Jens Odinga - Without hope, what purpose is there?

Jens is hope, 

a steep learning curve that 

at times, 

can feel like a slippery slope. 

Jens is determination, 

showing how deep-felt desire and 

focus can lead to 

beautiful creation. 

Hope to him is kindness, 

love and compassion;

as guidance for us 

 in times of crisis. 

Meet Jens Odinga.

Jens's smile radiating his gentle nature.

To me, Jens is an inspiration for following your heart and inner voice. For what a strong will and dedication can achieve. For synchronising your mind and your heart.

Coming from a family of dairy farmers, Jens was amazed at the idea that a job such as marine biologists tagging sharks or a conservationist even existed. Despite that discovery and the pure enthusiasm it sparked in him, actually getting into that field seemed too daunting and difficult to master. 

I myself remember that perceived barrier all too well. It took a year of traveling, and at times overwhelming pondering, a failed biology degree, and a good few months of scouring the internet for alternatives that would suit me. I felt the pressure was enormous.

In his own way, Jens, too, took the time to take a step back to allow himself to envision a new path for himself. He had carved himself a good career in the IT industry, providing his soon to be little family with security and comfort. Yet, he found himself feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and faced with an inner whisper that this was not his path to take any longer. 

It makes me smile, as over time I learned  that oftentimes discomfort somewhere within us is a post-sign for a new direction. Having known Jens for a while now I can just picture him on his 3-months sailing trip from Thailand to Turkey. He puts it beautifully, saying that this was “enough time to put the puzzle together, say goodbye to the old, and say hello here we come, to the new.”. 

Don’t be fooled! It took years of soul-searching. In his own words, Jens had to “strip himself down to his core being, and (re)discover his connection to nature and in particular, the sea and oceans”. 

I myself have often felt like I am peeling layers of my own onion to truly find who I was and wanted to be. It takes courage to allow that inner voice, and even more to so to act upon it.  I take my hat off to him for plunging into the unknown as he did - it almost creates hope in itself!

And here is what I love about talking  motivation and hope with fellows of mine. Similar to me, Jens is convinced that we are all somehow intrinsically connected to nature - as being animals ourselves. And yet, our outlooks on this question of hope differ quite a bit. But I am getting ahead of myself. 

All things considered, this man had an array of inner, mental as well as outer, very real hurdles to overcome. 

“My change needed my full focus, otherwise it would be like walking the path crippled and blind.”, he recalls, and continues to explain; “it needed full dedication and focus without distractions from the old.”. 

If you want to achieve change, then focus on building the new instead of fighting the old. His main drive? A deep desire to change things for himself. Jens, the human came first. Jens, the conservationist and the change he wanted to see, would follow.

When I first approached Jens with this project of mine, the ‘question of Hope’, he jokingly responded “Have we lost all hope? It sure feels like it sometimes!”. 

You know that feeling when comedians hit that one spot just right? And you don’t know whether to be stunned or laughing. This was it. Also, I thought, I am not alone! 

Jens has felt the very real push-back of deeply ingrained local culture and corruption first-handed. I wanted to know if his outlook on conservation had changed, and the beautiful reply is, “No, I have changed my perspective of my role in conservation. I am still hopeful change can happen, but I have found a new way to play my part.”. 

Again, I feel less alone for having taken out some time to re-assess how and where I wanted to contribute to the changes I wanted to see in the world. For years, I struggled with the idea of working to see those big changes, wanting to make an impact. Wondering simultaneously  what my part was supposed to be; whether I even had to be in the field. Living a life still  that would not betray my original motivation and love for the natural world and its miracles. 

From what I gather, Jens has somewhat been on a similar journey. Just because we go into conservation does not mean we all of a sudden have the answers. He tells me how nowadays, for him it is about the investment in the subtle changes to how we live collectively. Now working in the ecology department of a commercial engineering organisation back home in the Netherlands, he realises that his impact may be small, but not any less inspiring. And he reminds me that the changes he achieved on some far-away tropical island were equally small. 

A dream come true for Jens - tagging sharks in the Dutch Caribbean.

I usually practice gratitude for the small things within the bigger picture. I am beginning to realise that in my conservation work I have neglected that. Instead,  my own urgency overwhelmed me and created frustration over who I was supposed to be in this big picture. And, my apologies go out to those who stuck with me, as Jens’ story makes me see that this frustration may have made me a little prickly and hard to handle at times. I meant well, and was merely wrestling with my inner emotional porcupine! When we feel fearful of something, we as humans tend to become defensive. Should we scrutinize this tendency in our inner conservationist?  Can we allow for vulnerability and turn our urgency into something positive, and less frustrating? 

But, let us get back to Jens - as he is the one who inspired that train of thoughts! 

Whilst I have questioned whether hope should play a big role in conservation, or what it looked like, Jens clearly challenges me. “Hope does play a large part. And without hope, what purpose is there?”. And I have to admit, maybe that is the crux? I am somehow fearing that if hope is lost, so will be purpose. 

Hearing Jens talk about hope really struck a chord with me. It resonates deeply, and creates a noticeable lump in my throat. And at the same time, a big smile. He must be on to something here! 

He visualises hope as a sort of big, fluffy bouncing ball confined by walls in a room with obstacles. “Sometimes it finds a clear path and appears stable; other times it appears completely uncontrolled and able to break down the entire room.”. 

Spot on. Maybe the battle with hope needs redefining, Jens makes me think.  What if we accepted hope’s seemingly fragile nature as part of it all, rather than letting it scare us.  Is that the wolf in the back of our minds, tugging at our hearts, “What if it won’t work?”. Oh, but what if it did? 

Does hope find its origin in despair, I finally ask Jens.

No, he tells me. hope is “within our DNA”. 
Not afraid of allowing for some spirituality in letting me in on his thoughts, he feels “that hope instead finds its origin in love and compassion”. 

That shift in perspective has the powerful potential to yield beautiful changes. And Jens talks from experience. The support and love of his partner, and her understanding of the importance of this change for him is what helped him move forward. She gave him hope. 

Conservation often seemed too much of an uphill battle to me; with hope being our driver. For Jens, the battle actually became reality. Yes, with many forces working against conservation, he observes, there also is a change happening. And as if he knows what the little dragon on my shoulders is going to whisper, Is it really, though? ; he emphasises that “it is not just my renewed focus of attention, it is actually happening!”. He truly believes that change is taking place as we speak. Hope, he tells me, also lies in his children’s footsteps and the new perspective of many of our younger generations. He wants his children to grow up believing that change is possible. That they - within certain circumstances - can do anything they want to if they set their mind to it. 

Of course, I think, he will have to model that. And a good job he is doing. His response to my project here has done exactly that for me. He was the first to respond to my questions. He took the time to hear me out and to open up without entirely knowing what the outcome would be. Yes, maybe he has got a point, and hope is created in compassion and empathy for one another? 

And he makes a point of being clear that hope is not confined to the world of conservation. It goes so far beyond it, and I hope that we can - little by little - break the barriers between that one field of work, and the variety of other sectors out there. 

Jens verbalised what I have felt as a quiet, little bubbling fountain somewhere in me. This is a complex, inter-connected web where we need to inspire each other. Show up for one another. Hope for him is in politics, in technological innovations, a growing community of a varied background wanting for more sustainable production and consumption. Hope is in less negativity, a “poison to the mind, and the world”, as he says. 

Conservationists are just regular human beings. It is not “us” and “them” - at least it shouldn’t be. It is you, me, us, ours. My gratitude goes out to Jens for acting as a reminder of the importance of this oftentimes discarded aspect when we go out there. Maybe this is a root from which the impacts we wish to have, can grow more strongly?