Creating a Sense of Purpose
Posted on December 4, 2014 by Sulekha Zaug
“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
Setting and achieving goals is key to maintaining a sense of purpose. Fortunately, age has nothing to do with one’s ability to achieve; many people have made their dreams come true later in life. For example, Colonel Sanders was 65 years old when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken. Ray Kroc, a milkshake salesman, started McDonald’s in 1954 at age 52. At 70 years old, Golda Meir became the fourth prime minister of Israel. Ronald Regan, the oldest person to serve as U.S. president, took office shortly before his 70th birthday. And former President George H. W. Bush has set a goal to parachute out of a helicopter every five years on his birthday. On June 12, 2014 – his 90th birthday – he achieved his first jump, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and having difficulty walking.
At Atria Senior Living, we know that setting goals and achieving dreams feels good at any age. It creates a sense of accomplishment, develops confidence and instills purpose. Goals can be family-oriented, social, spiritual, personal, mental or physical. When setting goals, they should be realistic, positive and specific.
At Atria, we pride ourselves on promoting active lifestyles for our residents. We separate ourselves from our competitors by providing opportunities for older adults to learn, do and try new things and achieve their dreams – no matter how small or how large. As new residents move to our communities, we ask them to complete a comprehensive survey regarding their interests – called “Learn, Do, Try” – to better understand the types of experiences they would enjoy.
Some think that as people age, they lose their youthful physical abilities along with the drive to achieve goals and pursue our hobbies. But this is not the case. Older adults still have goals and dreams they would like to fulfill. Promoting active aging is about improving the body’s strength, remaining mentally engaged and challenged, staying socially active and retaining a sense of purpose.
For example, if a resident dreamed of learning rock climbing, a trip can be set up to visit a climbing facility, learn about the operations and give the resident an opportunity to try with the help of an instructor. Even if a resident is not physically able to climb the wall, the experience of learning and being there can make the dream come true.
As another example, one Atria resident was nominated for and received an Emmy Award many years ago for costume design, but never received the actual statuette – only a certificate. He tells the story with humor, but admits he yearns for the actual award. The Engage Life Director at his community is currently trying to make his dream of owning the award come true. She is working on contacting the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to investigate the situation and either provide an explanation or, ideally, produce the statuette!
Maintaining their independence is another aspect of preserving a sense of purpose. Atria believes in encouraging residents to make their own decisions and daily schedules. With the “Learn, Do, Try” surveys, we familiarize ourselves with their interests and strengths to create opportunities to participate in or lead community groups. These include monthly book clubs, newsletter committees, playing card groups, Ambassadors or Angels (residents who volunteer to welcome new residents), Resident Council leaders, men’s or women’s groups, and charity groups.
If volunteering was an important part of their daily life before moving to Atria, we encourage them to remain connected to the local community and support them by providing transportation for typical day-to-day errands.
Sometimes it’s the everyday events that help keep us grounded. As a person ages, the simple task of accompanying a friend to the beauty salon, for instance, becomes a comfortable way to maintain a sense of normalcy. Making crafts with children or visiting local youth groups, learning a new skill, and caring for a pet or plants are all examples of activities that can help maintain a sense of purpose.
No matter how big or small a dream may be, there is an opportunity to achieve it – even through an adaptation. We must always remember that the ordinary and great among us are not bound by the barrier of age.