When the producer of Beyond Better, Rita Domingues, told me she’d booked an 86-year-old first-time author for the podcast, I was both curious and impressed. And as I readied for our conversation, I could see why Rita had selected her as a guest.
- One of the first female hospital CEOs in Canada
- Climbed Kilimanjaro at age 64 (!)
- Cofounded the Panama Hospice and Respite Foundation
- Breast cancer survivor who is also blind in one eye
- Published her first book at age 86
Recording this episode felt like sitting with a friend over coffee, listening to her incredible stories. It’s rare to get an opportunity to learn from someone who has lived such a choice-filled life like Joyce. I hope you gain as much from this conversation as I did.
Learn more about Joyce:
Follow me on:
Transcripts for Episode 110
These transcripts were generated by robots, not writers.
Stacy: Welcome, welcome. I’m really glad to be back with you this week. I’m recording this after a lot of travel. I stayed in I think I counted five different places over the last week and a half, traveling between New York and Cincinnati. Oh, yeah. And I spent a night in Lisbon. And so it’s interesting that I get to talk with today’s guest, who is a amazing international traveler. We have so much to talk about, but I’m just coming out of a lot of travel and coming back into my easy, lovely life in Portugal and feeling very grateful today as I’m recording this episode. I’m really excited to introduce you to this week’s guest because she is incredible. Not only was she one of the first hospital CEOs female CEOs in Canada, but she’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
She is an art collector. She’s done all kinds of amazing things in her life. So let me tell you a little bit about this week’s guest, Joyce Perrin. Joyce Perrin’s early fascination with the 1950s Land and People book series sparked a lifelong curiosity about different countries and cultures. She represented Canada at an International Girl Guide camp at age 17 and met her role model, Lady Baden Powell. Her nursing career led her into hospital administration, but a life change prompted her to pack up all her belongings and embark on a solo global journey across 156 countries and 31 territories. After years of adventure, she settled in Panama where she cofounded the Panama Hospice and Respite Foundation, finally returning to Canada at age 80. And despite several health challenges, including blindness in one eye and breast cancer, joyce, now 87. I believe and residing in Pickering, just east of Toronto, finds purpose in supporting fellow survivors, volunteering with health teams and encouraging people through her book and speaking engagements to pursue their passions, no matter their age.
Joyce, I am so excited to have this conversation with you today well. Thank you very much for your kind introduction I’m so pleased to be chatting with know I love books and I wrote my book to inspire people to follow their passion and their dreams regardless of their age and no matter how long it takes. I started my travels when I was 57. And at that time, this was many years ago, there was no Internet, there were no cell phones. Those things were just on the cusp of being developed. And really and truly, that is how I got started. And I just love to travel. And so it all began when I took nursing. I wanted to be an air stewardess to travel, because at that time, in the 50s, she needed to be a nurse, but I was too short. Height regulations stopped that dream, and I graduated and married. Then later, when my children were in school, I took a graduate program in hospital administration.
So I became a CEO of a hospital. But traveling at 57 was really strange, because at that time, women didn’t travel alone. And it was back in 1993, and I took a job in Saudi Arabia. Now, why would I take a job in Saudi Arabia? Especially because I was a single female. Well, I knew somebody who had worked there and they said it’s a great place to I thought you know I’ve never been to that part of the world, I don’t know anything about the Muslim culture and so I thought what an opportunity. So I packed up my things, put them in storage, sold my condo and said, okay, I’m off. And I took my job. And it was a wonderful job. I really felt I made a difference, and it was an opportunity to live and be in a foreign country. But I had a job.
I had a place to be together and meet people and begin to understand different cultures. And the world today is such a broad area, and cultures are mixing. In Canada, we have many people from many different nationalities. And Ins gave me an opportunity to really live and understand in somebody else’s culture. It was an amazing experience. So that was one part of my travels, and then the other part was testing my strength, endurance and experience. So pushing 64 years old, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Then I watched gorillas with the size of a lawnmower along with his troop of females in the wild in Uganda. I observed mummified seals in the coldest, oldest, driest spot in Earth, the dry valleys in Antarctica. And then I took a three month overland trip along the Silk Road from Turkey to China. We traveled that area, and I skied in fresh snow in Georgia.
Then I rode an open sided MicroLine airplane over Victoria Falls. And it was then, you know, our helicopter one of my trips to Antarctica, landed on the first ice flow. It was the size of Maryland. And so were on this ice shelf in Antarctica sipping champagne in billion year old ice. What a memory.
Stacy: That sounds incredible, Joyce. I mean, you’ve had such incredible life experiences, and I know that then coming out of these experiences later in life, you were diagnosed with cancer, I believe, and overcame that. So tell me more about what led you to write your book Ants in My Pants one Woman’s Unexpected Adventures Across Seven Continents. Clearly, you had so many things happen, and then you decided to put the effort into writing a book about it. Tell me about that decision and what led you to that?
Joyce: Well, it took a long time to come to that conclusion. When I was in my professional healthcare journey career, rather, I authored many articles in the Canadian healthcare journals, and I penned travel articles for the Edmonton Journal, the newspaper, and other newspapers. However, when I started writing my book, I realized that creative writing for a memoir is not the same. It was a huge learning curve. And so I said, well, okay, if I want to write the book, I’ve got to do the work. And I took a two year graduate diploma course in creative writing at Humber College in Toronto. It was a challenge as I was struggling with my eye surgeries and breast cancer treatment at the time. But I did it. I learned so much, and gradually my writing changed to what it is today. And I continued to take courses and was on the executive of the writers community of Durham region for many years.
Writing is a continual learning process, and if I can pass on some words for new writers, please keep attending courses, work with a coach, and you have to keep improving. You have to keep moving ahead. You can’t just sit there. And I know a person who I love working with. She’s an author, too, so we’re chatting all the time. She’s written six books. Now I think she’s taking a course, and she says, I’m learning. And so it’s just like life. You can’t just sit there. You have to keep moving. You have to keep learning. You have to keep improving. You have to keep talking with other people, because communication is the biggest thing you can think about when you’re writing. How are you communicating to your reader? Do they really understand what you’re trying to say, and you know, many people say you pick a reader and you try to write to that person.
And it does help us when you have somebody in mind that you’re writing to. And then you take your words and you change them and you work. One of the things I found was really hard was knowing when to stop and just when is enough. How many times do you revise and how many times do you go through and change? But it’s just life. That’s exactly what it is. And at one point it said, okay, that’s it, I can’t do anymore. And then you go to your editor and they come up with these great ideas and it makes your book better. So you need an extra pair of eyes, certainly, that’s for sure.
Stacy: Oh, I love that. One of the things that I noticed about your life journey and I think this is related to your book as well, is it seemed like you are open to constant reinvention, like you’re willing to take different steps in. Your life to lead you to different places and to be also okay with kind of the shedding of whatever you’re doing right now and stepping into the next thing that is calling you. I think that’s such a beautiful way to orient to the world. Has that been how you always are? Or what is it in you that’s allowed you to do this and to travel to all these countries and have these wild and amazing experiences along the way?
Joyce: I think it’s because my life has been about the journey, not the goal. Once I reach the goal, I’m looking for the next mountain to climb. I’m looking for the next Mount Kilimanjaro to get to the top. I’m looking for something new and something different. And it’s interesting because I was just talking to a dear friend and they were having some problems with something and I said, well, let’s take a look and why not think about moving ahead in this direction? And the person really was very stuck where they were. They couldn’t say, oh well, this isn’t working or I need to change. They couldn’t seem to take that step to the next goal, the next journey. You’ve got the next exciting thing there is in the world. And I think that’s been a gift that I’ve been given or developed along the way. But it’s very true because for me, once I reach the goal, I’m looking for something else.
It’s not that I stand on that goal and be there. What’s next in my life? Because there’s a saying in my book, your life goes on. Every day goes on. You can either stay where you are or you can move. You can do something different. It doesn’t matter to the world. The life goes on, the days go on. You have to make that choice of how you are going to spend that day. And if you can make a jump to something new and exciting. The world is like your oyster every day. It’s a wonderful thing.
Stacy: I love that. I’m curious, how do you balance with these adventures that you’ve had? This is something I struggle with because I am similar to you. I’m always like looking to the next thing, but I’ve been doing a lot of inner work to also really revel in the present. And so, as an example, you get to the top of Kilimanjaro. How do you balance that inside of you to really revel in that moment on top of that mountain, but then also having this brain that’s like, okay, what’s next? How have you managed that in your own.
Joyce: I don’t I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it in those terms, but all I know is I remember graduating from the University of Alberta, and I was the vice president of the student council. At that time, there weren’t many women involved in these activities, and I was the only woman on the executive. And I remember writing a pending a note to everybody on my team on the executive, wishing them all the best in their journey forward and saying, what an incredible visit. What an incredible time we had together, working and developing programs and making things better for the students. And I remember thinking I was writing it one evening rather late, and I kept to think, yes, what is my next journey? Well, I was getting married, so that was another picture. But it’s the ability, I think, to be able to say, yes, I’ve done that.
This is great. Now what’s next? What do I want to do? And it’s hard for people sometimes to let go of that success or that feeling that they’re at the pinnacle of whatever it is. But life isn’t like that. You reach the top somewhere, and then what’s next? There’s got to be something else in this world, and I think that just being open to different ideas. When I was talking to people as I traveled, and remember, we didn’t have cell phones nor the Internet, so communication, verbal communication, was the essence of getting to know information and also to getting to know people. And it was exciting because there was always something to learn. Everybody has a story. All you have to do is ask and listen, and they share it with you, and it’s wonderful. And I think of the time I met a person in Africa who lived across the state from where my daughter was, and I’d had an accident.
And I said, Would you please call my daughter when you get home and tell her I’m fine, that you saw me and I’m fine? And just last month, I visited her when I was visiting my daughter in Wisconsin. Now, those things were just so precious and unexpected, but if I was sitting with my phone, I would never have met her. So I think we’ve lost that ability, or we’ve lost that the ability is still there. We’ve lost that meaningful communication. And I think communication is just the most important thing we can do. I can tell you a funny story.
Joyce: I was in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, and I wasn’t happy because I had moved from my hotel room to a new room. And it was on the top of a poor flight of stairs. It was small and it had the slanted roof. I could hardly stand up. And it was a Sunday and I went for a walk. It was rainy, cold and miserable. And that didn’t help my feelings one bit. Finally, I stopped and asked myself, well, why am I so upset? People look grumpy. They’re not friendly. I’m saying, look, you’ve traveled all over the world. This has never happened before, so what’s wrong? Well, finally I came to the conclusion that it was me and it was the vibes. I was spinning out. So I decided to play a little game. So I started to smile, and I said good morning to passers by. Well, the first man said, what’s good about it?
So I was taken aback but moved on. Then I tried again, and soon people smiled and we chatted. And then somebody invited me to go to church. And then I was chatting with the lady beside me and the minister asked for visitors. Well, I shrunk in my seat. I was in no mood to get up and say, oh, yes, I’m Joyce from Canada. But it was too late. She already introduced me. So the minister invited me for coffee and I went there and everybody was chatting. Of course, I was blonde, fair skinned. Everybody knew I was a visitor to the country. And a friend came up and said, oh, listen, I’ve got a big pot of soup on. Why don’t you come for lunch? So I went to lunch with her and I returned to the city three times, and each time we met, and in fact, she invited me to stay with her the next times I was there.
So you see how the day started miserably because I was not passing out good vibes, and what you pass out comes back to you. And then when I changed, look what happened. It was a wonderful thing.
Stacy: I love that story so much. And I think being in different cultures and traveling around the world, you learn a lot about yourself and what you bring into the experiences that you have. And it’s funny because today, just this morning, I was having a conversation with my husband about a parenting challenge that we’re working through. And I said to him, we’ve been kind of doing the same thing. And the same thing keeps happening with the kids. And in every other area of our life, we always come to it with this sense that we can shape whatever outcome we want. So why aren’t we bringing this to this particular thing that we’re dealing with our child. We weren’t bringing that mindset of, like, I actually have a lot of control over the experience that I have in the world. I can shape my life and my experiences, and I can get what I want out of life.
A lot of it’s internal it’s through me. But you shared an ability to shift in the moment. And I think that’s such a high level of self awareness, though, because I think most of us would have stayed grumpy and ended the day feeling like it was just a bad day and everybody was rude. What advice do you have for somebody who maybe is hearing this and thinking like it’s a light bulb is going off for them? What did you take out of that and maybe some of your other travels that helps you keep this mindset of choice?
Joyce: Well, I really do believe that you send out the vibes, and whatever you’re sending out comes back to you. So if the vibes are not very good, you’re not sending out very good vibes. But I’m also well aware that there’s one universal language, and that’s a smile. A smile is a smile in any language. And if you can smile with your eyes too, you can make connections. And so a smile, a nod, a twinkle in your eye can be the opening to many great stories and many great adventures. It’s interesting. I’ll tell you another story. I was traveling alone from Riyadh to Saudi Arabia, from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Syria, and I was taking what they call a communal tax. So I was by myself, so I was in a different culture. I stood out like a light bulb because I was fair, blonde hair.
And in Syria, they don’t cover their hair like they do in Saudi Arabia. So the taxi driver was to drop me off at the bus depot in Syria because I was going on for an adventure to spend a night in an old castle. Well, he dropped me off on the road, and I had about two blocks to walk. I was not very happy, but I had no choice. So I got out, and no sooner had I started to walk, my money belt around my waist came undone and was flipping between my legs and my skirt. So I grabbed with one hand, pulling my suitcase. I had a roll on suitcase at that point for this adventure and was walking, trying to balance my water because I was thirsty. And I realized, oh, my gosh, I need to go to the bathroom. So I really had to hurry, and it was terrible.
Have you ever tried to walk fast when you think you need to go to the bathroom and you have to take little tiny steps? And then everything just seemed to be getting worse. Anyway, I finally found the hamam that’s what they call the bathrooms in Arabic. And I stopped there, I went in. There were people everywhere. Women were everywhere. So I felt oh, this is great. There’s always one man who looks after the bathroom in the women’s bathroom. Why a man? I don’t know, but always there. And so I went to the stall, got myself a pin, and I still had those great big safety pins with the double Snip that you used for babies when we had cloth diapers. And I had one fixed myself. I was coming out. My gosh. I came out, looked around, there was nobody there. I checked to see if there were any feet under the doors.
No feet. I called, nobody answered. I tried the door, it was locked. I thought oh, my gosh. Guess they forgot I was there. So I didn’t know what to do. But I said, well, I’ve got water. I’ve got a bathroom. I can put my things out. Maybe they close it for the night. This is where I’m going to spend the night, so that’s okay. I’m safe. So after I was just about to start spreading my stuff out, the door opened and this man came, and he was smiling from ear to ear. He had a bounce in his step. I thought, Something’s wrong with this picture. Because if he was kidnapping me or if he did something wrong, he wouldn’t be coming in like this. So in my broken Arabic, I found out he had chewed all the ladies out. So I, the foreigner, could have the privacy of the whole bathroom.
So, you know, things may not be as they seem.
Stacy: Oh, my goodness, what a story. I’m sure you could tell stories for hours and hours. There’s so much to learnfrom travel. Every experience I’ve had, whether it’s a good one or a bad one, I’ve learned so much from it that I bring into my everyday life. I’d love to hear a little bit about your experience, getting that all down through writing. And I know you took the course. I know you went through the learning process, and I love that you shared that, because these are the things that I tell people all the time too. It’s a new skill. But even beyond that, I’d like to know, did anything shift or change in you personally, just becoming a published author and sharing this work with other people? Tell me a little bit about that experience of authorhood.
Joyce: Yes. When I was writing, I didn’t know what I would write. Like, I didn’t know whether I’d write that I was divorced. And then I thought, no, I have to tell the truth. This is what happened. And actually being divorced gave me the opportunity to travel at 57 because I could just put my things in storage and do what I wanted. Life is funny the way it turns around sometimes, because sometimes it passs you something and you have it in your hand and you have to look at it and say, okay, this is where I am now. What am I going to do? Am I going to stay here and just do the same old, or are you going to explore some of your dreams? And my dream, remember, was to travel the world back when I graduated in 1954. So 57 years later, I said, okay, this is it.
Either do it now or do it not do it. And so I decided just to do it. But you need to have it took a long time to come to that conclusion, but when my daughter, she was the third one to get married. When she got married, I just saw the opportunity and said, okay, I can do this, and went off. My family knew that I always wanted to travel. I said, I always wanted to travel. And so it wasn’t new to them, but they weren’t very happy because they never knew where I was. And I wore a dog tag around my neck. And this is something I really think is important for women travelers, for any traveler by themselves, because the world right now is not the same world where I traveled. When I traveled, things were very stable. Things were calm. We were able to move to various countries.
There were some I couldn’t go to because it wasn’t safe. But most of the countries I could go now. I mean, look what happened in one day. Look at the war in the Ukraine, the war now in Israel. One day things change, and you have to be very alert if you’re traveling nowadays, you have to be very alert as to what’s happening, and you have to make decisions very quickly to get away from that area. You have just a short period of time to make a decision and decide what you’re going to do. Fortunately, I never had any, really, situations where I had to leave a country. But now it’s a different story. And it doesn’t matter where you are. You just must be cognizant of the news all the time. And with cell phones, we have news so we can be aware. So it’s important to keep yourself alert and also to be smart.
Don’t try to push it, because when that happens, sometimes the boundaries are broken and you are in trouble.
Stacy: Yeah, it’s interesting because as a fellow traveler, I do find that I am a lot more conservative with how I travel than a lot of people I know who maybe haven’t traveled as much. And I think just small examples. Like I get to the airport really early because I’ve had the experiences where I stood in security for two and a half hours because something happened. Or I’m really mindful of where my hotel is in relation to where I’m going to be that day. And there’s an extra security that you can actually set on your Uber app where the driver has to have a pin when you get on the car to make sure that it matches, that it’s the same person. So there’s a lot of little things that I do to keep myself really safe while I’m traveling. And to your point, I think there’s a balance because I think you could be afraid to travel right now with all that’s going on.
But I also think you can make informed travel decisions and you can try to have that frame of mind of having an experience going with the flow, putting in your safety precautions. But then there’s a part of you that has to, I think, let go of that fear or you’re never going to be able to lean into the experiences that you have.
Joyce: I agree with you. And each person has a different boundary. And this is the joy about meeting other people because their boundaries may be different than yours, and you can share experiences that way. But it’s really important to keep yourself alert and also just to decide, well, I’m going to go and travel. There’s no question about it that people really are different, they have different tolerances, and that this is the important thing, to know your own, what’s good for you and what works for you. And there’s a lot going on now, very exciting for women travelers. Women travelers have now taken on other opportunities where travel agencies and websites such as Journey Women, an excellent travel site for women. For solo travelers, they have started some wonderful things. They’re working on home stays so that you can go and live with a family, but it’s all been vetted and you know, it’s safe.
Stacy: Oh, cool.
Joyce: I love that. It’s really great. I did my traveling. I did a lot with SERVAS organization. And that was one of the organizations where you could stay with families and anybody who’s interested in really learning about the culture and learning about the people. That’s when you really get to understand the culture and get to know people. It was a wonderful experience to do that. But Journey Woman has a website. It’s free to join. And there are many solo travelers. So women traveling alone, and they have women only groups so that you’re not feeling you’re out of place when there are other couples there. So it’s nice that this is happening in the world for women, and it’s because women now are being able to reach higher positions and have more time to travel and have more time to do those things. So I’m really proud of what’s happening there.
Stacy: Me too. Joyce, I feel like I could talk to you all day. I’d love to leave with just your last piece of wisdom. I’d love to get just a top learning or insight or piece of wisdom from all these experiences just to recap for listeners. You were one of the first hospital CEOs, female CEOs in Canada. You lived in Panama. You helped found an organization there. You climbed Kilimanjaro. You’ve been to 156 countries like Icon, tell us what is the top thing that you have learned from all of these experiences that maybe can impact our listeners today?
Joyce: The reason I was able to do this was because I love making connections. I love making human connections, sharing and building relationships wherever I went, whether it was training people in the World Health Organization, whether it was living with families in Zimbabwe, whether it was meeting somebody in the airport waiting room, whether it was meeting somebody on the road or on another trip. But I love meeting people and finding out about their life. My life was so rich because of it. And make connections, share and build relationships. Wherever you go, it’s communication. Your life will be richer for it. And it doesn’t matter where you are, whether you’re in Canada or whether you’re in Timbuktu. And I did go to Timbuktu, so it doesn’t matter. But it’s the way you present yourself to other people that endears them to be talking to you, and it makes your life richer and it does theirs, too.
So it’s a wonderful way. Communication, communication. And a smile. A smile is the same in anybody’s language.
Stacy: Oh, I love that. Joyce. Your book is called Ants in My Pants. Where can people learn more about you and get your book?
Joyce: My book is on Amazon and my website, you can check it out, joyceperrin.com, and there tells about my Facebook page and my LinkedIn. I’m not so good at doing that. I’m just in a high learning curve. But it’s coming. It’s coming slowly, slowly. But thank you. And I’ve enjoyed this talking with you and I love your posts and your blogs, and I hope you’ll continue because you bring great knowledge to people and you have such a wide variety of being writers and all you do in your coaching. I just wish you all the success.
Stacy: Joyce, thank you so much. I love talking with you and thank you for your time today. We’ll be sure to link to your book and your website in the show notes, and I just appreciate you sharing your experiences and wisdom and life lessons with us.
Joyce: Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure. And thanks to Rita Too for her hard work.
Stacy: Yes, Rita is the reason this show is what it is. And thank you for joining us today. I hope you got a lot out of this conversation. I know I did. So much to learn. Travel has so much to teach us. And for somebody to take all those experiences and share it with us is gold. I will be back with you before you know it.