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  • Writer's pictureNancy Griffin

The Secret Sauce of Purpose

Interview with Anna Hall & Jean Anderson of The Purpose Equation

Nancy: There are a lot of people in senior living talking about purpose. How much is “lip service” and how much is life-changing for residents?

Anna & Jean: People choose the senior living industry for a variety of reasons. Those who stay deeply care about making a positive difference in the lives of older adults and those who serve them. Deep commitment and caring are nearly universal attributes in our industry. Therefore, I don’t believe we have a lip service issue.

Instead, we have good intentions that are missing critical elements that make purpose flourish. These elements are education regarding what purpose is and the budgets to support and nourish it. When purpose is ignited, health improves, compliance with medical and therapy regimes increase, motivation is sustained and culture thrives. Residents living in their unique purpose can recover faster from illness, maintain cognitive and physical abilities longer and extend longevity.

Nancy: What is Purpose? What is it not?

Anna & Jean: Every single human being on this planet has a purpose that is built and evolves based on a combination of genetics, innate strengths, personality and life experiences.

Our unique purpose provides us the answer to the question – why am I here?

Purpose is our innate ability to derive joy and meaning from the core of our existence – in natural ways every day. Purpose is the best of ourselves, starting with a state of being and then resulting in things that we do and ways that we interact with others that are deeply meaningful and energizing.

Purpose is not a goal, a role, or an achievement. These are outputs of our purpose. Metaphorically speaking, Purpose is the cookie dough, the output is the baked gooey cookie. Purpose is the roots and trunk of a tree, the outputs are its branches and leaves.

Nancy: Does purpose necessarily include a “giving back” component?

Anna & Jean: Yes, a natural output of purpose is giving back. Purpose starts inside with awareness, acceptance and honoring of your unique purpose. The positive impact of purpose reverberates throughout a community.

Nancy: What are some steps senior living providers can take to help residents find their purpose and then act on it?

Anna & Jean: Let’s be clear—senior living providers cannot ‘give’ residents or employees or anyone purpose. Innate purpose lives inside of each one of us. Providers get started supporting and energizing purpose in three ways:

1. Create a proactively inclusive environment. Take a stand and be crystal clear about what is not tolerated. This sets the stage for psychological safety and fostering a sense of belonging. Belonging to oneself is most important, and it feels a lot easier with environmental scaffolding in place. For example: Wheelchairs are welcome and people living with dementia are invited to join in activities throughout the community.

2. Be precise about Purpose. This purpose precision begins during the sales process all the way through move-in and ongoing residency. It’s great to learn what interests folks have, their favorite hobbies, and where they grew up. But that doesn’t lead to the core of purpose. Gain an understanding of the motivation and joy behind these ways of “doing” and great memories.

  • Find out about ‘doing.’ Does the gentleman love to teach, to create, to learn, to have adventures? Does the prospect think she is introverted? Does a new resident express that she is getting tired of seeing the same people all the time (needs novelty)?

  • Build a system into your community operations to support meaningful ways of ‘being.’

  • For the resident who feels introverted (referencing the example above), point out plenty of resources like books and puzzles and quiet spaces that don’t demand socialization. For the socialite, share about the connections and programs with the local community, schools and volunteer opportunities. There’s more here, but this is a start!

  • Then, support each person’s purpose by experiencing them as individuals with specific gifts.

This concept applies to residents and employees. These purpose gifts include things like deriving a sense of joy and meaning through teaching, learning, helping others, creating and making meaningful social connections. These activities are supported by educating the entire employee team about each resident’s outlets for Purpose. Employees are then empowered to provide these joys freely as ‘micro’ relational opportunities throughout the day. A group program calendar is not the singular solution to nurturing purposeful Living.

3. Celebrate purpose every day. What we give attention to is what thrives in our communities. When we see visitors, employees or residents sharing their purpose - helping others or performing unplanned acts of kindness (signs of an innate strength), or being creative, make a big deal about it. Every time. This is loving and it supports the basic psychological need to feel competent and successful. Everyone is fantastic at being themselves! If purpose becomes the focus of community culture, each step in the process from initial discovery, through intake and residency is an exploration and celebration of that resident’s unique, innate way of accessing joy and meaning. Each person’s purpose, when supported, makes the community a better place to work and live.

For information on The Purpose Equation, email or visit at

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