Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.
I’ve added another word to the figurative hopper I keep for words that intrigue me. My rather eclectic collection began in a teacher’s lounge following delivery of a folder to a British visitor whose desk, no more than a table, had been temporarily set up in there. I had been made hall monitor for the day and got to wear the coveted arm band that set me apart from others wandering through the building. It was a hard won responsibility and I was quite proud of myself and the speed with which I did my job. I was also thrilled to be the one who got to make this particular delivery. I had never been in the teacher’s lounge and I was smitten with this pretty visitor who had a crisp, lovely accent the likes of which I hadn’t heard before. As a matter of fact, I was so smitten that I curtsied and addressed her as “Ma’am” as I handed her the folder. She smiled and said, “My, you did that with alacrity.” I had never heard the word before and asked what it meant. We looked it up in the dictionary together. Once home, I refined my use of the word and when I announced I planned to do my chores with alacrity I was sure the smiles that greeted me were ones of wonder rather than amusement. Regardless, the experience hooked me on words and the new word I’ve added to my hopper is “bespoke.”
The term “bespoke” comes from England where it was originally used as a verb that meant “to speak for something.” Over time and with the help of semantic drift it evolved into an adjective that described items created to uniquely personal specifications. Before I go any further, I must tell you that my children are the only custom made items in my life, so, the correct use of the word bespoke was meaningless to me until I found it was also being used to describe a deliberately planned lifestyle. I immediately questioned whether a bespoke life, one in which you completely control life’s direction and tailor it to personal tastes and interests, is possible. My immediate thought was no, but I wanted input from my friends before I catalogued the word as usable or not.
I was surprised by their response. We are, for the most part, cut from the same cloth and collectively have been around the block more times than we care to admit. They disagreed with me. Using the experience of their now 20 and 30 year old grandchildren, they concluded that a bespoke life was indeed possible. Using the current ladder-like progression – date, career, seriously date, live together, buy a home, marry, then parent – they equated these steps to life planned in a bespoke fashion. I almost bought into it until I stated to measure what the “bespokes” were doing and compared their progression to that of their parents and grandparents. What I saw was a ladder with more steps and a longer timeline, but I couldn’t equate it to a truly bespoke life they controlled.
Years ago, the ladder of an eighteen year old had three or four rungs. The first was work, quickly followed by marriage and children. There was a slight variation for those with means and long term career plans that required continued education. The average age of marriage in the 50’s and 60’s was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women. Regardless of education, babies and homes – the American dream – quickly followed. All those years ago there were expectations and a plan for adult life. Its scope was far narrower than today’s, but I don’t think what passes as a bespoke life today, is anything more than a different type of plan.
That is not to say a bespoke life is not possible, but to live one requires fortitude and dedication and a willingness to step on a toe or two. Years ago, a dear friend, now a memory of the best sort, put down her coffee and asked, “Is this all there is?” Her question came out of nowhere and I hesitated before speaking. I’m great at getting you from point A to point B, but cosmic queries are not my strength. I have a skewed view of the universe and I’ve never allowed myself, by interjection or example, to foist my beliefs on others. So we sat a bit, burping our baby girls, while my brain sorted possible answers to her question. When it came, it was neither profound nor pointed and what escaped my lips was an inane, “Why do you ask?” I have a recollection that she replied, “There has to be more.” While our lives and education had been in lock-step, we filtered lessons differently and I was not sure if the conversation about to come would be philosophical or religious. As it turns out it was neither. She wanted to have a life that was meaningful and in order to do that she believed it was necessary to have a life that mattered. She needed a larger canvas to do that, so rather than waste dreams, she sorted through them and became purpose driven in pursuit of a goal that would lend more meaning to her life. She sold her house and with baby in arms, she embraced her next adventure as she stepped on the next rung of the ladder.
Our lives must have a plan. The sooner we can define it the better off we will be, but we have to keep in mind that our plans for a beautiful live can be thrown off course by a coin toss or high wind. Poor health, affairs of the heart, job loss, relocation, troubled spouses or troubled children are things that can’t be anticipated or written into our plans years before they happen. Among us are a few who can and do lead bespoke lives. The rest of us must learn resilience, as well as learn that sometimes we all have to “depend on the kindness of strangers.”