Introduce yourself! Who are you?
Hi, I’m Jillian Morris. I am a marine biologist, shark conservationist and the founder of Sharks4kids. I live on a tiny island in the Bahamas with my husband and adopted pit bull. Most of my life revolves around sharks. I am either diving with sharks, photographing and filming them, going on shark tagging trips or teaching students around the world about sharks. Shark conservation is my passion and has shaped much of my adult life. I started Sharks4kids, an education nonprofit, in 2012 and it has become my life. We provide free curriculum and activities for students, visit schools and offer in field opportunities for students. 100 million sharks are killed globally each year and education is critical for conservation. We are working to change fear to fascination and inspire the next generation of ocean advocates. We have worked with over 100,000 students in 47 countries since our launch in November 2013 and our reach is growing.
Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
I told my parents I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was 5 and it never changed. It has certainly evolved, as I don’t work fully as a marine biologist, but instead created a career where I can incorporate the skills and knowledge I learned in that field. I combined my science and media background to create Sharks4Kids. Now I get to work on research projects, photograph and film, dive and teach students about sharks. I have created my dream job.
Were you scared to start the process?
Yes, starting your own company is terrifying. I also had no clue about running a business or that a nonprofit is actually a business. It’s been a steep learning curve, but wow, what a journey. I love being challenged and learning new things, so it’s been fascinating. It has pushed me, frustrated me and made my cry dozens of times, but it’s all worth it.
Did you have mentors? If so, what did they teach you?
I have many mentors and feel so lucky to have them in my life. They are strong women who also didn’t listen when people said these jobs are not for men. They are divers, scientists and conservationists. They followed their passion and didn’t listen to the crowd. Thank you Sylvia Earle, Cristina Zenato and Annie Crawley for inspiring me and encouraging me.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
To enjoy the process. It will be hard, it will be challenging, it might even break you some days, but you keep going. You learn and you grow because the hard stuff makes you stronger and teaches you the most.
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
Yes, all the time and still do. It’s part of life. The most important thing though, is to try and believe in yourself. I also have a very supportive husband, family and friends. They are my rocks and I am so grateful for their support.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
This is always a challenge for me because I run a nonprofit and also do freelance work. This means there is no steady paycheck and always more work to do than hours in the day. I am definitely a workaholic, so I have to consciously take time from each day to get exercise, do yoga and get outside ( if it’s a computer work day). Hitting the beach with my dog is a must! It allows me to clear my head and find some quiet. Being in the ocean or water is also a must. It’s a place where I find a sense of peace and can reset. There are no expectations, deadlines or demands; it’s just me and the water.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I really try to take time to appreciate what I have. I also make lists. I set short term and long term goals to keep me motivated and moving forward. These lists are for personal and professional growth.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To laugh more. My mom says it to me all the time. It’s simple, but wow it can really change your day. As adults our lives are busy and challenging and we definitely laugh less. I absolutely love laughing till I cry. It’s good for the soul and sometimes it’s exactly what we need.
What would you say to 16 year old you?
I would enjoy the moment. I remember being so caught up with school and sports and I don’t think I stopped much to really take in what I was doing. I was so focused on getting good grades and getting recruited to play college basketball that I didn’t always appreciate what I was doing. I still struggle with this, as life is busy and there is so much to do each day.
Have you always had confidence in yourself?
No, and there are still days that I have doubts and questions myself. I get excited about an idea and then start questioning myself. Can I pull this off? What will people think? Will my colleagues think this is a good idea? Am I the person who should be doing this? Since I still work on research projects and get kids involved, I get the PhD question. I do not have a PhD and I know people judge me because of this. Some days feel like I am not doing enough and
What message do you think every woman should hear?
You are stronger than you realize. I think we take it for granted because we work hard, we balance a lot of things, but don’t actually stop to appreciate what we are doing. We focus on the things we didn’t do rather than celebrating our accomplishments. We are strong. We are capable and we get are getting it done! I look at my mom, who is the strongest woman I know and she still has doubts. It’s hard, but we have to keep saying this out loud to ourselves and to each other!
Jillian is one of the most influential women in ocean conservation. She’s also a marine biologist, shark conservationists, photographer, author and the founder of Sharks4Kids.