By John Gonzales

This article is totally different from the one I began to write a few days ago. A client recently asked me why I do what I do. Why I became involved in senior housing? Why do I do what I do – a la Simon Sinek.

It had been a while since anyone asked me that.

Of course, I know what motivates me on a personal level – my wife and children. Yes, to be a provider for my family, but also wanting my kids to see what it looks like to be passionate about a cause. I want my kids to be proud of their dad. That’s my personal driver.

But on a professional level, why do we do what we do?

I considered this for the better part of a week – rereading articles and books, watching my bookmarked YouTube videos and listening to podcasts on leadership, passion, and mission. After searching the recesses of my mind (and dare I say, soul), I searched the deep dark files on my external computer storage where many great old ideas go into hibernation, waiting for reawakening, or death.

Then I found it. My manifesto, written nearly 15 years ago, articulating why I do what I do. Why this industry, this career path – why senior living? There it was, lying dormant, not forgotten, but unrealized. Written while with a company and after seeing Jerry Maguire where I was charging uphill carrying the flag of the mission, bombs a-burstin’ all around. Trying to rally the troops around the true mission: to change the way people view aging in America.

Ah, to be young, and driven, and naïve enough to think that was possible. And truth be told it wasn’t then and it isn’t now – at least, not alone.

I had yet to meet the team and partners on every level that would enable this vision to become a reality. A lone soldier – regardless of rank – cannot win the battle, much less the war. Every general is only as good as the soldiers he leads; soldiers that buy into the mission, willing to pick up the flag and charge.

“Where are those battle plans?”

Where Do We Start?

I would ask that you consider this: it must start with the next generation with the staff we employ in our communities. In the last few years, millennials’ interest in and awareness of social issues, as well as their engagement in those issues, has grown and intensified – in part due to the rapidity and proliferation of information allowed by today’s technology.

The Millennial Impact Project is an annual survey of young people’s involvement with the causes they care about. It reveals how the generation born between 1980-2000 is supporting those causes. Derrik Feldmann, the study’s lead researcher, writes, “Millennials are undoubtedly altering today’s models of giving and society’s perceptions of how to create change locally, nationally, and globally. The first generation to grow up with digital outlets for their voices is turning them into megaphones for good.”

I am convinced that this current generation is more concerned than ever with having a purpose – with knowing that what they do has impact and meaning in the world. The rise of millennials’ participation in political and social activism is evidence of this. If, as industry professionals, we can demonstrate the societal change that can be achieved by changing our country’s approach and attitude to aging in America – particularly with today’s socially conscious workforce – we can grow the generals of tomorrow.

But like every worthwhile goal, there must be sound strategy and a cohesive mission-minded drive towards that goal.

We must begin to reintroduce the value of service, mission, and impact on the lives of our elderly citizens – one of the most vulnerable segments of our population – who are all-too-often forgotten or devalued. Surely there is as much consequence in addressing this cultural deficiency as there is in protecting our environment, civil rights and racial discrimination, immigration, education, and healthcare reform. 

Change the minds of the next generation and change the world? Change America’s view of aging? We can use a lot more soldiers. Interested?