Like climbing Mt. Everest

By Kent Mulkey

Twenty years ago, when I first entered the senior living industry, I was hired as an executive director for an upscale provider on the West Coast. We were insanely successful with lease-up, waitlists, compliance, and company awards.

I felt like it had very little to do with me. I was mostly going in circles. When I was hired, I knew virtually nothing about senior living. Terms and concepts like med pass, care plan, dementia neighborhood, staffing ratios, and food cost per resident day made my eyes glaze over.

But over the years I asked a lot of questions, took more risks in applying what I was learning and just kept doing what I knew how to do – connect with and care for staff and residents. It wasn’t until much later that these two behaviors formed the core of the job.

I also learned that being an ED was not for everybody. Yet it seemed like that was the ultimate goal, like climbing Mt. Everest (well, in the old days).

A Square Peg in a Round Hole

When I was in college, I competed on the track team primarily as an 800-meter runner. But I felt all along that my best event was the 1,500 meters (the Olympic mile distance). I spent four years running as a square peg in a round hole. Yes, I resented it.

It became that way for me being an ED. I became good at it at a skill level, created some success, but it wore me down. I was exhausted and felt broken. I ended up in the hospital and needing several months of iron infusions. My boss Dave Kingen, from Keystone, saw the situation and told me to take time off and spend a week at a spa in New Mexico. I spent a ton of time in the iron pool.

I recovered from the iron-deficiency, but I don’t think I had recovered from believing that being an ED was the best fit for me. The matter of “fit” is still up in the air, but it didn’t take away the feeling that I had somehow failed.

Being an ED may or may not be best for you. Take some risks and try other things, like sales, activities, accounting, etc. Or, being in senior living may not be for you. There are dozens of other avenues by which you can effectively serve people, even taking a step away from the senior living world. I did . . . for a while.

(I did discover along the way that senior living sales is the #1 driver of my motivation and pleasure – the opportunity to profoundly connect with and help people find what they want and need.)