Author & Editor-In-Chief Jeannie Ralston on why you should “never be a diva”

Never be a diva. Make sure you know how to do everything you’re asking of your team and that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, if need be. I feel that for the good of the company, nothing should be beneath me. With sweat gathering on my forehead and armpits, […]

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Never be a diva. Make sure you know how to do everything you’re asking of your team and that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, if need be. I feel that for the good of the company, nothing should be beneath me. With sweat gathering on my forehead and armpits, I’ve more than once rushed to lay out food and drinks and put together step-and-repeat banners before an event. Then I’ve washed off in a bathroom, applying the most minimal make up and emerged to feign composure and serenity. That’s all part of the job, as I see it. And I think if your staff sees you doing whatever it takes, they will feel the same.

I had the pleasure to interview Jeannie Ralston. Jeannie is the founding editor and adventurer-in-chief of NextTribe, the digital magazine for smart, bold women, aged 45 plus that has the motto, “Age Boldly.” Launched in 2017, Ralston was motivated to create the site because she didn’t like the way the media ignored or condescended to women her age and felt sure she could produce stories that made older women feel heard, understood and relevant. An award-winning journalist, Ralston’s work has been published in leading publications, including The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, Prevention, Real Simple and Us magazine. She has been a contributing editor to Allure, Parenting, and Ladies Home Journal. In her earlier life, Ralston, a natural-born adventurer and her husband, National Geographic photographer Robb Kendrick, took the unconventional step of establishing Texas’ first-ever commercial lavender farm, while living in Blanco, Texas in the `00s. After six years, Ralston and Kendrick sold the farm and moved with their two sons to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where they lived for four years. The free-spirited family then decided to embark on a three-year globe-trotting journey with travels ranging from the Great Wall of China to the Serengeti to Selma, Alabama. With so many memories and experiences to share, Ralston penned a memoir titled The Unlikely Lavender Queen (published by Doubleday/Broadway Books), which detailed her years running the farm. She later wrote an e-book called The Mother of All Field Trips, showcasing how her family became true global citizens and how she managed to homeschool her two sons through it all. Jeannie Ralston holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from he University of South Carolina at Columbia. She resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In fall 2016, my youngest child had just gone off to college. I was moping around, feeling sure my life was over. What would become of me? I went online to see what other women in my circumstances have done to relieve what I call “post-departum depression.” But most of what I found made me feel worse. Everything I read was so overly earnest or patronizing. It jarred me and made me throw back my shoulders. “Wait a second,” I thought. “I’m not that bad off. I have a lot of life left.” I felt 29 inside; I still laughed like crazy with my friends. We still talked about the same things (OK, maybe a little less about sex). But there was nothing online that reflected this spirit, that made me feel that life could keep getting better. With my 35 years in the magazine business, I realized I could do something to correct the situation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading NextTribe?

Our writer Sheila Weller did a story on Judy Collins earlier this year. Judy loved the story and she ended up emailing me. I was just astounded. I just couldn’t believe I was trading emails with Judy Collins — and idol of mine. Also, I recently was nominated as Digital Influencer of the Year by Austin Woman magazine. There were two other women nominated and they were young and gorgeous and worked for very cool companies. All three of us attended an awards dinner where the winner would be announced. I had really convinced myself I wouldn’t win. I mean, Austin is a young, techhie town. They’re not going to give this to a 57-year-old. I told the people at my table, “Please don’t feel sorry for me when I don’t win.” Then, they called my name. I still can’t believe it. It was so exciting to be recognized for anything related to tech in this city. When I thanked the crowd, I told the young women that NextTribe was actually relevant to them because they too would be an older woman some day and we were trying to pave the way so that they could see life is still fun and meaningful at this age.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Last year, we had an employee and volunteers working a booth at a women’s convention. I was going to be out of town. The 3 women would be wearing NextTribe T-shirts and giving them out to people, but we’d gotten feedback that our first round of T-shirts were too loose. Women wanted a slightly more fitted look and I decided we should go with a bold yellow shirt instead of gray. I quickly picked something out from the T-shirt print shop and was assured it was going to look great. In my hurry, I never went and looked at them in person. When I saw photos of the women working the booth, I knew I’d made a mistake. They were SO tight and our red little logo sat squarely on the nipple of one breast on all of them. Not a good look. I found out they were actually kid sized, but I couldn’t return them because they’d all been given away to women at the convention. I just laughed thinking that there are probably a lot of kids running around with T-shirts that say “Age Boldly.” I guess kids can age boldly too!! What I learned? T-shirts are a minefield. And that some decisions shouldn’t be made on the fly (especially when they cost $3,000).

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think we stand out from other media companies because we really treasure good writing. We love our writers and we think our readers do too. When I started NextTribe I had two writers in mind that I wanted to work for me. The problem: I can’t pay as much as established print and digital publications. These are writers who work for Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, the New York Times. I approached them and they were very nice, but “extremely busy.” Eventually, after keeping tabs on what we were doing, they both came to me with story ideas and I’ve been publishing them since. One of the writers told me that another publication had wanted her story to end a certain way — more upbeat. She appreciated that I let her write how she wanted the story to go. That’s because I really respect writers.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are putting on an event in New York City called “Screw Invisibility: Watch Older Women Change the World.” We have wonderful speakers lined up to honor the power and creativity of women over 45, to inspire us to never believe any message that says we’re less than or done, to show us why women our age have so much wisdom and experience to shape the world the way they want it to look. We want to take it to different cities. I most would like to do one of these events in Los Angeles — to essentially give the finger in the belly of the youth-and-beauty-worshipping beast. I think events like these help women to feel heard and understood and NOT invisible (screw that!)

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Give them some slack. Let them fly. It’s hard to trust when so much is on the line, but I’ve found that employees are more loyal and more grateful if they feel your trust is theirs to lose. This comes from my days as a freelance writer. I never understood why some editors would take a club to my stories, editing them in such a ham-handed way. When editors hire me to write something, they have to know something about my style and voice. Let me use it. Don’t squelch it. This idea transfers to managing a staff, I think. You had to see something in that person when you hired them. Don’t micromanage so much that they can’t do their job properly. If you stifle them, they’ll never be able to perform up to their capabilities.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Never be a diva. Make sure you know how to do everything you’re asking of your team and that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, if need be. I feel that for the good of the company, nothing should be beneath me. With sweat gathering on my forehead and armpits, I’ve more than once rushed to lay out food and drinks and put together step-and-repeat banners before an event. Then I’ve washed off in a bathroom, applying the most minimal make up and emerged to feign composure and serenity. That’s all part of the job, as I see it. And I think if your staff sees you doing whatever it takes, they will feel the same.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well, of course, I couldn’t have done anything without my business partner, Lori Seekatz, who invested in the idea of NextTribe based on little more than faith in me. And Sheila Weller, a writer in New York, has helped move NextTribe forward because of her brilliant writing and her amazing connections. But I have a college friend, Ellesor Holder, who has worked in marketing for years. She has been helping me from the beginning and she’s the person I cry to and call when I need a pep talk (because we all need pep talks, sometimes on a weekly basis). She also is very protective of me and is always thinking about what’s best for NextTribe. We were at a conference early on, and Mariel Hemingway was speaking. She told me, “I’m going to meet her and tell her about NextTribe.” She sweet-talked Mariel’s manager, hung out by the dressing room after Mariel’s talk and then chased after her. Maybe a bit stalker-ish!! All to give her a NextTribe card and get a photo with her she could post on social media.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope I’ve helped women over 45 see that they have a lot of fun, productive years ahead of them. I hope I’ve inspired them to live them in the best way possible. I also have brought people together in real-life — at events (happy hours, book parties, classes) and trips. I think it’s important to find new connection at this stage in life. I think women are hungry for it. There are many reasons life at this age can feel isolating (empty nest, divorce, retirement), but I hope that bringing women together has made their lives a little richer and easier.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Check your impatience. I’ve been told by people who work with me that I’m the most impatient person on the planet. I want our growth to happen NOW. I want the event to sell out NOW. I want the post on the website to be fixed NOW. I’ve really had to temper that. For example, I normally change our featured reader and featured contributor on the website every Wednesday. I hadn’t been able to do it one Wednesday and neither was the woman who helps me with the website. I was agitated that it hadn’t happened on time. She said to me, “Jeannie, no one is looking at the website saying, `Hmm. They haven’t posted the new featured reader and contributor yet. I wonder what’s wrong with these people.’” I think of that now whenever I feel like something needs to be done right away. Is it just me that will notice if it’s not done at this precise moment?
  2. Acknowledge your short-comings. It makes you more pleasant to deal with and more human, which is always nice. For example, knowing that I’m impatient, I often preface a request or deadline with something like, “I might be doing my hair on fire thing, but could we get this by tomorrow?” I also tend to keep a lot in my head and think I’ve told people what my plans are for an event or story, when I really haven’t. If someone expresses surprise at a decision they knew nothing about, I usually say something like, “Oh you didn’t get my telepathic email?”
  3. Know when to cut your losses. Ugh. This is a hard one. But at some point, a bad idea — even if it’s your own and you truly, truly believed it was going to work — has to be abandoned. Early on, we wanted to create a proprietary social network on our site so that women in our test market of Austin could engage with each other. They could sign up on the network and register what kind of activities they liked — seeing live music, hiking — and in what area of town they lived. That way women could connect over shared interests and geography. We worked hard getting this set up on the site. Lots of tinkering by programmers, etc. We finally got it working in an acceptable way; some women signed up. But then almost nothing. Even people who signed up weren’t using it regularly — they weren’t keeping up with what others had posted or checking messages, etc. It finally occurred to me why. Because they already had a social network they checked regularly. It’s called FACEBOOK. Duh! It was a sobering moment — and kind of expensive — but I pulled the plug because it was just making me crazy. And we started a Facebook group for Austin women, which is growing and thriving.
  4. If you have a choice, always make someone feel better, not worse. Ok, there’s no way you really can make a person feel better if you’re firing them. But in so many interactions, even if someone has messed up, there’s a way to be respectful and understanding, even encouraging. For instance, if someone makes a mistake, such as a typo in a headline, there’s no use in grinding them into the Earth over it. It serves no purpose. She is already feeling bad enough already. Instead, I would rather call attention to the mistake and remind her to proofread a little more closely from here on out before hitting publish. I promise she gets the message.
  5. Keep a sense of humor. Even if it’s at your own expense. This is so important. Nothing we’re doing — unless you’re an ER doctor or the head of a company that is actually finding a cure for cancer — is that important that we can’t take a moment to acknowledge absurdities and ironies. I like to say that I’m working so hard that I’d have less gray, fewer wrinkles and look 10 years younger if I hadn’t started NextTribe. Or when we had to scrap our proprietary social network, I said to people who had worked on it: “OK, I just had to see for myself, but now I know: I’m not Mark Zuckerberg.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope I’m tapping into a movement that I feel is afoot. A movement to value and esteem women of our age group more. We have years (decades!) of experience, we have wisdom, we’ve seen it all, you can’t ruffle us — except when you treat us like we don’t matter. I think this is a movement that is picking up steam because there are so many well-educated, accomplished women in our age group. We’re not going to leave the stage quietly. Many of us feel we’re at the peak of our careers. Many of us feel we’re just getting started. Also, I really believe Hillary Clinton’s defeat — and the way she was defeated — has been a trigger point for us. I hope we can channel that anger and indignation into a movement that will lift women in our age group and bring attention to the many ways ageism and sexism harm us and society. There are a lot of good ideas, good works, good solutions we as a society are missing out on because we overlook women in this age group.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was in college, my mother gave me a poster for my dorm room that read, “The only failure is the failure to try.” I have come back to that line again and again over my career. It’s a comfort when I’m trying to decide on a next move — to make the leap, or play it safe? And an even greater comfort when I’ve leapt and went straight off a cliff. It has really been on my mind since I’ve started NextTribe and every other day I’m questioning why I’m working so hard. The alternative to trying just isn’t acceptable.

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