the people behind me, supporting me every step of the way. So to anyone who has doubts about the future of this planet, who ask what they can be doing to help, here are some things that I focused on and continue to in my own journey.
1. Find a mentor. Find someone willing to give you constructive criticism, keep you focused, keep you optimistically realistic, keep you humble, keep you you.
2. Allow yourself to accept discouragement, but don’t allow yourself to become stagnant because of it. Allow people to dislike you. no one can please everyone, and once you move past this you’ll be able to focus on what really matters.
3. Be educated on the subject and the community. know not only the research, but the researchers, the communicators, the big names, the small organizations. This makes it easier to find your place within the community.
4. Never ever stop; become obsessed. If you think you’re going to fail, always do one more thing. Make it count and calculate your risks of course, but never quit anything cold turkey because you risk missing great success that way. There’s always a last-ditch effort you can make, and if you really are passionate about something, you’ll always find a way.
5. Be compassionate. The best way to communicate with other people is to understand where they’re coming from. Listen to what they have to say with an open heart and mind.
6. Commit. If you find something you truly love, assume you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life. The world doesn’t need flaky activists. If you decide that something is just right for you, accept it as fact. This moves you away from self-doubt. And there will be a lot of that, but if you understand that you have your entire life to keep learning about something because you’ll never know everything, it keeps you both motivated and humble.
7. Never stop growing. Minds change. Know this. Progress is not linear. Healing is not linear. It’s okay to fail over and over and over again, as long as you’re learning from your mistakes and continue to grow from the experiences. Be malleable. Adjust, refocus, keep going.