In the Beginning
When I first started out as a Lifestyle Director I was beyond excited and completely terrified. My community was still under construction, and I had the awesome opportunity to build an enrichment and lifestyle program (a culture really) from the ground up. This is often an advantage, but for someone new to the industry, I had little precedent or reference to rely on.
Naturally, in the beginning, I second guessed myself and had my doubts. What did I know about seniors and their interests and abilities anyways!?
From as far as I can remember, I’ve always felt oddly comfortable around older adults. In my youth, I’d visit my grandmother at her retirement community in Arizona. I’d hang out for hours by the pool observing the intricacies of this strange land filled with septuagenarians and beyond. When I was sixteen, I joined my grandma in a chartered Coach bus loaded with gray-haired comrades into Mexico for a day of border shopping – WHAT a trip! Yes, Pun intended.
In college, I worked at a country club. I looked forward to servicing the weekly bridge games comprised mostly of retirees. While I refreshed the coffee, the old men would tell me inappropriate jokes and innocently flirt and I’d, of course, oblige in humoring them. The old women would offer practical wisdom, tell me inappropriate jokes, and fawn over my waist size, one that only youth can bring.
So while I was very comfortable around older adults, I was struck with panic as to what I would do with them now that I found myself in charge of planning their “lifestyle”. I confided in a trusted colleague and she gave me, hands down, the best advice.
She asked me what I liked to do, either alone or with my friends, and then waited for my response. I replied that I enjoyed watching live shows, dining out with friends, reading good books, and hitting a good walking trail. She smiled and said calmly:
What makes you think senior citizens don’t like doing any of those things too?
This simple statement was actually mind blowing. I made it my mantra on that day years ago, and it still remains.
Why do we think differently about older adults?
Why does our society seem to view older adults as being so despairingly different from the rest of us? Why would a person’s thoughts, feelings, preferences, capabilities, and curiosity be any different from anyone else, simply because of their age alone?
From that day forward, I threw my doubts and any predispositions or stereotypes out the window. And I set out to plan only the most interesting programming. It made no difference — Honkytonks, Belly Dancing, Armadillo Races, Drum Circles, World Religion Courses, Hydro Biking, Chicken Sh*t Bingo (y’all can just Google that) – we did it all.
About a year later, a resident approached me, saying some of her peers initially had their doubts about me. What did I know about their interests? Gently, she patted me on the shoulder and said, “I just asked them directly – WELL, is there anything she’s planned that you haven’t liked? You all seem to be enjoying yourselves around here.” Blankly, they stared and silently agreed.
I guess their minds were kind of blown too. Despite our age, maybe we’re not that different after all.