By Michelle Daniel
President & CEO, The Eden Alternative
The Annual LeadingAge Conference is always a highlight of the year. It is wonderful to network with great innovators in our field, learn the latest best practices, and see the latest products and services available.
Karen Walrond’s theme of Radiant Rebellion, specific to ageism, really spoke to me. Karen charged the audience to be bold and to fight ageism. “Karen inspires us to claim our voices and own the parts of us that make us authentic, beautiful and strong.” — Brené Brown, New York Times Bestselling Author.
Ageism is defined as prejudice or discrimination of a person based on their age.
I have worked in eldercare since 1995 and feel frustrated when older adults are discriminated against because of nothing more than their age. When I think of the friends I have served through the years, I do not see humans who should be ridiculed. I think of experience, beauty, and wisdom. I have enjoyed so many memories with amazing older adults who have shared their life stories, laughter, and love with me. Our time together was meaningful. I feel blessed.
I have fought ageism at the local level with the “100th day of school” at my children’s elementary school. Watching children get out of their parents’ cars dressed as stereotypical “old people” with stuffed dresses, rolled stockings at the knee, glasses, pearls, sprayed white hair, canes, etc. seemed unfair to me.
My immediate thought was, “how would this make an older adult feel if they saw this?” I emailed the school leadership and said that we were teaching the children the prejudice of ageism and I believe the incredible educators can do better. And just like that, the 100th day of school is no longer a dress up day as it had been. The children now make t-shirts of 100 items, hats with 100 cotton balls, jewelry with 100 beads, etc.
The point of the day was to be proud of completing 100 days in the school year and for the little ones to be able to count to 100. The school leadership had never considered they were allowing discrimination, and were willing to change, when alerted.
I am thankful they were open to hear what I had to say. I respect the teachers and appreciate that they are part of the village rearing my children. I believe small steps, like alerting school leadership to ageism on the 100th day of school, are what Karen Walrond was challenging us to do.
The Eden Alternative teaches how destructive ageism and ableism are, particularly for older adults and those who live with forgetfulness. Learn more about ageism & ableism.
Arthur Brooks shared a topic I have been researching for over a year, Ikigai (pronounced Ick-ee-guy). The term Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” Ikigai is also mentioned in the Netflix documentary Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zone. View the trailer here.
Many people question their purpose in life and where they fit in. This diagram is a wonderful place to start.
I’ve been searching to find my Ikigai for a lifetime, but more intentionally for about a year. I was in a good place. I was content, but I was restless. I felt there was more out there for me. I was not fulfilling my true potential – yet.
Since 2008, I have been involved with the Eden Alternative. I am so thankful for those who taught me “it can be different.” In this ‘hard’ field of eldercare, sometimes it feels hopeless. Problems often overshadow triumphs and there are regularly feelings of defeat.
As time went on, I became an Eden Alternative Educator and Mentor, then a consultant. Teaching the Ten Principles of the Eden Alternative® and giving people in our field hope was fulfilling to me. After much consideration, I applied for the President and CEO position of the Eden Alternative. If I didn’t apply, then I already knew the answer. I had to believe I had a chance to be part of something I truly loved – and I found my Ikigai with the Eden Alternative. I have such gratitude and humility for this opportunity to serve in this new role.
If you are tired and weary and need a glimmer of hope for yourself, the elders, and the team where you work, consider the Eden Alternative. The Eden Alternative changed my life and the lives of those I have loved the most in this world.
I have seen positive change in so many ways by using the Eden Alternative tools. I have seen resident council meetings change from complaint sessions to think tanks. I have seen elders suffering from social plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom live fulfilling lives again. I have seen dysfunctional teams come together and work for the common good. I have been part of meaningful relationships where elders and team members are well known and no one feels as though they are “just” a nurse aide or “just” a housekeeper, rather, a valued team member whose voice matters.
I will be sharing more of what I have witnessed through the years in future blogs, but my point is the Eden Alternative is transformative.
I believe it can be different for you and the elders and team members you work with. I invite you to join me on this journey to change the status quo of eldercare.