By Kent Mulkey

It seemed to happen all so fast. One day I was with my sweet grandmother watching her pass on in a nursing home, and the next day I was managing the start-up of an assisted living community. Two disparate universes. When I was sitting with my grandmother, I had no idea that in less than a year I would be studying up on senior assisted living as preparation for an interview I had scored with an upscale company.

I got the job.

Now, 20 years have passed. In recent days I have been reflecting on the experiences and lessons I have learned over the years. Some mark huge successes. Some tell of failure.  A few stand out as valleys of disappointment.

Today I am grateful for all of it, even the painful stuff.

Here are five lessons I have learned from 20 years in senior living.

  1. Learn all you can, especially as the industry changes. I attended CALA (California Assisted Living Association) Conferences twice a year. Changes in how rates were charged, services rendered, and regulations were were introduced proceeded at a rapid. I was hungry to learn and needed all the help I could get!
  2. Take advantage of help from the home office. I was very fortunate to have industry experts at my disposal who were at the ready to teach and guide. One of the hardest words for me to say Is H-E-L-P, but they made it easy and never made me feel stupid for asking. After all, they were fully aware I knew virtually nothing about senior living when they hired me.
  3. Seek ways to serve the industry. Soon after I was hired in my first job, I joined the Education Committee for CALA, which gave me the opportunity to connect with others in the industry. For a time, I helped open a new market for the Colorado Assisted Living Association (another CALA) that taught me just how hungry industry professionals are for connection and education. I felt good to be of service to fellow professionals.
  4. Grow you career, but not too quickly. I entered senior living a little later in my career and wanted to sink my teeth into all I could. Sometimes I made changes too fast, tried too hard, and lacked patience. I felt like a phony as I portrayed an image that I knew more than I did. These were the toughest and most instructive lessons of the past 20 years.
  5. Hire people who have expertise that you don’t have. I will never forget way back to hiring sales staff, nurses, dining and resident services directors. I knew we needed the best possible people out of the 10-12 we were considering. Sometimes we nailed it. Other times our biases blinded us, and we blew it. Bad.

As most of you know, senior living is a wonderful way to learn people skills, help run a great business, and serve some of the finest people who ever lived.