Jeannie Ralston is editor and "adventurer in chief" of NextTribe, a digital magazine she founded in 2017. She had already enjoyed multiple careers, including ownership of a lavender farm in Texas and as a teacher and award-winning writer for magazines like Allure, Parenting, and Real Simple. She had traveled and lived around the globe with her husband, a National Geographic photographer, and their two sons. NextTribe offers an irreverent, authentic tone and spirited attitude and includes articles written by top journalists that empower midlife women. A tribal community as well as a magazine, readers can connect offline through live events, travel, and gatherings around the U.S.
Barb: Our guest today has had multiple careers, as a teacher, magazine writer, and lavender farmer. Most recently, Jeannie Ralston founded NextTribe, a digital magazine begun in 2017 “for smart, bold women age 45-plus.” Welcome, Jeannie!
Jeannie: Well, thank you for having me! I’m glad to be here.
Barb: Yes, I’m excited to talk about the many careers you’ve had, and how you’ve come upon where you are right now. But one of the things you talk about is women feeling a bit invisible. So why do you feel that is, that women like us might feel invisible?
Jeannie: Well, I think it’s just how society has kind of operated for probably millennia where—well in olden times maybe women didn’t live very much past 45—but also more recently in recent history, where people did live longer, women after their childbearing years they were kind of like, “Okay, your work is done.” It’s kind of like, “You may go now. [Laughs] You can leave the stage. You’re good.” And I think that that idea has kind of stuck in the mind of society or as a whole that at a certain age women are done with their work.
What I’m saying and what I know many many many women feel is, “Hey, we’re not done! We’re just getting started.” We feel like we have all these years ahead of us of being productive and creative and powerful, and in many ways, I feel like I’m at the top of my career right now. So instead of this idea that childbearing years determines your usefulness to the world, we’re saying, “No. We are dynamic women throughout, and we have a lot to give."
Barb: I think I’ve observed the same thing you have, that for many women after they’ve launched their families, I feel like many of them feel like they are finding their stride and their areas of passion and are pursuing some of their heart’s desires where maybe they haven’t had an opportunity to do that. So it is a little frustrating, that culturally we haven’t really embraced that for women.
Jeannie: Yes. I do think that’s changing. I think my own mother and probably some of our listeners’ mothers—they did, after their children went off, if they weren’t working outside the home, maybe they did more things like Bridge Club—it was just a different pace for them. I think what you are saying—and I think you are so right—is that now we, women at our age—I’m 58—women our age are very much—we’ve had careers, we’ve achieved a lot, and after our kids are gone, it’s a chance to build on all those years of experience. We’ve had education, you know, we’ve been leaders in our company, or innovators. So it’s a great chance to really put all those years of experience to work so we can really feel fulfilled that we’ve done all that we’ve had the potential for.
Barb: So why do you liken midlife to a woman’s Etch-A-Sketch moment?
Jeannie: [Laughs] I like that idea because I feel like it’s a time when you can have a blank slate. You can start over. You can like, okay, you’ve done all these things in your career, you’ve seen what you like in the world or what you’re good at and really what lights your fire. And maybe you haven’t been able to pursue it at the fullness it needs, but with this new time, your kids are gone, if you haven’t had kids, it’s just a time when a lot of possibilities come together because you’ve seen so much and done so much, so you get to make a decision. “Okay I want to start something different.” “I want to go in a whole different direction because I’ve seen that I’m good at this, and I’ve seen that I don’t like this, and let’s see what I can do for the next 20 to 30 years that is really going to rock my world."
For instance, we have somebody in our group—she was a journalist—and she just decided to just give up all that and work as an executive director at a nonprofit that works with women in prison. I mean she just decided, “You know, I’ve done enough of that. I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to in this area—journalism; my heart wants to embrace these women who need help in the prison system. I’m going to devote myself to that.”
So if you’ve made your mark in one area, maybe you... or you feel like you’ve done everything you can in one area, like maybe it’s a sales job and you’ve always wanted to start your own business. It’s like, okay, this is a great time to do that. I have a friend—this is very specific about entrepreneurship, but I think it applies in a broader way—I have a friend who has a new business and she said, “There’s two great times to start a new business: when you are in your 20s and you have nothing to lose, and in your 50s when you have nothing to prove.” I think that goes for just the whole idea of reinvention. “Okay. I’ve proved all I need to prove, and now I just want to go with my heart.” And that’s why I think it’s time for an Etch-a-Sketch moment where you can go with your heart.
Barb: Oh, I like that. Yeah. That makes a whole lot of sense to me; that comment. In the intro I mentioned that you had multiple careers, so obviously reinvention has been a part of your life. Can you talk a little bit about the role it has played in your own life and some of the careers you’ve found yourself in?
Jeannie: [Laughs] Well you know, I’m surprised at some of the careers I’ve had. I always thought I’d have different careers, but I thought that would always be around writing. I’m a journalist by training; lived in New York and worked for lots of magazines, written for the New York Times, the National Geographic, all that. But, I also became a lavender farmer [laughs] when I was about 40-something. That came about because my husband decided we had property that was good for growing lavender out in rural Texas. I was kind of reluctant to embrace it because I had two little kids and I’m like, “What? I’m a writer! What?” But once I finally let myself be open to this new direction, I fell in love with it because it was just so grounding in such a literal way. You know, I’m digging in the dirt. But I just found that I loved working with something on a farm and being in nature, and then I would spend a lot of time thinking of products with our lavender, opening up our fields for people, and having just a blast. So that was my first real reinvention, and sort of forced on me by my husband, but I think that what it did is it showed me I had capacity for other things. Like I wasn’t always going to be tied to writing. You know, I could branch out and do other kinds of work.
So after that I homeschooled our boys for a while because we were traveling a lot. We took them all over the world. It was like three years of homeschooling and traveling. So I was a teacher, sort of, with them, but then later on they went to a private school. They needed a teacher at the high school for a year while somebody was out, so I said yes. They asked me, and I said yes. So I became a teacher for a year. That was an English teacher, but it was phenomenal! It was just so gratifying to me, and again, it’s that feeling that, “Wow, I didn’t know I had this in me, and I’m so glad somebody asked, and I said yes.” I’m learning new skills, and how to engage with younger people, and how to make literature or any of that—reading and grammar and all that—interesting. So, that was another reinvention.
I guess now the reinvention I have is an entrepreneur, and I’ve learned a lot! [Laughs] An entrepreneur with NextTribe and getting that off the ground. You know, I think there are lots of benefits of being a beginner again. I feel like I’m a beginner at the digital media. You know, what you have to do to have a publication online. There are so many intricacies that sometimes my head wants to explode. But I feel so gratified that I’m learning! I’m continuing to learn and push myself in ways I never thought I could. It’s very fulfilling.
Barb: So, in general, what I hear you say is reinvention is a lot about risk taking.
Jeannie: Yes. I think it is. You have to learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. You have to be okay not to be in complete control and kind of just say, “Okay. I’m going to attempt this, and we don’t know how it’s going to turn out because nothing is guaranteed. But, even if I fail in the process, I’m going to gain a lot." I think that’s my mindset. Even if it fails, I will have taken on so many skills and qualities that I couldn’t have ever imagined. So I think it’s completely worth the risk in my mind. I mean obviously, if there’s lots of money involved then, “Ah, scary!” It gets even scarier. But if you are trying just a new—I know somebody else who left her—she got laid off, which a lot of times happens at this age, unfortunately, where companies get rid of the higher-earning older women or men at the higher levels and she was at a high position at a marketing firm and she got laid off. So now she’s going back and she’s going to be a yoga teacher. She actually wrote about that in our magazine. About being a beginner again. I think I mentioned that already about how that can be so scary, but it can also be liberating to just let go of control. And I think the main message is sometimes it’s just great to let go. Especially for us very, you know, type-A women who have achieved a lot. I think letting go of control is just really hard.
Barb: Can you speak a little bit more specifically as to what led you to develop NextTribe?
Jeannie: Yes. When my youngest went off to school—off to college—I felt this kind of emptiness that I think everyone has a name—Empty Nest Syndrome, and I went online to see what do people do at this stage. I didn’t find anything that really spoke to me. What I found was it was either overly earnest and maybe a little too new-age-y for me, or it was depressing. It made me feel worse like I did actually have one foot in the grave or something. And I just felt like there was not a site out there that spoke to me the way I felt inside. Like I still feel 29 inside, and I think a lot of women do. We have all this energy, we talk with our friends the same way that we used to, we laugh, but there was nothing out there, I felt, that was speaking to me that way, like kind of recognizing who I really was. So with my journalism background and with all the contacts I have among editors and writers in New York and all over the country from my years in journalism, I thought maybe I could do something about it. I’ve got time now! [laughs] You know? [laughs] I don’t have my kids around. I’ve got a lot of time.
I found a friend who was willing to partner with me and help invest in it. It’s taken off more than I could even anticipated because I think there is a hunger for it, that kind of attitude.
Barb: Yeah. It’s a great site, and I do think as you mentioned you’re meeting a need. As you speak to that I think that’s where I found myself a few years ago. Obviously, my launch of MiddlesexMD was a completely different area of trying to meet women’s needs, but seeing a gap in what was available to women the need to try and fill the gap. But yours is big and broad and you are very comprehensive in your site, in your magazine, and in what you are doing. I love your tag line. It’s Age Boldly.
Barb: Talk a little bit about Age Boldly. What does that mean to you?
Jeannie: Well, to me that means still be game. Still be curious. And the word game is really important to me. Too bad it’s also something you play. I’m thinking of it as sort of a character description. Be ready to say yes and to take on the world. We do trips. We do big events in different cities around the country. We have local groups in Texas. We’re only in Texas right now, but we want to expand our local groups so we can have—I think women our age aren’t used to having our social life on a screen, so we do real in-life gatherings in cities. And then we have the big events in even other cities.
But what I’ve found wherever I meet women who come to a NextTribe event, I say what we have in common is we are still explorers. We want to explore. And I also say we are yes women. We say yes to new opportunities and new challenges. So that to me is what Age Boldly is about. It’s just like for me, stand up straight, put your shoulders back, and just keep embracing the world. Don’t step back from the world. This is a time to keep embracing the world. So that’s what it means to me. I hope that makes sense [laughs].
Barb: Yes, and I think when we think about the name of your magazine, NextTribe, tribe really implies community.
Barb: And I think we understand that community is really significantly important to our emotional and our physical health. So, not only are you trying to do a virtual community, but you are also trying to bring women together physically. It sounds like that would be your continued vision for what you can do for women moving forward.
Jeannie: Right. Absolutely. We want to work on the two planes as much as possible. We did a story—you probably talked about this—but as you get older especially, you need your social network. It becomes more and more important. I can’t quote the studies, but there are studies about how your risk of Alzheimer’s increases if you don’t have a good social network. And you take longer to recover from a sickness or an operation if you don’t have that good healthy exchange with other people. You know, friendships and that kind of thing. We wrote a story where one doctor said not having good friendships is probably more dangerous to your health than smoking is [laughs] as you get older. The irony is, for many of us it gets harder to make friendships as we get older—meaning making new friends. Because we don’t have the same point—you know, when we have kids, or we’re in a job we come in contact with lots of people—the mothers of our children’s friends or in an office setting or whatever. So you have lots of opportunities to meet other people. But as you get older, people move away, or for God’s sake if you get divorced you lose half of your friends. These are all realities.
I think it’s more important for us to create opportunities where women can come together face-to-face. There’s so much energy and goodness that happens when women are in the same room together. There are other transitions that people are going through. Always during transitions friendships change and morph. You retire, the empty nest thing, maybe divorce, or any of those big transitions which a lot of us are going through. Your friends change so you have to think about replenishing and finding your tribe at this stage. And that’s why we call it NextTribe. These are the people you want to go through the next phase of life in. That’s what we hope.
Barb: It’s interesting you say that because it’s fairly frequent in my practice that I meet women who are fairly new to the community and, for a variety of reasons, have found our community where they want to spend the next phase of their life usually around retirement. And it might be around their children and grandchildren or just the destination they are looking for. But they find it difficult to connect as you mention.
Is there a specific way they can, or as listeners, use NextTribe to find other like women? Can you help with how to engage with NextTribe to find like-minded women to share some life events? Again, even if it’s not physically together, how can they do that virtually?
Jeannie: Physically, if you are in San Antonio, we’ve got you covered and probably in Dallas soon. I’ve also put out word for people who want to start a NextTribe group in their city. We have to have kind of an organizer kind of moderator for the Facebook group and organizing little events here and there. That would be a great way. We would help somebody get started. And then there’s trips. We have women on our trips—I promise with every trip we’ve done—strangers from all over the country—and they come together. By the second day everybody is pal-ed up and friends. By the end of the trip, people are texting each other: “I miss you.” “I love you.” “How am I going to go back!” [Laughs] It’s like a very powerful stretch of time when you are taking a trip with women who are like-minded. I say like-minded because, saying yes to the trip and not knowing everyone that’s on the trip takes a certain amount of boldness [laughs]. So that’s where people find each other.
As far as on-line—what we can do on-line—well, we do try to write a lot of stories about friendship, and they are always well read. We do Facebook groups and so forth. I wish I could have more of an in-person presence in different cities, but we’re working on that.
Barb: Yeah, it sounds like that’s part of the longer-term goal. To even have a platform at which to begin to think about developing groups of women I think is exciting because I don’t think that it exists either.
Jeannie: Yeah. I mean we want to know where women are, and if you’re listening to this and you want to start something, you can always find us on our website.
Barb: So in conclusion to our time together, one question I like to ask participants is, where do you find richness at this stage of your life?
Jeannie: Oh, wow. Um, you know I find richness in—I live right outside of Austin and on some property, and do find richness in nature. I go on walks with my dog on our property and take all those deep breaths and breathe it in. We actually—I’ve written about how important nature is for counteracting any depression or anxiety. There’s real studies about being in nature. But I also find a lot of richness—I work out more now than ever [laughs], so I don’t know if that’s richness, but I’m more involved in that. I treasure the time I get to spend inside my head while my body is just working like crazy. It’s so helpful to me. And then, obviously, my family. My boys, who are now both in college, and any time I can spend with them, especially if we can go on a trip as a family.
I take lots of trips with women through NextTribe, but when I can go with my family, that’s even more special to me because it’s more rare now [laughs].
Barb: Well, I think what you are talking about is what I would say to patients of the importance of self-care. I think that is somewhat a lovely time of life to be able to slow down just enough to start to recognize the importance of that. It sounds like you’re fully embracing that.
Jeannie: Oh, yes, yes. I do. I work too many hours as you probably do, but when I’m not working, I kind of recognize my limits for one thing, and then when I’m not working I’m like, okay, this is what I need. I need to go get a massage, or I need to just take a walk or I need to sit under a tree for a while, you know, and breathe. I think that’s what’s great too and comes from experience of knowing yourself and knowing your limits and what you’re good at and what you need. I think women this age are probably really good at self-care because they’ve seen what happens when they don’t take care of themselves. We’ve all had some mental collapse in one form or another. Like, “Aww, I’m just burned out.” Or maybe even depression. I’ve had depression, so for me I understand what it is that I need, and I’m very determined to get it because I don’t want to feel off-balanced.
Barb: Well, thanks so much for your time today, Jeannie. And I’d like to say thanks, too, for pursuing your passion for the benefit of women so we can expand as we move forward and look to the next horizon. I think you’ve done a great job of bring together a lot great information and topics and opportunities. I’d like to encourage listeners to check out NextTribe.
Jeannie: It’s NextTribe.com. I want to thank you for first of all recognizing that NextTribe has value, and also having me on. I know you do great work and I appreciate that. I’ve listened to your podcasts and seen your website and read stories, and I know you are doing great work. It’s so important. There’s so much needed to be done, and I’m glad to be on the same journey as you are.
Barb: Yeah, thanks again.
Jeannie: Okay. Thank you.