Master the Basics

I've always had a thing for maxims. So profound. So pithy. So handy to have around. And I don't think I'm alone. Many otherwise normal folks seem to take great comfort and guidance from succinct and simplified expressions of fundamental truths.

My wife, for instance. She loves a well-timed aphorism. "You could have willpower if you just put your mind to it," she once told me in a moment of gentle reproof. I puzzled over those words for quite some time, stopping just before my brain exploded.

To more fully maxim-ize my life philosophies, I've been working quietly over the past several years to create the Tao of Tetz, trying for the betterment of mankind to capture and distill some of the ultimate principles of the universe as I have experienced it. So far, these include:

    Life is uncertain.
    Marriage is tricky.
    It's one thing after another.
    You have to wonder about people.
    Women are just that way.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't dispense at least one of these kernels of wisdom to any number of grateful people. I'm convinced my words will soon be replacing those of poet/philosopher Kahlil Gibran at weddings, lending a fresh intellectual heft to the proceedings.

Whatever you choose to call them-mottoes, axioms, adages, annoying clichTs-the search for easily digestible truth nuggets seems to be a continuous human quest. Ever since an anonymous Neanderthal scratched "Heavy club work good" on a cave wall, mankind has used these terse but meaningful phrases to educate and inspire.

This is especially true in the world of business. Who among us hasn't worked in an office festooned with posters pairing motivational phrases with pictures of landscapes, children, or pets? Who among us hasn't secretly desired to pummel whoever put them there? But still, they work, proving the old maxim that "Truth is best conveyed with typography and kittens."

It should be no surprise, then, that this motivational technique is alive and well within the long-term care profession. And sure enough, while visiting the world headquarters of a Northwest provider recently, I happened upon a colorful printed piece containing eight essential maxims designed to keep staff focused on the mission and goals of the company. One particularly caught my eye: Master the Basics.

That's a good thought, I quietly mused-a helpful reminder to concentrate on core strengths, not to flail wildly in all directions, to focus on what you do well rather than attempting many things poorly. In a nursing home, the Basics would clearly be the care-from assisting with ADLs and following care plans to making beds and keeping a smile on your face.

But then, as it is wont to do, my mind took an unexpected, even unwelcome, side trip, and I caught myself staring into space, pondering what it means to Master the Basics in one's daily existence. Since the maxim itself yielded no additional information or guidance-its author evidently assumed that we were bright enough to figure it out-I had to tackle the question of personal meaning on my own. After much soul-searching (and maybe a Fresca or two), I identified nine Basics that I believe hold the key to the successful life application of this critical precept for anyone, including LTC providers (and melancholy writers working from home in their bathrobes):

  • Money management. The key is making a financial plan, and then sticking with it. But here's the little-known secret: In preparing a budget, include not just the money you actually make, but also the credit lines you currently enjoy, as well as those of cards and second mortgages you expect to be offered in the future. You should also maintain an ongoing savings plan-it's a sad truth that many families go through their entire lives with absolutely no money set aside to pay the attorney who will explore their bankruptcy options. Be the exception.
  • Spirituality. In an ideal world, you should make daily time for peaceful meditation, honest reflection, and open-minded exploration of life's mystical truths. In this busy world, however, your time and effort are far better spent simply deciding what you believe, not why, and making sure other people agree with you.
  • Healthful and varied diet. Despite living in the richest country on Earth, with an abundance of food and a plethora of dietary options, I fear most of us are woefully unprepared to tackle the food-related challenges on Fear Factor. As reality shows take over television, it's not a question of if, but when, you'll be called upon to compete. Plan your menus accordingly.
  • Physical fitness. Any trainer will confirm that the most, and maybe only, important time to exercise is during the month following your New Year's resolution. Local gyms will be extra-busy during this time, so it's best to purchase expensive workout equipment you can use at home. In making your choice, consider how much clean laundry can be hung from it, and whether there's adequate room in your storage unit for an indefinite interment come February.
  • Social interaction. Like everything in life, balance is critical. People are important, but never, ever let human relationships interfere with quality time spent alone on the Internet or sitting in the dark playing "Madden NFL 06" on your Xbox 360.
  • Family time. It's right for you to love them, but sometimes spouses and children can be a troubling distraction from your professional goals. Netflix for them, an iPod and earphones for you. Problem solved.
  • Adequate rest. Is anything more satisfying than coming to the end of a long, rewarding day, crawling into bed, and falling asleep the moment your head hits the pillow? Sadly, now that our lives are consumed by lethal levels of stress washed down with gallons of caffeine, you shouldn't expect to accomplish this all on your own. Ask your doctor about the many solutions available.
  • Emergency preparedness. If we've learned nothing else from recent history, it's that the best way to prepare for a disaster is to purchase and carry on your person a small video camera with which to record the unfortunate event and make money off the video's subsequent sale.
  • Long-term care insurance. Don't buy any. The government will take care of everything. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Too many well-intentioned maxims tell you what to do, but not how to go about doing it. Hopefully, I've changed all that. "No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking," said Voltaire. I'm pretty sure I just proved his point.

From where it started as a simple but intimidating command, Master the Basics now lives and breathes with practicality and relevance. It's approachable. Achievable. You are the proud possessor of a blueprint for a fulfilled, self-actualized life. Free of charge. No purchase necessary.

None of this will be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But as a friend of mine always says, "It will work because it has to."

Now if he could just find the right picture of a kitten or monkey to go with that, he'd be rich.

Gary Tetz is the former editor of and, and writes from Walla Walla, Washington. To send your comments to the author and editors, e-mail
Q: As an administrator, I've considered attending professional conferences in the past but have never gone. Are conference experiences worth the hefty price tag?

A: The benefits of professional development and networking-as well as being able to recharge your batteries and commiserate with your colleagues-are practically immeasurable. In addition, every conference provides continuing education units (CEUs) toward licensure. Such educational opportunities are not only necessary to stay in touch with the field, but are also required by law. Most states require licensees to acquire a certain number of CEUs annually.

Even if CEUs offered at a conference are not approved for credits toward your licensure, some state licensure boards will consider granting CEUs if you provide sufficient justification and documentation. Furthermore, adding travel, hotel, and other costs to conference registration fees may still compare favorably with the costs of attending local in-services, which usually cost more per unit.

Some examples of professional and trade associations offering quality education as well as networking opportunities include the American College of Health Care Administrators, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and the American Health Care Association. These organizations also offer listservs-e-mail chat groups-in which members can share policies, best practices, and programs. Check their Web sites for further information on upcoming conferences and meetings. Don't forget to investigate your state association's offerings, as well.

From Briefings on Long-Term Care Regulations, by Julian Rich, president and CEO of Penacook Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Haverhill, Mass., published by HCPro, Inc. ( Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management bears no responsibility for the opinions/advice contained herein.

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