How a career in elder care has shaped Terry Snyder’s outlook on life

Terry Snyder

By Tina Irgang

Terry Snyder has been president of continuing-care retirement community Roland Park Place (RPP) for more than 10 years. Between her everyday duties in that role, her service on RPP’s board and her role as founding member of the nonprofit LeadingAge, Snyder’s biggest challenge is one many leaders are familiar with — letting work go when you’re not at work.

Q: What made you want to work in elder care?

Snyder: Some very positive influencers early in my family life and living very close to, or even in the same home with, extended family — including a great-grandmother who lived to be 100 in the 1960s, which was pretty remarkable. Here [at RPP] we have about seven people over the age of 100, and 100 is certainly remarkable. But back in the ‘60s, it was a big deal, so I was really inspired by older family members when I was growing up and given an opportunity for a housekeeping job [at a long-term care facility] as a summer job when I was in college. That pretty much sealed the deal. … The rest is history as they say.

Q: Does working at a retirement community ever get you thinking about your own retirement?

Snyder: It does indeed. The older I get, the more I spend time thinking about that. I see on a daily basis the benefits, the virtues of planning for one’s post-retirement lifestyle. What is so cool for us boomers is that the choices are far more vast than they would have been for my parents’ generation. So I think that a continuing-care retirement community may be in my future at some point. … There’s a great book that our board chair is requesting every board member to read. It’s called Being Mortal and it’s on the bestseller list right now, and it really does require one to take a look at one’s mortality. … I’m married, and my husband and I together presumably will arrive at a decision that’s good for us. But if I’m able to financially plan for that, it really does relieve so much anxiety and stress, for the family too. Our residents have said two things: This is a gift to our children that we’ve made this move, and we should have made this move five years sooner. So I’m hoping my husband and I will make that decision at the right time for us.

Q: What are the things that motivate you to get up and go to work each morning?

Snyder: Every day, I learn something from the vast experiences and wisdom of our residents. Every day is different and it is a little bit like being the mayor of a small town, and my role can be as varied as I choose it to be. My schedule is pretty demanding. That said, I do have some flexibility, and if I choose to put off some policy-related, administrative chores and instead hang out in the front lobby and see if there are new residents that I haven’t yet greeted or introduced myself to their family, I can do that.

But every day is different. I am motivated because I do believe that our staff collectively makes a difference in the lives of the residents that are here. It adds not only years to their life, but life to their years. Getting to know them, engaging with them in a variety of ways that can make their experience more rewarding. We have that intimacy, yet we maintain the professional distance that is sometimes required.

Q: As you said, you have a pretty demanding schedule. What are your strategies for leaving all that work stress behind?

Snyder: If you asked that same question of my family members, they would say that I’m not using any strategies because I’m not leaving it behind. I am working on that — sometimes I turn my phone over to a family member to keep for the evening so I’m not distracted by email. I just try staying fit and working in some regular distractions and diversions and quality time with family, although, like I said, if they were in this room, they would be huffing and choking. I really do think I’m trying to get away from the responding to emails as soon as they come in, at 7 o’clock at night. [In this job], you just don’t have every evening or weekend off, you have to be sort of prepared for a crisis, like a power outage or a blizzard. Be at the ready to excuse yourself from a family or personal activity and get to where you’re needed. I have at least an hour-long commute and there are times that I think I really need to move to Baltimore. But my coping strategies are to try to avoid being tethered to my cell and try to get a great night’s sleep, and stay fit, make healthy lifestyle choices. That keeps me charged and energized.

I also try to delegate appropriately to my co-workers. My colleagues are very capable or they wouldn’t be here. This isn’t the Terry Snyder organization, it’s made up of many capable and competent people. I really rely on my staff.

Q: What do you consider the best decision you’ve ever made?

Snyder: In my private life, the best decision we ever made was to adopt children when we were childless, to adopt our first two children. After that, we had a biological daughter, but the best decision we ever made was to adopt our twins back in the ‘80s. And I could also say the best professional decision was to enter a field working with older adults. I have absolutely no regrets.

About The Human Element:
The Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email tina@smartceo.com.