plannerOne of my staff members told me she can tell when our clients get old. Now, old is relative, of course. I once had an 80 something woman tell me about “those old people” she takes care of at a local retirement home. To my 8 year old, anyone over 15 is old! What my colleague meant, though, is she can tell when our clients’ patterns change. When their personal habits and activities shift from vibrant and active to something more sedentary. More . . . old.

The key factor she identified with being old is something we have come to call “appointment rationing.” It works like this: We ask to set an appointment on Tuesday afternoon and the client says, “I can’t meet Tuesday afternoon, I have a dentist appointment Tuesday morning.” Good active, empathic listeners, my staff ask, “Wow, are you having some major oral surgery or a bunch of work done?” “Oh, goodness no, its just a 6-month cleaning.”

Notice what is going on here: the client is unwilling to meet in the afternoon because they have a 50-minute appointment in the morning. Once we noticed the phenomenon, we have found the pattern among other people as well. It never happens with people who are working. It usually doesn’t apply for those who have been retired less than 10 years. But at some point, more than a decade into retirement, some people begin to ration their appointments. After years of observation we believe we have discovered the source of this behavior.

Are you considered to be old?

When they are working, most people are busy; usually too busy. They have to jam doctor appointments, school meetings, and visits with their financial advisor in between work, the grocery store, mowing the grass and laundry. Any given day might have 5 items on the to-do list after work. Once they retire, people have a big backlog of activities they want to get done: trips and travel, sorting pictures from the past 25 years, reading, visiting kids and grandchildren, taking cooking classes, playing golf in a league. The first few years of retirement are pretty full, too, just with things other than the job that occupied the previous thirty years.

But after a number of years, the backlog is gone. All the pent-up demand for trips and hobbies has been satisfied. And that is when the rationing sets in. Think of food rationing during a famine or a siege. The reason people ration food in these circumstances is because they are afraid they will run out. People ration appointments for the same reason. They think, “If I do everything Tuesday, what will I do the rest of the week?” Appointment rationing comes from a scarcity of things to do, or what we call “Purpose” in Beer and Peanuts parlance.

Appointment rationing is a symptom of not having enough to do. Not having enough to get up for. The solution to this problem isn’t to say “no” to a Tuesday afternoon appointment. It is to be clear about your values, your value to the world and to be intentional about planning activities that align with your purpose.

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