A few years ago, I approached my pastor about a challenge I was facing as an adult Sunday school teacher: I was struggling with reconciling the various views and opinions that were voiced each week among members of my class. My pastor told me something I’ll always remember: “The most important thing,” he said, “is to meet them where they are in their journey.”
I thought of this sage advice when I read a recent article by Jane Gross, author of A Bittersweet Season and founder of The New York Times’s “New Old Age” blog. Ms. Gross’ article, entitled “I knew it was responsible to plan for my old age. So why did I keep crying?” made me wonder: When CCRC sales counselors meet with a prospective new resident, are they meeting the senior where they are in their journey?
Walking in CCRC prospects’ shoes
For people who are in CCRC sales, it is easy to fall into the mindset that a senior “doesn’t walk on the lot lest he [or she] wants to buy.” (Think: Alec Baldwin’s monologue in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”) But this may or may not be true in the case of CCRC prospects.
In her article, Ms. Gross shares a very personal story about making the trip from Manhattan to Hanover, New Hampshire to visit a CCRC she was considering. She writes of the mix of emotions she felt on the drive–how visiting this prospective new home “meant acknowledging that I wouldn’t be able to live on my own forever. It was the responsible thing to do. I sure didn’t like it.”
One simple line in Gross’ article sums up her feelings: “I was facing the future. And I was scared.”
Like Ms. Gross, many Baby Boomers come to the CCRC sales center with memories of their own parents’ decline still fresh in their minds. They may have struggled to coordinate proper care for their mom and dad, or they may have even taken on the painstaking role of caregiver themselves. That first-hand perspective of the aging process and eventual mental and physical deterioration that comes at the end of life may be the motivating factor that pointed them in the direction of the CCRC retirement living option. Maybe they are single and/or childless and have no one to care for them as the age. Or perhaps they simply don’t want to burden their adult children with the Faustian choices they had to make with their own elderly parents.
Whatever the situation of the senior who is considering residence in a CCRC, it is critical that sales counselors understand and keep top-of-mind the myriad emotions that the senior is likely experiencing. They may have a smile on their face and nod politely as they tour your facility and its amenities, but like Ms. Gross, they may have cried the entire drive to the community. For many seniors, considering a move to a CCRC is a monumental milestone that can be fraught with fear, excitement, dread, anxiety, ambivalence, enthusiasm…you name it.
In short, just because a senior is sitting at the sales desk, you most certainly cannot assume they are emotionally ready to “sign on the line which is dotted,” as Alec Baldwin’s character famously said.
Finding peace in a CCRC
I can’t wrap up this post until I mention something in Ms. Gross’ article that I have personally witnessed again and again. Gross notes that upon returning home from her exploratory trip to the CCRC, she reached out to a friend who moved into another CCRC community a few years ago. The friend shared that she too had struggled emotionally with the move–the fear of change and the feeling that this milestone proved once and for all that she was an “old lady.” And, as with most new residents, there was an adjustment period when she moved to the CCRC.
But as so commonly happens, this friend soon began to feel at-home in her new residence, met friends, began enjoying the community’s many amenities, and actually felt a tremendous sense of relief, as if a huge, stressful weight had been lifted from her. I often hear new CCRC residents say, “I don’t know why I waited so long!”
Meet prospective residents where they are
Just as my pastor so wisely advised me when I was struggling, it is crucial that CCRC sales counselors understand where the senior is on their “journey.” What emotions are they feeling about aging and the prospect of moving to a CCRC? What are their motivations for making this move? What concerns are holding them back? As a salesperson, are you walking with this prospective resident or figuratively pushing them from behind?
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