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Next Avenue: Why this 25-year-old built a career in the senior living industry

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

This fall, I’m among the first cohort of students going for a master’s in the debut of Boston University’s senior living concentration offered by its School of Hospitality Administration. You might wonder why a 25-year-old would be embarking on a career in the senior living field.

My journey started 10 years ago, when I was 15. That’s when I volunteered weekly after school at a retirement community outside of Boston. On the encouragement of its director of life enrichment, I introduced myself to every resident I could find. Week after week, I looked forward to sitting with the residents, hearing their stories and learning from their years of wisdom.

As I continued making my rounds, I was overwhelmed by how much I learned from their life lessons. I wrote them down and, by the end of that first year, had 80 pages of pure magic.

What I learned talking to senior living residents

Among all my conversations, one shared mentality resonated the most: the idea of thinking retrospectively about the stressors of everyday life that I might confront. As a result, I learned to always stop and ask myself, “When I’m 120 years old, would this have really mattered to me?” Or, “Would a 120-year-old me look back on this opportunity and tell myself to go for it?”

Before joining commercial real-estate firms CBRE and JLL to learn about the financial side of the senior living industry, I spent my high school and college years working with a multitude of senior living communities, gaining experience in each type: nursing care, memory care, assisted living and independent living. I studied the management techniques of their successful operators to understand how they provided care for their residents. While there, I also paid close attention to how each resident’s experience differed and how they could be improved.

Essentially, I performed my own market research and then communicated the residents’ concerns to the leadership. What I heard from the residents inspired me to search for solutions.

That’s when I knew I’d create a career for myself in the senior living sector, dedicating my life to bettering the resident experience and doing what I could to shift the sometimes unflattering perception of the industry.

Also see: Here’s how to look past ‘Live to 110!’ hype and get smart when digesting the latest longevity research

To get started, I’ve enrolled in the BU program — the university is one of the first anywhere to recognize the importance of this industry. Its program includes electives such as The Business of Seniors Housing, Senior Living Operations and Monitoring the Resident Journey & Experience, which will be taught by industry professionals. I’ll also be able to take classes from BU’s schools of social work and public health.

Why is there a senior living master’s program?

Leora Lanz, assistant dean of academic affairs at BU’s School of Hospitality Administration, explained one of the key factors that led the university to offer the senior living program. “This industry represents the perfect balance of hospitality and altruistic purpose, which we know from years of experience that so many students have gone on to crave in their careers,” she told me.

Another reason, she said, “is that it there is so much room for growth” in the senior living industry.

Read: What Jimmy Carter, 97, can teach us about retirement

Personally, I think it’s vitally important to break stigmas that have instilled a deep-rooted fear of aging in our society. We can squash these stigmas and fears by encouraging youth to study and involve themselves in senior living. That will, in turn, breathe new life and ideas into the industry to serve current and future residents.

We need to normalize “no-fear” aging so getting older can be viewed as the natural and beautifully earned process it truly is.

While I recognize that the senior living field is typically not top-of-mind for many young people, I hope programs like the one I’ll be in will help change this. After all, we’re all aging and, if we’re lucky, many of us now in our 20s will live into our 70s, 80s, 90s or even 100s.

I once heard that the senior living industry is “a small, but deep pond” filled with an abundance of opportunities for those who choose to find them. That sounds right to me.

Through my studies, I look forward to the opportunities to learn from industry professionals and gain skills essential to the success of this evolving industry. Studying senior living with the fresh, wellness-focused perspective that BU’s School of Hospitality Administration offers will give my peers and me the opportunity to bring a hospitality mind-set to the senior living sector.

Also see: The Villages is a retirement ‘paradise’ — so why is that a problem?

As my career in senior living advances, I hope to ultimately help the field focus on longevity and wellness, do my part to shift the world’s perspective on aging and educate the next generation of thought leaders in the senior living industry.

Serena Lipton is an analyst for JLL Valuation & Advisory Services, specializing in the seniors housing and health care practices. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Administration from the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration. 

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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