Jessica is the owner of WANT Expeditions, and has been to almost 80 countries leading expeditions all over the world. She holds a B.S. in natural resource management from Michigan State University. Dedicated to conservation, she has worked extensively with The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. In winter of 2006, she completed a study in Antarctica on climate change and shortly thereafter, she was one of fifty women chosen from the US and Mexico by the National Wildlife Federation to participate in the ‘Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development’ conference in Washington DC. In addition to leading expeditions, Jessica is also a travel writer, nature photographer and holds a research position at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, she is also currently working to complete a M.S. in environmental sciences and public policy from Johns Hopkins University.
My Definition Of Success | Success is the culmination of persistent hard work and leaving behind a legacy, and knowing that if you want a “break” in life, you have to make it yourself. I’ve never known of a successful person who achieved greatness, because they had unlimited money or support. If you have a goal, you have to commit to it like a marriage, i.e. to stand by it in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, etc. The media has led us to believe that people are overnight sensations, but if you look long and hard at any business-person, superstar, or industry leader, you will learn that they practiced, rehearsed, trained, and cried blood, sweat, and tears until all of their efforts of hard work clicked into place. When they finally had their “shot” be it a contract, interview, or audition, they nailed it because they were prepared, and willing to take risks when others wouldn’t.
The Difference Between Good And Great | It’s easy to give up when things are challenging. Quitting when things are difficult defines the difference between those that are great and those that are mediocre, because those that are great know there is a “reward” where the “pain” ends. If you’re struggling to accomplish something, stay with it, because beauty, greatness, life, and understanding find itself where hard work, pain, and suffering end.
A Key Talent | Goal setting and motivation
Goal setting is crucial, because it keeps you focused and gives mundane tasks you need to complete in order to reach your goals meaning and purpose. When I’m ready to quit and give up, I have learned to push myself beyond boundaries, real or perceived, to accomplish what I have set out to achieve. Mentors are a critical component to success, but you have to learn to be your own coach, particularly because when seek your own path you will often find yourself at odds with the status quo, and mentors may be few and far between. It’s important to know your limits, but not so you know when to quit, but rather so you have the self-awareness to seek motivation and inspiration to work past those boundaries. That being said, as important as it is to know when to seek motivation, it is of greater importance to understand that motivation is temporary, and you need to hone skills that keep you working even when you’re not motivated or particularly inspired.
Performing At My Peak | Cats, caffeine, and computers are really all I need, along with a good sense of humor and my sister. To be honest, I’m not sure where I would be without her support.
How I Use My Mind | No matter how stressed, frustrated or challenged I am, I always remind myself that in spite of what is happening or has happened, I am in control, and I have the power to write my own future. I also don’t own a television or ever read tabloid magazines, which I think helps to ensure that I don’t get caught up in first world problems.
Lessons I Have Learnt | When you are torn by making a decision that you know is true and right in your heart, but you’re worried about taking action, because you’re afraid of the repercussions, particularly if it comes to offending someone, i.e. worrying about someone might say if you speak up for what you believe in, ask yourself how you would act if that threat wasn’t there, then do it.
Principles I Live By | I tend to sum my principles up in quotes, and there are three that are very near and dear to my heart:
“The key question to keep asking is, are you spending your time on the right things?”
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Dealing With Doubt | To my sister, friends and guests who have known of what I am about to speak of, I am eternally gratefully for your unwavering support.
When I met my ex-husband and started my business with him, I had no idea of the abusive relationship that was to follow and dominate every aspect of my life. In a few short years, I was as terrified of him, as I was of the shame I felt from being trapped in such a relationship, not to mention the impact that the public knowledge of our relationship might have on our business, which is built upon trust. Deep in my heart I knew things were not ok, but I have always stood by my word, and I really struggled with the “for better, for worse” clause in our wedding vows. In the end, I realized that there was no way I would allow a friend or a family member to stay in a relationship like this, and if I, the independent, outgoing, accomplished person they looked up to and sought advice from couldn’t do it, how could I ever expect one of them to. Despite my fears of how he would react and the very real possibility of physical violence, I managed to file for divorce. Unfortunately, the fear and shame still followed me for several years up until a few months ago, when another friend suggested that I might be a great role model for those in a similar situation, and so I started speaking out against domestic violence. The first time I announced that I was a victim of domestic violence was on Facebook, and it one of the most terrifying nights of my life, but the responses of support I received were so overwhelming that I found myself crying in relief. It was from that point on that I knew I would never be silent again in hopes that someone, somewhere who doesn’t have a voice, or is scared or ashamed to speak up, might find strength to break away from the abusive cycle she finds herself trapped in.
I Am Inspired By | My sister, Catherine, is hands down one of the greatest inspirations one could ask for. She never waivers in her support for me, and somehow always manages to step up, and face her fears in the venues I struggle with the most. Also, Piotr Chmieliński, the first man to run the entire length of the Amazon River. He is the walking definition of the quote by Mark Twain “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” I feel privileged to have known him personally.
My Highlights | On a personal level, I have led more than 100 expeditions in almost 80 countries, hold a research position in the Entomology department in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Have stood on the board of Utopia Foundation, a Traverse City based organization. In winter of 2006, she completed a study in Antarctica on climate change and shortly thereafter, was one of 50 women chosen from the US and Mexico by the National Wildlife Federation to participate in the ‘Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development’ conference in Washington D.C.
Business-wise: We have worked very hard to develop our on-the-ground partnerships, and there is a major advantage to traveling with a company, like WANT Expeditions, who will take you beyond the guidebook and give you insider access to people and places that the general public would otherwise miss. Because of this, WANT Expeditions has been selected by the several major universities, such as Michigan State University, and conservation organizations, like The Wildlife Conservation Society, to host trips. As a result of our hard work and partnerships, as a start-up business, we did over a million in sales in under three years’ time.
Additionally, I built up WANT Expeditions so that environmental conservation, responsible tourism, and cultural sustainability are at the core of all of our expeditions, and all of our staff believes whole-heartedly that it is our social responsibility to work hand-in-hand to empower the communities we visit to ensure that they benefit as much, if not more than our guests, from our visits. For these reasons, we start by adhering to these principles right in our office by operating as a paperless company and handling all communication electronically. Each year, this reduction in paper waste saves us, at a minimum, 800 regular sized envelopes and 4000 sheets of paper. All regular incoming mail and/or packaging is sorted and recycled, and all food scraps are composted, so that we have one regular bag of trash per year. Employees are provided laptops and encouraged to telework one day a week which saves over 104 gallons of gas each year. In the field we practice leave no trace ethics, and we have eliminated plastic water bottle usage on our tours, and implemented reusable stainless steel containers, each year saving over 100,000 water bottles from entering the environment. We also distribute reusable shopping bags on our tours. This prevents people from accepting plastic bags when purchasing souvenirs or goods while on tour and encourages the use of reusable shopping bags when guests return home.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | My goal is that in five years time, WANT will be the preferred travel provider for conservation organizations, their supporters and donor groups. We will do over ten million in sales, and 10% of that will go directly to the projects we support. Additionally, by this time, I will have stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the company, and devote the majority of my time to the conservation projects we are running, like the curriculum we are developing to take at-risk students overseas for an “upward bound” experience.