Challenge yourself to develop a new skill. I think this is something that people are afraid to do. I just took up sculpting two years ago. And it has taken me to a place of creativity and stress relief that I’ve never been before. And I’m in great gratitude. In fact, I just got a sculpture delivered from Italy an hour ago. I thoroughly enjoy creating what I call these Living Artifacts. But you can do that in some other pursuit. You could learn a language, you could learn to play the guitar or the piano, you could learn to speak Arabic — it doesn’t matter, but learn a new skill that you’re excited about and makes your brain work. And again, it goes right back to purpose.
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 Dwayne J. Clark. Over the past 30 years, Dwayne J. Clark has overseen the care of more than 60,000 people in his role as Founder & CEO of Aegis Living. With over 30 one-of-a-kind senior living communities in the Western United States, he has learned the lessons for longevity from those of all walks of life. His fascination with longevity has led him on a life-long journey of research into finding every conceivable way to live a richer, healthier, and more fulfilled life. A longevity explorer, business magnate, author, producer, and philanthropist, Dwayne is a sought-after speaker and guest of the media, appearing regularly in print and broadcast with The New York Times, Today, Inc., Forbes, The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Business News, NBC, and many others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Well, I think it was a couple of things. First of all, I was highly influenced by my grandmother’s experience moving into a nursing home, which I didn’t think gave a lot of dignity to its residents. Going to visit her for about three years, I was inspired to provide some higher level of care; better care than what my grandmother got. So that’s one source of inspiration.
How I directly got into this industry was my sister, who essentially gave me a nudge to go check out senior housing because she was working for aging services — she was on an advisory board of this company called Leisure Care. And she told me that this was a growing industry and that I should get in senior housing and go check it out. And, you know, I read a study that was essentially talking about the Graying of America. And that led to an interview that set me on a career path to where I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There was a resident; her name was Emma. I like to have fun with our residents. One year, I went in to see our residents on one Christmas Day. It was the mid-80s, probably 1986, and Emma was almost 100 years old. So, Emma was born in; I want to say the late 1880s. I brought in one of my son’s remote control cars. And I made a sign that said, “Hi, Emma.” I put it on this remote-control, four-wheel-drive truck. I hid around the corner and used the remote control to drive the truck into Emma’s room. I drove the truck in; it had lights flashing and made noises, so when it entered the room, you knew it. She as sitting on her little chair as it came into the room. I drove around her chair, and she started laughing and giggling, I still remember it. She didn’t understand the concept of remote control or radio-operated control. She couldn’t understand if there was a little person inside of it because it was doing tricks and popping wheelies.
I did this for about three or four minutes before finally, her laughing caused me to laugh, and she heard me and said, “Dwayne, is that you?”. I came out, and we had this fascinating conversation about this woman who didn’t grow up with lights, indoor toilets and heated her house by coal and wood. Now we had this little truck that could drive by itself through radio frequency and remote control. I just thought there, and said, “Man, this is history. This is history in the making.” And again, that was in the mid-80s. Imagine what prank I could have pulled off today with the internet! That’s one of my favorite stories.
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?
At the groundbreaking for our very first property in Northern California, we had a bunch of media there documenting the event. Just as we were about to break ground, the foreman comes screaming across this dirt path, shouting, “Red Alert! Red Alert! Red Alert!”. I remember thinking, “What’s going on here?”. He then grabs me and tells me, “There’s an old man with a shotgun, one of our neighbors here, and he is saying he is going to shoot people.” I was in complete shock. The man was furious that we were developing this lot of land.
I had the choice of calling the police but wanted to talk to him first as he was one of our neighbors. I went back to my old law enforcement days and went to see him. He did have a gun, but it was not pointed at me. We wound up having this conversation about who we are as a company and how we’re going to be a good neighbor, and I invited him to come over and have dinner with us.
He was very cantankerous at the beginning. He gave me the gun — I don’t believe it was even loaded. He was just sad that this open field was going to have a building on it. And I got him to reminisce about things that he did here on this land and what he remembered about the neighborhood.
The groundbreaking was delayed almost an hour, but after our conversation, he actually came over and celebrated the event with us and eventually became a friend of the community.
This incident didn’t seem humorous at the time. Looking back on it, he was just a cantankerous old guy who wanted some attention. He turned into a friend of ours from that day forward, and I look back on it and chuckle now because it could have turned out very, very differently.
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?
Well, I think my sister really prodded me. I was in law enforcement, in the division of prisons, and was down the path of being in a tactical team. I was going to leave that job and advance the background I had in law by going to law school and becoming a criminal defense attorney.
My sister talked me out of going down that pathway. I was 26 years old, and she kept saying, “No, this is the wave of the future. We’re all going to be looking for senior housing at some point, and this industry will go on for 50 or 100 years.” I kind of coo-cooed her advice like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and said, “Yeah, this doesn’t sound like a very sexy industry.” But the more I read about it, the more it was compelling to me, and I started to see its future.
There have been a lot of people who have helped me throughout my career, but I think she was the one that gave me that hard nudge to get into this industry and helped me move forward.
I also had lots of mentors. CEOs of the two previous companies that I worked for were very instrumental in helping me along the way. I learned what I wanted to have and what I didn’t want to have. I learned from my CEOs’ mistakes in terms of things that they did, and I said, “Okay, well, I’m not going to make that mistake again.” So, I think those are the people that influenced me.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Well, I think you have to take care of yourself. I used to drive race cars. A good race car driver is all about his reflexes and his timing. You start to know how much risk he takes and how fast he’s willing to drive, and so on. As you begin to meet these professional race car drivers, what you realize is, these guys work out like professional athletes. They take care of their bodies; they get enough sleep, they get nutrition advice, they stretch, they do meditation, they do all these things. The racing part is two percent of it.
I think the same applies to good business people. The actual business part of it is maybe two or five percent of your day. You’ve got to prepare yourself, and that’s why I meditate for twenty-two minutes every day. I just came in from a long nature walk, because it clears my mind and helps me to be more creative, more efficient, and more productive. You have to work out. You have to monitor your vital signs, whether that’s your blood pressure, your blood sugar, any of those things.
You also have to get regular testing from your doctors. I think what you have to realize is that you are the machine. And that machine needs ongoing maintenance, reinvigoration, and constant rebuilding. And I think a lot of businesspeople forget that. They think, “Hey, I’m just going to go full throttle, and I don’t have to maintain the machine.” That’s a mistake. I’ve seen people do that, and they end up having severe health problems. Even if they don’t have serious health problems, they end up not being very useful because they’re too stressed out and tired to be effective. So, that’s what I would advise them to do.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
The first thing is that it starts at the top. I think the CEO has to be the champion of the culture because cultures are developed around their CEOs — the good or bad. It’s just like parenting! You can tell your children to do a lot of things, but they’re going to model what their parents do.
The CEO has to be the champion and the maniac with the mission of what “culture” is going to be, and that’s a very intentional thing. Everybody says, “I want to have a good workplace culture. I want this to be a good place to work. I want this to be the best place for people to be.” Everybody gives it a lot of lip service. But you, as a CEO, have to put a lot of thought into this, a lot of strategies, and then a lot of action and resources.
And that comes with some sacrifice because sometimes throwing creative resources at it isn’t cheap. It’s why we do our in-house lotto twice a year. That was a crazy idea, but people love us doing the lotto. That’s why we started our in-house foundation that’s given out hundreds of gifts. It’s why we do something called Winter Fest, where we turn our corporate office into a retail store that gives away prizes, money, food, clothing, shoes, and jewelry to over 700 people every year.
We do all of this because we are passionate about our culture, but that takes a lot of resources, and it takes a lot of energy. It takes a vision, and it’s never-ending. Every day we try to think, “What can we do better? Is there a program that’s not working? Should we replace it with another program?”.
Culture is the most significant part of your company. The marketing department, the accounting department, the operations department, the finance department; your culture department is equally as vital as any of those departments. That’s what most people don’t get. They think it’s this one-off thing where they can have a birthday party once a month and call themselves a great culture. It’s horribly incorrect.
Okay thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?
I don’t use the word retirement in my vocabulary. One of the things that I’ve discovered in writing the book 30 Summers More is that if you want a great life, longevity, and quality of life, you don’t retire. There’s good science behind the people that want to go fishing or golfing at 60, and that’s all they do — they’re probably going to die earlier than most people, substantially earlier.
Just look at the last five or six presidents that we’ve had to see evidence of this. Right after Kennedy, Johnson, even though he had a heart attack, outlived his birth rate longevity by a substantial amount of years. The most extreme cases are cases like Jimmy Carter, who just turned 95, who is still building homes with Habitat for Humanity. You can look at Popes — Pope Benedict remains active in the community at 93 years old. Our current Pope, Pope Francis, is 83 years old.
The common denominator here is a purpose. Purpose adds a great deal of wellness to our life, and it adds years to our life. One of the most excellent examples is Winston Churchill. Churchill would smoke cigars, was probably a good eighty to one hundred pounds overweight — not exactly an exercise maniac. He lived to 90 years-old at a time that his birth longevity rate was probably less than 70. But again, he had an extreme amount of purpose into his late years.
If you want to do something different, then don’t retire, repurpose. I think that’s a critical phraseology for people. You’re just going from one thing to doing another thing; you’re not going from work to doing nothing. If you go from work to doing nothing, you’re going to die an early death, and you’re probably going to have substantial health problems until you die. So, the mentality should be more along the lines of, “I may not be doing this job, but I’m doing this other job that’s very meaningful, and that I’m passionate about.”
The point is you’ve got to love what you’re doing till the day you die. If you hate your job, that’s not purpose — that’s misery. You’ve got to love what you’re doing in an effort for you to be successful, and have a purpose, to live life well and live life long.
Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental & physical wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Mental and physical wellness directly relate to each other. If you optimize your physical wellness, your mental will follow. If you optimize your mental wellness, your physical will follow. Therefore, my response to this question addresses both.
Again, I think you have to redefine what retirement is. I believe in our country; we’ve done an abysmal job of defining what success means in retirement. What is “success”? We have this theory that we’re going to work for 35 or 40 years, and then we’re going to buy a second home someplace where there’s sunshine, and we’re going to go golfing and have late-night dinners. That’s “retirement.”
I think that the whole argument has been reframed in the last five years. Our minds tell our bodies how to function. And this is a critical point, that if your brain says, “Oh, I have to get out of bed and go to that meeting today,” then your body has to react in a way that makes that functionally possible. You have to get up, take a shower; even if you don’t feel great, you maybe have to forge through it.
So, the things that I would advise people to do are, first of all, even if you leave your job, you have to find something beyond a hobby that is purposeful. That can be volunteering at a youth center, mentoring kids who have problems in high school, helping seniors, or giving military personnel a hand. Whatever it is, it has to be something that you’re committed to or that requires a commitment that will keep you mentally challenged and active.
The second thing is that we all have stresses even after retirement. Your brain needs to alleviate that in some way. The best way to reduce that, in my book, is through meditation. Whether you take a guided meditation course, transcendental meditation, or sit and clear your brain for five minutes a day, you need to do that. It will help your immune system, your blood pressure, and everything else. Some of the most reputable scientific magazines have ranked meditation as one of the best things you can do for your body.
The third thing I would say is that your body needs movement. When we get under 5,000 steps a day, our body physically starts to decay — it starts to rot. You don’t always have to get 10,000 steps a day, but shoot for 7,000 or more a day, and you’ll feel your joints loosen up.
The most important thing about that is that our bodies are meant to circulate. The best way to think about it, is like if you buy a brand new car and just park it in front of your garage for 5 years, and just drive it to the store once in a while, everything is going to start rust, the tires are going to go flat, and the belts are going to corrode. Well, our bodies need to be driven to function; they need to be fluid. That’s how you get the circulation going and promote good healthy cell growth; we need that to happen.
The other thing I would say is that we have to be excited about something in life — we have to have goals. In writing 30 Summers More, I interviewed a 90-year-old shot putter and a 97-year-old sprinter. These guys were looking to “add.” They get up and say, “Hey, I want to add an eighth of an inch on my shotput throw. I want to take a 10th of a second off my 100-yard dash”. And that was their purpose! Rain or shine, they would get up and do it. We must have goals that help us and improve our mental fortitude.
The last thing I would say is to challenge yourself to develop a new skill. I think this is something that people are afraid to do. I just took up sculpting two years ago. And it has taken me to a place of creativity and stress relief that I’ve never been before. And I’m in great gratitude. In fact, I just got a sculpture delivered from Italy an hour ago. I thoroughly enjoy creating what I call these Living Artifacts. But you can do that in some other pursuit. You could learn a language, you could learn to play the guitar or the piano, you could learn to speak Arabic — it doesn’t matter, but learn a new skill that you’re excited about and makes your brain work. And again, it goes right back to purpose.
And I’ll give you a bonus tip! Develop a community that’s younger than you. I think this is extremely important. You probably have friends that are 3 or 4 years older and 3 or 4 years younger. As we age, the problem that we have is those people start to suffer the same health consequences or even death, as we do. At a certain point, you’ll look around, and your buddies are either getting super sick or dying. Well, that has a real negative consequence on you.
If you have friends who are 20 years younger than you, first of all, they’re going to stretch you, and you’re going to do things beyond your age category that you would not normally do on your own. But beyond that, it brings a different kind of conversation to the table. So, at dinner, you’re not talking about your latest hip surgery or the fact that your colonoscopy didn’t turn out well. You’re talking about things that are more fun and relevant and purpose-driven than those topics, and that adds to your health and positivity.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
Well, again, I would stick with this fact — don’t retire, repurpose. I think that’s it. I think the people that I’ve seen retire, the people that have a great plan, do well. They say, “I’m going to go on and serve on this board” or, “I formed this foundation”, “I’m working with this charity”, “I’m going to go live in France for three years”; whatever it may be –people that have a great plan, do very well.
The people who suffer are the ones who say,” I’m going to go on vacation for two weeks and then come back, and I’m just going to figure it out.” Those are the people who struggle because they wake up in the morning, they think, “What do I do?”, “Where do I go?” “I have no purpose in life.,” “My whole community was my work community, and I don’t have that anymore.”
Retirement is such a finite thing; it’s almost like death. So, you have to be strategic about developing a plan beyond retirement. That doesn’t mean you’re going to move to a different city in the sunshine. You need to think about what your day is going to look like. How do you plan the hours? Are you committed to a particular cause or foundation, another job, or a skill that you’re developing that’s going to take up your time? How are you going to spend each day outside of doing your favorite hobby?
The reality is, you can only go golfing, fishing, and skiing so much before you get to be bored with life. What we see now with the aging population is that they need accomplishment in their life. They want to be known for something — and that goes beyond a hobby. I think that people must make that adjustment, and seriously consider what their post-retirement plan is going to be.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Several books have made an impact on me. Good to Great by Jim Collins was an essential book for me because I think everywhere in life, we tend to feel like “okay” is good enough. When Collins came up with that book and said, “Good is the enemy of great,” it reframed my whole paradigm. From how I wanted to build a company, the kind of people I wanted to hire, my financial goals, in the type of architecture that I wanted to design.
I think people just get satisfied and they get satisfied too easily. You have to push, push, push, to get great as opposed to one push and be satisfied with pretty good. And I think that book reframed my mind around what every manager should be like. I began to think about how I could push the boundaries of services, how I could push the boundaries of architecture, how I could push the boundaries of training.
This book reframed my thinking and helped me realize that we do get complacent about good being good enough. If you want to be unique, if you’re going to be in the 1% Club, you have to continually be redefining your key objectives, indicators, and priorities to make them great. I’m thankful for the insight that the book gave me.
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 was reading an article this morning about the amount of wasted food there is in the world. I believe it wrote that 14% of the world’s food supply doesn’t make it to the shelves. In the world today, there are over 800 million people that are starving. And when you think about actually utilizing that 14% of the world’s food supply, that would potentially cure world hunger.
One of the things I would try to do is see how we could take that waste of food and use it to feed people. Speaking as a kid who grew up in poverty and suffered from being hungry, I understand what it’s like. This is a big problem we have in our world. So, how do we take that waste, and through better distribution, better cold storage, and better handling procedures, make that 14 percent and reduce it to 1 percent or zero, and then reallocate that to feed 800 million starving people in the world? That, to me, would be a considerable movement, and that’s something that motivates me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Well, my mom always used to say, “Love all, trust few, always paddle your own canoe.” She used to say that all the time. She wasn’t saying to not trust anyone — there isn’t that kind of paranoia feeling to the quote. It means that you have to bet on yourself.
Often when you put your trust, future, or success in other people’s hands, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It took me a long time to realize what she was saying.
I always thought, “I need a partner to develop this business because I can’t do this on my own,” or, “I need this person on my staff because I can’t learn that particular core competency or skill set. I need this person to teach me these things”. What I found was I had to believe in myself, and I learned that I didn’t have to be the smartest person in the room, I just had to surround myself with the smartest people. It took me probably 40 years of my life to figure that out. And once I did, my success was unlimited.
That’s what my mom was always telling me: “love all”, so be kind and compassionate to everyone, “trust few”, there are very few people who you can really trust, and “always paddle your own canoe”, your canoe, meaning, you are in charge of your destiny. You set the course for your success. That quote has always been instrumental for me.
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 🙂
I would say, Richard Branson, I’ve been trying to meet him.
What I love about Richard Branson is that he didn’t let one industry or career define him. I think a lot about that. I have a movie company, I have a chain of not-for-profit cafes, I have foundations, I have Aegis Living, and various real estate holdings.
I would love to sit down with him and talk about how he was able to excel in many different industries and where he got that inspiration from. From Virgin Records to Virgin Airlines and the hotels, I’d like to know where their commonalities that overflowed between all those industries? And if so, what were they?
He’d be the one, Richard Branson.
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Thank you for all of these great insights!