What Makes You You?

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you,” wrote Dr. Seuss in his 1959 book, Happy Birthday to You! Wise words then and now, words which our chaplain, Robbye Jarrell, often likes to reframe and pose as a question to our residents: “What makes you you?” I like this question because it invites us to reflect on our past, look ahead to our future and get to know one another. 
Getting to the Answer

What has made you who you are? And, what do you want to continue doing (or stop doing) to be your best “you”? Getting to the answer of “What makes you you?” is a large part of our mission at Lenbrook. Our community is one that naturally encourages each other to find out “what makes you tick” and to pursue what’s important to you. 

Lenbrook’s mission is to “enable our residents to enjoy the gifts of good health, independence and personal fulfillment through our many programs and services.” And we do. We also continually refine and develop enrichment opportunities that are both resident-inspired and strategically executed — so that they involve all dimensions of wellness and well-being. 

Getting to Know You

One of the many ways in which we seek to get to know all 500 of our resident “yous” at Lenbrook is through weekly gatherings called “Community Chats.” We invite about 20 residents each week to meet with me and our leadership team around a large table in our library. It takes about six months to host these intimate and informal gatherings with all residents.

Having just completed a full round of Community Chats, I’d like to reflect on a few themes that have emerged and lessons I’ve learned. 

The Importance of Active Listening 

Our residents are diverse in their opinions, experiences and preferences. But almost universally, our residents want to have a voice and to be heard. So it’s not surprising that I’ve found the most important skill that I — and our Lenbrook staff — need to exercise consistently is active listening.

It’s amazing how much more effective conversations and discussions can be when you use active listening. By that I mean taking the time to paraphrase back what you heard someone say to ensure you understand what they meant. Acknowledging the other person’s views in the moment, in real-time, fosters a positive environment for mutual understanding and more transparent communications.

Of course, being a community of 500, we’ve put in place multiple channels for listening. The Community Chats are just one of many. We also keep an “open door policy;” maintain a resident feedback log; have a resident relations coordinator; hold regular Resident Information Meetings; work with different committees of the Lenbrook Resident Association that provide input on everything from housekeeping to dining services; host specialized  focus groups; conduct annual resident satisfaction surveys, and more. 

In fact, solidifying processes for resident feedback is an area of major focus by the president of the Lenbrook Resident Association this year.

“The Club”

As we moved our library out of the main Lenbrook living room last year, we began getting and suggestions from residents about what to do with the space. Dozens of different ideas surfaced, but we all agreed we needed to maximize the value of this beautiful space and make it more versatile for multiple uses. 

So we used active listening. We spent 12 months working with our architect, builder and 10 residents to define the purpose, program and configuration requirements for the space. And, at the request of a resident, we conducted a survey asking residents to vote on their favorite name for the new area. 

The result? “The Club.” This redesigned area will provide not only a place to enjoy fellowship over coffee and pastries in the morning but also provide a more spacious gathering place for our residents daily happy hour. It will graciously accommodate multiple purposes and multiple desires.

We used a similar listening process for relocating and redesigning Lenbrook’s library last year.

The Need for Proactive Communications

I’ve also found that just as important as actively listening is the need to report back to folks on what you’ve been able to do (or not do) regarding their advice and input. We work hard to keep residents abreast of what’s underway, whether it’s a summary of the progress on The Club in the resident newsletter or providing updates at the Residents Information Meeting. 

And like the Cake and the Egg analogy I wrote about several months back, clear communications on a regular basis helps people to see their advice in the solution. At quick glance, they may not see their “egg” in the cake. But a thoughtful review of how and why things are being implemented and regularly communicating with residents about it helps to achieve greater understanding. 

The “Dr. Pattillo Moment”

We have one resident in particular who has the process of proactive communications down to a science — and an art. He is Dr. Manning Pattillo. He has chaired, served on the committee and supported every program and event sponsored by Lenbrook’s Friends of the Arts committee ever since moving to Lenbrook in 1997. He loves the arts. He lets you know it. And he reminds you of the importance of art in life. 

I call it “The Dr. Pattillo Moment.” He can explain to you why the arts are fundamentally important and how the committee plays a role in bringing the arts to Lenbrook in a matter of minutes any time he gets the chance. He understands the need for regularity and repetition in effective communications. We are committed to enhancing our resident communications in the coming months and years ahead with the Dr. Pattillo Moment in mind.  

The Role of Individual Responsibility in Defining Your Answer

To bring it back to Dr. Seuss and “What Makes You You?”, it’s up to you to find the answer to this question for yourself. We encourage our residents to use the fullness of our community to help them define their best self at this stage in life. Efforts like The Club, the library and the many other engagement opportunities at Lenbrook help support our residents as they become their optimal “yous.” 

We also recognize the role of the individual responsibility in this process. Each resident arrives at their answer to the question in their own unique way. And as Dr. Seuss also so wisely said, “You are you. Now isn’t that pleasant.”

As for me, I think I’ll work on my answer during my marathon run this month in California. 26 miles ought to give me plenty of time to figure it out.