In this world of busyness, and targets, and goals, and key performance indicators, we can lose our sense of ourselves, our true north, and our own voice. We can forget why we choose this career path in the first place. It wasn’t to keep the hamster wheel turning, to ensure the survival of our organisations, or to move with the crowd. It was to make a difference in the world.
Our personal experience is that it is easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to get distracted by the busyness and at the end of the day we turn around and ask what difference these various activities and busyness have made. Have we had the impact in the world that we wanted to have? Is our environment in a better state because of our actions? Or has it just been about keeping the hamster wheel turning?
Giving ourselves space and time to explore this is one of the most powerful and impactful things that we can choose to do. Sit back and reflect. If you are doing this by yourself, go to your favourite coffee shop, or your favourite outdoor spot, or a quiet time and place at home. How to best reflect depends on you but we find that going through a simple Theory of Change is always a useful process that gives a good framework for thinking through the impact of our work. If working in a group, try to arrange a location that is away from the office and has no work distractions. Turn off email and the internet.
The problem is the best place to start. What is the problem that you want to address? Clearly articulate this problem. Is it actually a problem? Maybe it needs to be reframed as an actual problem? For example, your problem could be that ‘there is a lacking of funding for environmental NGOs’. Is this a real problem? Why is it a problem? Is it actually that the natural environment is being degraded? And that environmental NGOs are needed to help address this problem and without funding these NGOs wouldn’t exist? Mapping out the problem can be fun. Once you’ve thought through and articulated the problem – which part of the problem are you currently or going to address?
On the right-hand side of the Theory of Change we have the impact that we want to achieve. What would be different in the world if we addressed the problems? What would the world look like? How would it be a better place? This is the fun part where we can really articulate the impact that we want to achieve in the world. How inspiring!
The final steps are thinking through the activities that we want to undertake to address the specific problems, the outcomes that these activities can achieve, and that both the activities and outcomes will contribute to this positive impact that we want to see in the world.
With activities, it is often easy to jump straight to this without thinking about the bigger picture of problems and impact. This is the hamster wheel that we work so hard to keep turning. What would happen if we stepped off the hamster wheel? Like John Lennon watching the wheels go round and round! Firstly, allow yourself the freedom to write a long list of activities that would address the problem and achieve the impact needed. Don’t worry if these activities are outside of your or your organisations skillset. What are the specific outcomes of each activity? Will these outcomes lead to the impact that you desire? If not, rethink the list. This is an iterative process. Allow yourself the time, space, and freedom to play around with this. This is the time to play. Play is a really important component of our working lives that we, as scientists, often forget to do. Or feel guilty doing! Playtime is the time when we can be the most creative. Creativity is essential to addressing environmental issues. We need as much creativity as possible!
Now, take a break. A walk, tea-break, whatever creates a natural pause.
The next step is to take a look at your current activities with a fresh perspective. Are these the activities that are actually going to achieve the impact that you want? Are some very time-consuming and light on impact? How do your current activities align with your new long, list of activities? Are there some activities that are more impactful than others? Should some be dropped? Some expanded? New ones brought in?
Remember to trust yourself. You know your area of work better than anybody else. You know what works and what doesn’t work. What has the largest impact? Having confidence in ourselves and our own knowledge is very important. Our voice and opinion are important. But also having the confidence to step forward. We need to first create the time and space to hear our own voice, to find our true north, to see the way forward. Then it takes confidence to follow that path. But interestingly, this is the easier and most impactful path that we can take. Going back to John Lennon’s song ‘Watching The Wheels’ – he stepped off the hamster wheel and created some of his best music. We truly believe that taking some time to step off the hamster wheel and reconnect with the reason that you have gone down this career pathway will be some of the most productive and impactful things you have done for a long time.
We Are All Wonder Women is an international movement for female conservation professionals to be inspired, connected, and empowered to create an authentic, fulfilling and happy career.