An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Nobody can change their past. Try to let go of it and find joy in your present.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Garber, Executive Director of The Seneca, in Rockville, Maryland
Jonathan Garber is Executive Director of The Seneca, a Silverstone/Watermark community in Rockville, Maryland. A mission-driven senior living executive with more than 25 years of progressive leadership, management, and development experience, Jonathan previously served in executive roles at Heritage Senior.
Living, Discovery Senior Living, Ascension Health and Erickson Senior Living. In his role as Executive Director, Jonathan has successfully created a resident-centered, team-oriented approach to operations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Mine was not a very traditional start into the senior living industry. In the first half of my career, I was a hospital CEO running a group of hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area. Through a partnership with another health system, we began working with new senior living and skilled nursing communities, where we were providing physician services and Part B services. I was able to meet people at one of the now major senior living providers, Sunrise Senior Living, who convinced me I’d do really well in their industry. So I made the decision and changed careers. I took over a senior community 62 miles from my home that offered assisted living, independent living and memory care services. I went from running hospitals to helping pass out medications, running the dishwasher, you know, whatever was needed to support the team. But I found my love and my niche. And I’ve been very fortunate to have had the chance to grow to where I am now in this industry, developing and opening several senior living communities. I absolutely love what I do and can’t wait to see what my future holds.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Throughout my career I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many interesting residents. But one stands out in particular. He was one of the brightest people I ever met, a doctor of physics who worked with Einstein and Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project. He had early and advancing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and he knew it, he knew exactly what was happening to him. As I got to know him, I noticed he would always be rubbing his hands. One day my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him why he did that. He replied, “Every day I wipe the blood off my hands from my role in developing the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.” That’s always stuck with me.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
When I was still a hospital CEO, I opened a hospital in Bakersfield, California. My team and I thought it would be educational and enlightening to have key leaders, like the city’s mayor at the time, spend a night in the building shortly before we opened it for patients. We even had a live TV news crew on site. Well, we did not fully anticipate how negative the experience would be for our participants, even though we tried to create a “sleepover” environment. Our antics made us look quite foolish and we learned to leave the sleepovers to children. Needless to say, it was a funny lesson learned and people kidded me about it for months after it occurred.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Early in my career, when I was still in the hospital industry, I did a fellowship in hospital administration at a hospital in South Florida. And Dr. Brian Kaye, our System Chief Operating Office, became a mentor for me. Throughout much of my early career, he was my guide, mentor and, overall, a steady shoulder to lean on. To this day I admire him and feel very fortunate to have known him. The kindness he showed me is a major reason why I always do my best to help people who are just starting their careers.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
First, be a good planner. Don’t be caught trying to make quick decisions. Always plan ahead and anticipate obstacles. But most importantly, to be successful in this career, always remember the reason that we are all in senior living, which is to take care of our residents, their families and our associates. If you put their needs first, you’ll always be successful. However, don’t forget to take breaks. Senior living community operations are a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour, 365-day-a-year kind of business. People will always be reaching out to you, but be careful not to overextend yourself.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Hire from the heart. Hire people who, at the end of a long work day, you’d still want to be around — people who share similar key values as you. However, I’m not saying you should only hire clones. Make sure those you hire will challenge you to grow professionally and be comfortable with the challenge.
From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?
In my opinion, a major reason for health deterioration post-retirement is not staying engaged and becoming stagnant. We saw that often during the pandemic, when people had to become more isolated.
Another reason is not eating healthy, balanced meals. That’s why I take extra care to always have a range of fresh and nutritious meal options at The Seneca, the community I direct.
Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental or physical wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Staying engaged.
- There are studies that show people who are isolated and alone have shorter lifespans than those who regularly engage with others. It doesn’t mean that you’re an extrovert or an introvert; just try to be around other people so you’re not alone.
- Pursuing passions.
- I encourage residents to find social activities they are really passionate about, whether it’s volunteering, teaching, playing golf, anything that can keep them engaged, active and happy. For example, many of my residents enjoy playing pickleball, a low-intensity sport that keeps them active and social.
- Eating well.
- After retirement, it becomes very easy to not eat nutritional foods regularly. Ordering takeout or just eating whatever’s around takes the least amount of effort. Taking the time to cook a healthy meal or choose healthy foods during restaurant outings with friends and family can go a long way in helping you retain your health, physically and mentally.
- Letting go of the past.
- Nobody can change their past. Try to let go of it and find joy in your present.
- Making new connections.
- This is related to my points about staying engaged and pursuing passions. While you’re enjoying the social activity of your choice, don’t be afraid to make some friends along the way.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
I’ve heard many people say they wished someone told them to:
- Actively try to make peace with their past before retirement. You have a lot of time to think post-retirement and ruminate on past regrets.
- Plan ahead for retirement. Have a thorough and solid financial plan well before retiring so you don’t outlive your savings.
- Connect with family before retiring. Let your family be involved with your life. They care about you and want to be there for you. Let them help you.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
“In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters contains lessons that have stuck with me for years, one being “a bias for action.” What I understood from this lesson is to never spend too much time thinking about a decision before making it. Yes, preparing for consequences is important, but oftentimes we spend so long hesitating and eventually talking ourselves out of making decisions, which makes us lose opportunities. This lesson has encouraged me to always take action, even to this day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement centered around fostering community, kindness and civility. I don’t know if it’s a result of the pandemic, but these days I’ve noticed people are being less civil and understanding toward each other. I would like my movement to inspire people to lead with empathy and gentleness when interacting with their neighbors.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
A quote that I’ve had close to my heart since my high school wrestling days is, “It’s all a state of mind.” Basically, if you think you can do something, then you will. It helped me conquer the uncertainty of switching career paths years ago and has helped form who I am today.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Definitely David Letterman, because I love the way his mind works. I would love to have a meal with him where I can just listen to his stories.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best social media platform they can use to engage with me. Here’s my profile URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathan-garber-439b8615.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Jonathan Garber of The Seneca: 5 Things You Should Do To Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.