Surprised by Joy

Last week, I ventured downtown to Chicago’s spectacular Navy Pier to attend the 2011 Life Services Network (LSN) Annual Conference & Expo. Jennifer and I worked for LSN prior to coming to NASMM; she was the Director of Marketing & Communication for 15 years and I was the Director of Program Development for 8 years. My central mission was to meet and listen to LSN’s keynote speaker, as a possible speaker for a future NASMM conference.

I enjoyed connecting with former colleagues – LSN staffers as well as many LSN members attending the conference.  Lots of hugs and “How ARE You?” all around. As expected, the entire event was terrific – energizing, engaging and educational. 

My favorite aspect this year, however, was the part I usually don’t much enjoy at any conference – the actual “business” part of the meeting with endless introductions, speeches, and award presentations. I was pleasantly surprised, however. (There’s that word.) Steve Johnson, the Managing Director of Ziegler, an investment company specializing in funding capital projects in the senior living sector, approached the podium in the Grand Ballroom to introduce the keynote speaker I had come to hear. (Ziegler is one LSN’s most ardent supporters, and Steve’s introduction of the main speaker has become an LSN tradition of sorts.)

Steve’s a visionary money guy, and he knows the senior living industry like no one else. I perked up when he opened his speech by quoting C.S. Lewis, and noting how 2010 was a year he was “Surprised by Joy.” You may know Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is a partial autobiography written by C. S. Lewis in 1955. Lewis describes the events leading to his accidental discovery of the phenomenon he labels “Joy.” Lewis borrowed the book’s title from William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet, “Surprised By Joy — Impatient As The Wind,” which Wordsworth wrote following his young daughter’s death.

Steve explained that 2008 and 2009 were truly bleak years in the senior living sector. Stock market declines annihilated the nest eggs of prospective residents, and the downward spiral of the national real estate market paralyzed older adults and families regarding future plans. Senior living community occupancy levels were the lowest in memory. Most senior living professionals predicted 2010 would be another dismal year.

But, alas, Steve (and his Ziegler colleagues) were surprised by joy! He said three major capital projects in the Chicago area were expected to be postponed or canceled entirely last year. The projects not only were realized, but the communities are now fully operational and thriving. He went on to say how the entire team of financial and senior living experts nursed these large-scale projects through completion as if they were the most important projects of the team’s careers. He mused they likely were.

Senior move management also has endured during this challenging period in senior living. Actually, SMM is growing beyond all expectations. We, too, are surprised by joy. Demographics are on our side, but more than solid census data is driving this movement. Families and older adults are leading the way. They simply enjoy working with expert, compassionate senior move managers who assist with the overwhelming emotional and physical demands of later life downsizing/relocation. Senior move management clients continue to be surprised by joy each day, which is absolutely no surprise to us at NASMM.

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