Jerry is electricity,
unimposing, his energy is pure authenticity.
Jerry is enthusiasm,
true joy and belief that
together negate all sarcasm.
Hope to him is secondary.
an example that patience, purpose and kind thoughts
can make for a journey non-wary.
Meet Jerry Lust.
I was to meet him in week one of my studies. With an enthusiasm for learning and finding his path that you simply could not overlook. His demeanor made it hard to believe he was a mere 17 years old.
Almost 10 years later, I find myself discussing the question of Hope in the conservation field with him and I am grateful he took the time for me.
As a trainer and didactic developer, Jerry found his place in a foundation working with the fishing- and seafaring industry towards sustainable fisheries and shipping; through education of marine professionals and working on marine environmental awareness and competence of the crew. He also works as an educator, storyteller and mudflat-guide, aiming at more sustainable behavior and respect for nature of all tourists he takes on his excursions.
On this journey of mine I want to shed light on what hope means to people in the conservation field, and what shape it takes for them. An honest dive into what it is that keeps these souls going in what some can experience as a constant uphill battle.
Why was this something that he thought was interesting to take part in, I ask him.
He feels that we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to create a better space. Jerry has seen the struggle with that ‘mission’ when it seems slow or unattainable. Maybe we can look for another mindset or attitude so we can keep going, without losing ourselves, or finding ourselves drained when there are no tangible results, he muses.
It was beautiful to hear Jerry talk about observing similar things in others - even young ones just starting out. It made me feel less alone. Mostly unaware, he honed in and sometimes accurately put the fingers on exactly those struggles I found myself with over the years. What a wonderful start to it all!
So, why is it we feel this way, I ask him.
“Let’s start by looking at why we chose this path?”, he replies. A love for nature for many, certainly for Jerry and I.
For me, also fear of what was happening in the world.
For Jerry, however, a desire to change was not a major driver. More so the enthusiasm for the work.
“Do you do conservation for loving the act of it, or are you hoping to be the thread of change?”, he asks.
His enthusiasm has not wavered, and that touched me. No cynicism seems to have entered his heart, which is beautiful.
Yes, he would like to see change. But the happiness in himself, the drive and the energy to move forward is not intricately interwoven with being able to see the impact, or the perceived magnitude of it. Jerry is fueled by the love for his job, and a faith that what he does makes a difference. Even if it isn’t always tangible. Even when he is tired. Even when he feels he has not reached anyone in his training lately.
“Small things make big things, and you’ve got to start small.”, he says.
“Seeing the impact, that’s really hard. Being hopeful when you can see it, that’s easy. Being hopeful when you can’t, then you need trust.”, he continues. “Even if the waters are murky. That is more difficult, but also more powerful.”.
So should trust come before hope?
When I ask him how he keeps going, he happens to touch on a core of my thoughts around hope. “50 % faith”, he says, and “50% of loving what I do and what I learn daily about my job, myself and others.”. It is about what he can learn for the future, and he feels gratitude for it. Funny how gratitude never entered my mind in the context of conservation.
Jerry manages something I never really considered myself. His foundation has more than one pillar. And the perceived absence of change does not crush him, or throw him into a world of doubt. And yet, that is the crucial bit, he is not emotionally detached.
If your goal is your focus, and you get trapped in tunnel vision; if the way is not important to you, then Jerry beautifully states, it “leaves you in a vulnerable position”.
Maybe, he makes me wonder, by making sure your foundation is broader than the goal alone, you build something to prevent yourself from really falling into deep pits.
In a way, he takes care of himself that way. Jerry, the human. Not Jerry, the conservationist only. As he puts it, “You need a long breath.”, for strength is fed by more than the goal alone. And he has no idea how much he has just nailed a major aspect of my struggles.
But how do we deal with resistance? Especially as the conservation sector can often be regarded as the elite, blaming and finger-pointing. How can we break this image, as it can often-times be the first and foremost barrier to connect.
To Jerry, we as a (generalised) sector fail to celebrate the good, and the change that does happen. And bless, I would be lying if I have not thought to myself before, “Great, but that’s not enough or good enough!”. We keep nagging, Jerry observes, and I have to laugh. It sounds so familiar.
And this is where my question of Hope comes in. My concern is that hope originates in despair. Jerry less negatively dubbed it a place of urgency. We needed change yesterday, it is too late! Great this has happened, but what about that? Move, move, move, be faster, be better!
We seem to be increasingly aware of appreciating the process. To be grateful for the small things that are dotted along our line of progress. There seems to be an ever-growing sense of positivity and the impact of it in life. And heck, relationships of mine have ended because my partners refused to see the good things and the beauty in the world, the changes. I myself am wildly unwilling to let negativity overwhelm me, no matter how hard it can feel. Gratitude and celebrating the small things, as well as internalising that this a marathon - it creates joy in the process, feeds trust, and in Jerry’s words, contributes to the long breath.
Yet, in conservation and my role in it, I fell into the trap. Surely I am not the only one. As Jerry and I continue to talk, I feel this sense of mine confirmed, this feeling I have had over the years. One that Jerry elegantly manages to put into words.
Us, the perceived ‘elite’ in the ivory tower, the tree-huggers, the greenies, the hippies - maybe we are tripping over our own feet in wanting so urgently? Do we need to learn how to make ourselves better understood and not push for too much too fast? Some of us feel desperate, I know. We see a crumbling natural world. Miracles discarded and problems ignored. Maybe we need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look at our options.
“Despair is easy to slip into, hard to get out of, and a very vulnerable state of mind. For yourself and the people around you.”
Jerry continues to highlight how it creates stress and anxiety to “get things done”. Not a sustainable basis and not one that will make others feel it is something they want to be part of. Again, I find myself smiling as I think how I apply the antidotes for that anxiety in every other area of my life but this one.
Is it time to take care of ourselves and open the conversation of how our love and dedication, our interest and enthusiasm in nature - whatever reasoning behind it - can be nurtured in a different fashion?
Instead of pressure, maybe we can create a culture of positivity and human connection - beyond the ‘club of conservationists’. Can we find a way to not emotionally detach, and not take it personally when our love for something isn’t immediately met with the same understanding or action?
We want to make the change, right? What if the change will come about when we find a (career) path that also ticks other boxes for us and how we can apply ourselves in a way that still makes us happy. One that leaves us feeling fulfilled regardless of what impact we can or cannot see.
Throughout the years, I often found myself pondering what creates change. And whether living by example without imposing your opinions on others was the ‘better way’. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is easy. Jane Goodall’s autobiography inspired me to explore how best to build that bridge between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Living a content life is what we all want. Personally, I believe that living aligned with your values plays a big role in that. Ultimately, it is not for us to impose those values, but simply find a way to communicate why we are doing what we do. By offering our inspiration, our knowledge, our experiences. Not by discounting what others do not do, but by encouraging what they are doing.
My fear that our world is going down the drain has at times overshadowed my belief that those small changes overall make a lasting difference. It is when I need to take my inner cynist by the hand, and remind myself that it takes courage to be an optimist. That negativity is a toxic ingredient and one for movement indeed, albeit one with weaker and simply the wrong kind of roots. We may have a passion, love, enthusiasm, and a vision of what a ‘better world’ would like. That does not mean we will always get it right. And it does not mean we do not need to learn from mistakes. Maybe we are still learning?
Allowing for these philosophies, it is how Jerry and I end up discussing what I would call resilience, and how we would like to see a change within the world of conservation, too. Hope and fear can make for fragile motivators. Creating a connection, pacing ourselves, celebrating our steps forward. And possibly, by appreciating the status quo, as Jerry challenges my radical inner tree-hugger! A gratitude for what is does not negate what yet needs to be addressed and improved. It means to allow space for joy and happiness. To allow for fulfillment knowing that we are indeed working on it. And by that, the progress becomes one we can enjoy. It links up with what Jerry enthusiastically puts out there that afternoon; “Dream, great! How will you feel if you do not reach that dream? Will you throw yourself off the cliff and be miserable? Maybe change your goal or let it be. What, though, if you can be happy knowing you are making steps towards something - as we said in the beginning, bigger than yourself?
Real change, he makes me feel, is born from seeing and experiencing that very change, however small. Little by little, it creates joy, and joy in the process of becoming better. That in time creates a sense of possibility, of empowerment and optimism. Eventually, trust. And by trust, we come full circle and can create hope for others.
Jerry believes in the snowball effect, and says that how “one droplet moves other drops and they move others, and that creates oceans. Oceans create waves that over time erode entire cliff faces.” And I know, don’t we hear it all the time? But let me tell you:
listening to someone who truly believes this is powerful. It makes me smile and creates a sense in me that the bigger things are indeed possible.
Thank you, Jerry, for opening up and contributing to this journey of mine.