‘To be seen without purpose is vanity’

One of the first topics we are delving into as part of the Homeward Bound project is ‘Visibility’. This is something I have looked forward to. Scientists like me are often behind the scenes, playing our part feeding information to inform policy, for example. One of the things I want to achieve as part of my Homeward Bound #HB4 journey is to increase my visibility – not as an end in itself but for a purpose.

One of the take-home messages that really struck me in the ‘visibility’ module was that you don’t have to wait to be confident – you just have to find courage. This is a game-changing thought for me as I keep thinking I need that bit more experience, or to learn just one more thing, before I will have the confidence to present myself publicly as an expert. What I’ve learnt is that really all I need to do is be more courageous. They say you must be vulnerable to be visible … so it’s time to be brave!

Another lesson about visibility that resonated with me was the importance of authenticity. Last December I attended the Global Leadership Foundation annual fellowship event. Because the Foundation is supporting my #HB4 journey, I was given the opportunity to make a short speech. As I told my story and shared why I care so much about the need for action on climate change, I became, well, more emotional than I had intended to be. At the time I worried that this was making me come across as unprofessional, but the feedback I received immediately afterwards – probably from some of you reading this now – was so encouraging that I was convinced that showing authentic emotion is really a positive thing.

Visibility is also about being honest with yourself first. One of the questions I am asking myself is ‘Why do I want to be a leader?’ The obvious answer is because I want to influence change, but I can’t help thinking that it’s also because it makes me feel good.

I ask myself whether the fact that I enjoy playing a leadership role diminishes my dedication to doing good for the planet, though I am starting to accept that it quite possible for both to be true. I want us to take better care of the world than we do, and I want the environment to become as important as the economy. When I am able to have influence and help inspire these changes, that gives me a sense of achievement and makes me feel good. It should be obvious that there is no conflict between the goal and the emotion it creates for me.

I have worked in climate change since 1998. As a marine scientist I witnessed one of the first, and then worst, mass coral reef bleaching events in the world in waters off the Philippines. I saw the reef destroyed by elevated water temperatures, and I witnessed the flow-on effects of this devastation on communities dependant on those reefs. I saw this story repeat in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and then in each of the last three years. I’ve also seen the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Reef and reefs in the  Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea badly damaged or completely destroyed due to climate change.

I don’t want to be the scientist just feeding information anymore. I want to be the person influencing the policymakers and making the decisions. As part of HB4 I am going to do a ‘Visibility Audit’ and create a strategy to increase my visibility – and I’m going to find the courage to do it.


Read more about Gillian’s Homeward Bound experience in her other posts collected here.

Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash.com